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Be Your Own Boss With Your Own Bike: Cargo Bike Business Ideas

Be Your Own Boss With Your Own Bike: Cargo Bike Business Ideas
Norm Tedford Jul 27, 2019
Want to Earn Some Extra Money?

If you’re the proud owner of a cargo bike and want to monetize its potential, this article is for you.

There are many financial benefits to owning a business, and a cargo-bike based venture is a low-cost way for someone to start their own company.

And best of all, you’re not stuck behind a counter worrying about exorbitant rent or electricity bills. No more getting stuck in interminable traffic jams like you would if you were driving a pollution-spewing vehicle either.

When I talk about cargo bikes, I mean one that can carry a serious amount of cargo. That could be one that has built-in extra capacity on the bicycle itself. Or, one that pulls a trailer.

When it comes to making money, it’s important to be able to go where the customers are. This gives you the upper over your competitors.

One advantage that bikes have over cars is bicycles can go where cars cannot. For example, a bike can drive right onto a beach, but a food truck isn’t able to.

You can use a devoted cargo bike or a bike with a specialized trailer to sell food, haul garbage away, move apartment belongings, and so much more.

Food Deliveries

We live in a glorious age.

Instead of going to restaurants, restaurants come to you. In the past, this usually meant an automobile with a lighted car topper sign advertising the local pizza parlor pulling up in your driveway.

And now, digital dining out platforms like Uber Eats cater to our insatiable desire to be served a dizzying array of meals where we want them and when we want them. Most of these deliveries are done with automobiles, which often get stuck in traffic congestion.

When a delivery vehicle is stuck in a traffic jam, this can make for a long wait for your food. That’s why food delivery by bike is slowly catching on. By the time a car finds a parking spot, a bicycle is halfway to its next destination.

With a bicycle, you can whiz by cars and avoid clogging city streets. Bicycling is a way to circumvent traffic. With a bike, you’ll get to jobs quicker, and customers will be happier.

If you want to get into the food delivery service without incurring the costs of a food truck, consider starting a bike-based one.

Of course, delivery by bike is nothing new. For decades, bike couriers have been a common sight in places like the Big Apple. Even UPS is getting in on the act with a fleet of e-bikes.

But people on bikes have always delivered mail and the like, not food. That’s starting to change.

In 2016, Uber added bicycles to its delivery methods. Many restaurants like to use this kind of service, as they get to say that they’re contributing to planetary sustainability by offering bike deliveries.

How to Get Started

If you want to start a bike-based food delivery service, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • OBTAIN THE REQUISITE LICENSING: You’ll need a business license. You’re not handling or preparing food, so you probably won’t need a ServSafe certificate. Call your local Chamber of Commerce to find out which licenses you’ll need.
  • SELECT YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC: For example, you could target working couples with families. They’ll have the money to buy restaurant dinners, and most have busy schedules with little time to cook.
  • ESTABLISH A DELIVERY AREA: Choose an area with a high enough population and income so that your business will not only survive, but thrive.
  • SELECT A VARIETY OF CUISINES: Variety is the spice of life. So, choose a variety of types of dining establishments, such as American, Italian, Thai, Mexican, and Chinese.
  • PARTNER WITH RESTAURANTS…: Contact restaurants within a 20-minute ride of the area where you’re going to be delivering. Farther than that, you’ll spend too much of your time riding, and hungry diners will have to wait too long for their meal.
  • …BUT SKIP THE FRANCHISES: The restaurant should be a favorite of many, but not a national franchise. Individual restaurants have the flexibility to decide whether they want to participate in your delivery service. Franchise owners don’t.
  • COME UP WITH A DELIVERY MENU: Use the same prices that appear on the regular menu but make it clear that there’s a surcharge for delivery. If you increase the entrée prices, customers might think you’re gouging them. Have your charge for delivery be a percentage of the total amount.
  • LEAVE MENUS AT RESTAURANTS: Print the delivery menus and leave them with each restaurant. Patrons of the restaurant will bring it home, and they’ll be likely to call you when they’re too tired to go out to eat.
  • MARKET YOUR SERVICE: One way to do this is to pay for fliers advertising your business inside newspapers within your delivery area. Or, you could mail postcards to your target demographic. Consider leave door hangers too, as well as starting a website.

Delivering Homemade Meals

As far back as she can remember, Elizabeth Callahan wanted to start a business.

In 2013, she made that dream come true by giving up her office cubicle to start a bicycle-based lunch delivery company. Lilly’s Lunches, as her company came to be known, catered to the needs of other cubicle-dwellers not brave enough to make their escape from the drudgery of the corporate world.

