The mobile boutique industry is so new, sometimes it's hard to get a clear picture of what licenses you will need to launch your truck legally. The permits and licenses you need to operate your mobile boutique differ depending on your location. Every city has a different set of regulations — if they have any at all — governing mobile vending. The best way to get a handle on what permits and licenses you will need for your mobile boutique is to do research at the city level.
Start by researching the permits and licenses you need to operate in your home city, wherever you'll be doing the majority of your sales. If you're based in Denver, for example, research the municipal code in Denver governing the operation of mobile retail vending (which may also be called peddling, street vending, etc.).
You should also research the code in any additional city you plan to vend in when you travel. Just because you are properly licensed in one location does not mean you have obtained a blanket license to vend in other cities. Some cities, for example, do not allow mobile retail units to park in the public way, while other cities do allow mobile retail units to park on the street with time restrictions, or with the procurement of certain temporary licenses, such as an itinerant merchant license. You must be properly licensed in whatever city or town you travel to if you sell there, even if you plan to sell on private property.
How does a business license differ from a mobile vending permit?
Your city may require you to obtain a business license to legally operate a business. This license may not, however, permit you to conduct business from a location outside the location listed on your business license. For example, your business license may list your home address if you conduct business from home, or your business address if you have a retail or warehouse space, but this license does not always cover the additional mobile location or permit you to vend from a mobile unit. This is where separate permits, such as an itinerant merchant license or a peddler's license, come in. Do not assume that because you have a business license you are licensed to sell from a truck.
Where can I go to get accurate information about mobile boutique permits?
First and foremost, call the city. Various departments cover business licenses and permits in different cities, but start with city hall, the department of business affairs, or simply Google "business license [my city]." You can also check with the SBA on what business licenses are needed in your state.
If you find that it's difficult to obtain information or that a city employee doesn't "get" the type of business you're trying to permit:
1. Try researching the city code yourself. Municode is a great online resource for searching city code in the United States.
2. Locate a street vendors coalition or justice organization in your area, if one exists. Some examples:
These organizations might not deal with your particular type of business, but they may know which city departments or representatives to speak to, or have legal resources for you.
3. Talk to other mobile boutique owners in your city — find out what they did to obtain permits and which permits they have.
4. Talk to food truck vendors and builders. While the same licenses that apply to food trucks may not apply to a mobile retail business, food truck vendors understand licensing difficulties and can be a resource if there are no other mobile vendors in your area.
5. Talk to events promoters, who have likely dealt with the procurement of certain permits for mobile vending. Flea market, farmers market and craft fair organizers often have to obtain vending permits from the city and could be a resource in trying to obtain proper permits.
6. Contact a local small business center, often operated through the Small Business Association, which has field offices.
7. Talk to a lawyer. Find a lawyer in your area who has dealt with small business or mobile vending issues. You shouldn't have to pay for the initial consultation if you're simply trying to determine if the attorney is a good fit.
Do you have questions about what business licenses and permits are needed in your specific area? Leave your questions in the comments.