The venture allowed Elizabeth to combine her twin passions: bicycling and making delicious food. Ecstatic at the prospect of being able to make a living doing the two things she loved to do most, she tapped into her life savings to get her business up and running.

And within a few short months, Elizabeth made that dream come true.

She got to work preparing the lunches in a rented kitchen. And then, packed them all in the large wooden box in front of her emerald green Pashley bicycle.

In the beginning, business was slow. But satisfied customers would tell their friends, and word got around. Local newspapers picked up the story, and soon, she had more business than she could handle.

By the beginning of the summer season that first year, her she was peddling 120 delicious lunches every day. Each customer would get a satisfying sandwich, a scrumptious salad, a delightful dessert, and a little note.

She successfully ran this business for two years before moving on to other equally exciting projects. Delivering lunches by bike is an idea that could work for you too.

Make Them Scream for Ice Cream

Did you know that Americans buy more than 23 pounds of ice cream per year?

If you owned a bike-based ice cream business, they could be buying all that ice cream from you instead of at a grocery store. And as a bicycle vendor, you can drive right onto the grass at a public park. That’s something an ice cream truck can’t do.

Other advantages of a bicycle-based ice cream business are low startup costs and excellent profit margins.

But as with any other business, selling ice cream on a bicycle has its particular challenges. One of them is the weather. If you live in an area of the country where it’s cold and rainy much of the year, you won’t have too many nice days in which to sell ice cream.

Another obstacle you’ll face is the regulations specifying where and how you can sell street food. These restrictions vary depending on the municipality in which you live. So, the first thing you should do is to contact your local Health Department.

In the U.S., most municipalities don’t let street food vendors operate a food service business from a residential kitchen. Instead, you’ll have to prepare the food in a commercial one that’s licensed and inspected.

However, since you’re selling frozen desserts, this might not apply to you.

Have the same attitude that Caleb Robinson did, and you can surmount any bureaucratic obstacles that stand in your way. Robinson, the owner of Top Dog Hot Dogs in Racine, Wisconsin, was told he couldn’t be on the public square.

But Robinson was determined. He marched right into City Hall to talk directly to the powers that be to try to get a permit to sell in one dedicated location.  And after attending multiple city meetings and advocating tirelessly for himself, he finally got permission.

After his fights with the city, he won the right to bring his cart to the public square without any problems.

Finding Places with Potential

If being a bike-based ice cream vendor sounds like it would work for you, start by making a list of all the places with the potential to sell a lot of ice cream.

List every place you can think of where kids congregate. These include sites like public swimming pools, beaches, and parks. Put a checkmark next to those that seem like they hold the most promise.

Next, think of all the different types of events to which you could cater.

For starters, you could bring your frosty treats to company picnics, film festivals, birthday parties, and parades. Ice cream makes all these celebrations even more festive.

And if people like what you’re selling, they’ll tell their friends. Word will get around. And before you know it, your catering calendar will be fully booked.

Sizing Up the Competition

To succeed in the ice cream business, you’ve got to do a little competitive intelligence.

Research all the other ice cream vendors in your area. Visit each of them and study how they operate their company. Pay attention to what they’re doing right. And, what they’re doing wrong.

Write all these things down, because it’ll help you to build a business that outshines your competition.

Plan for The Future

Next, you’ll need to turn your nebulous dream into a business plan. Doing so will give you a clear direction and keep you from making costly mistakes.  Your business plan should address how much you want to spend on your company, how to most effectively market your products, and your sales strategy.

You also need to decide what you want to sell. Is it organic artisanal ice cream to sell to the hipsters? Or, old-fashioned ice cream novelties that’ll sell well to both kids and adults nostalgic for the tastes of their childhood?

Just do a brain dump of all your ideas and pick which one excites you the most. To succeed, it helps to have a unique angle that caters to a niche market.

It’s too hard trying to be all things to all people. Sure, you’ll have the opportunity to attract more customers by doing so, but you won’t have the storage capacity to cart around everything you need to do that.

Since you may be in new locations all the time, use the power of social media to let everybody know where you’ll be turning up next.

It also helps to brand yourself with a catchy name and a catchy slogan. Decide on a branding style that perfectly encapsulates who you are as a person and what your business is all about.

Branding also means consistency, so make sure all of your marketing materials remain true to your branding message.

Running a bike-based ice cream business is going to be a lot of work. It can also be loads of fun. What’s more, you get to be your own boss. And, brighten people’s day with a little bit of frozen bliss.

Icicle Tricycles

If you need to buy a cargo bicycle for your ice cream business, check out Icicle Tricycles. They sell more than ice cream trikes though. They also offer custom vending bicycles from which you can sell coffee, pastries, homegrown veggies, and so much more.

Icicle Tricycles has years of experience building these elegant yet practical machines for customers from all over the world. One of the businesses they built a custom cargo bike for is Coconut Girl Paleo Ice Cream.

One method Coconut Girl uses to sell its small-batch coconut ice cream is by delivering them via bike to the sunny beaches of LA.

Icicle Tricycles even built food trikes for world famous Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon. If you need a two-wheeled transport to get your product in front of a lot of eyeballs, give Icicle Tricycles a call today.

How to Make Money in Other Ways

You don’t only have to deliver food to make money with a cargo bike. You could haul away trash, do apartment moves, deliver Christmas trees, and so much more.

Pedal People’s Story

Since June 2007, Pedal People of Northampton, MA has been hauling trash from the 80 plus waste and recycling receptacles scattered in the downtown area of their city. And, they do it all without using fossil-fueled-powered gas guzzlers that belch hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

But trash collection isn’t the only thing they do. Pedal People offers other things too:

  • TRASH PICKUP: They’ll pick up your recycling, food scraps ready for the compost pile, and trash for you, all for the low rate of $35 a month for 30 gallons of waste per pickup. They do this all year round. Everything is picked up at the same time—no need to look at your recycling calendar for when to leave out cans and bottles, and when to leave out paper.
  • BIKE WORKSHOPS: If you want to learn how to fix your bike, attend one of their free workshops.
  • APARTMENT MOVES: They can move you into your new apartment too. If you need to move your household belongings across town, these guys will get it done.
  • YARD WORK: Pedal People does yard care, with no gas-powered machines or harmful chemicals to foul the air. All tools for the job, including scythes, push mowers, and trimmers, are transported to a site with a bicycle trailer attached to a bike. They also offer planting, weeding, mulching, and compost bin construction services.
  • PEDICAB SERVICE: This is for people who need a pedicab to transport folks at a wedding, party, or other special events. Their pedicab fits two adults or three children.
  • CHRISTMAS TREE DELIVERY: Pedal People picks up Christmas or other small trees and deliver it to customers. They charge $15 for a tree of four feet or less, $20 for a four to six-foot tree, and $25 for a tree that’s six feet or taller.

Pedal People is an example of a bike-based business that has thrived for close to 20 years. They built their business model on principles of frugality, sustainability, social justice, and better life/work balance.

And, they do this all while being financially successful. Use this company’s example to inspire you as you create your own bike-based business.

Bicycle-Based Apartment Moves

By hitching a trailer to a bike, haulers can move even big and unwieldy things like mattresses, refrigerators, and kayaks. There are companies out there who make money doing just that.

If you want a business where you can earn cash by riding your bike all day getting lots of physical exercise, then this idea might be perfect for you.

Bike-obsessed Portland, Oregon is the poster child for apartment moves by bike. There’s even a skit about it on Portlandia, the comedy series starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein that airs on IFC.

There are advantages to this business model over using a fleet of moving vans.

It’s cheaper to use a bike to move stuff than a truck. The cost of four bikes and four high capacity trailers is less than one-quarter of the cost of a new van. And, you’ll be able to carry more weight.

With a bike, you don’t have to pay for fuel. Parking is easier, and maintenance is cheaper. Plus, you don’t have to cough up money registering and insuring it.

The best bikes and equipment for apartment moving are Bikes At Work trailers or a Worksman trike with a large 4′ X 3′ trailer.

When moving somebody into a new apartment with your bike, here are a few things to consider:

  • DON’T OVERLOAD: Try not to have the total weight be over 200 pounds. This way, your bike will handle better, and you’ll be safer. On hauling trips, carry a bathroom scale with you to see how much things weigh so you won’t exceed safe limits. With practice, you’ll a better sense of how weight is adding up even without a scale.
  • DOUBLE KICKSTAND: A double kickstand has a wide stance to keep your bike centered at all times. That way, your load has less chance of tipping over.
  • BUNGEE CORDS AND RATCHET STRAPS: Bungee cords are a quick and easy way to secure objects without the hassle of tying knots. They also help to absorb shock when riding over speed bumps and potholes. Ratchet straps are strong and durable straps for securing cargo.
  • CENTER YOUR WEIGHT: The width of your bicycle trailer will usually be less than whatever you’re carrying. But if there’s a lot of overhang, it’s important to center your weight, so you and your precious cargo don’t topple over.

In Summary

If you own a bike with a good amount of carrying capacity, think about monetizing its potential by opening up a bike-based business.

For very little cash, you can have your very own coffee shop on wheels, deliver delicious lunches to office-bound cubicle dwellers, or haul trash away for eco-minded suburbanites.

Besides cash, all it requires is a compelling vision and a lot of determination. Are you up for the challenge?

Norm Tedford

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