Member profile: Mobile bars for rent become ‘retirement career’ for former physical therapist
By Connie Lannan
February 7, 2023
After 20 years as a physical therapist and part-owner of a therapy practice, Kelli Crosby, Colorado Springs, Colo., decided it was time for a change. Wanting her second, or “retirement,” career to be something that could offer “more flexibility, less stress and just more fun,” Crosby says she moved to what seemed like a very natural choice — vintage mobile bars to rent.
This move was hardly a natural choice according to her family. “My family thought I was insane and did an intervention,” she says with a laugh. “But by the end of the conversation, they were on board. My sister even wanted to own her own mobile bar and have me rent it out for her.”
Crosby landed on the concept of mobile bars while doing research for her initial idea of opening a wedding venue. “In the process of writing four different business plans that all fell through, I did market research on wedding trends. One of the biggest wedding trends in 2019 was mobile bars. I saw campers turned into bars. They were so cute — vintage campers or a little delivery truck from the 1950s that was turned into a tap truck. I fell in love with them and thought I would do that,” she says.
She also wanted her business to be unique. “I am not a bartender. I don’t want to be a bartender. I don’t want to have anything to do with the catering aspect. I just want to be in party rental. That is unique in this industry of mobile bars. Most other mobile bar owners are bartenders. They offer their services in conjunction with the rental of their bar. Their bar unit always goes with their rental. I wanted to own the adorable, vintage camper/bar and drop it off so the renter could use it how they wanted to. My philosophy is to work smarter and not harder. Going this route also would allow me to have a bigger target market because with not offering the catering and bar services, I am allowed to go to venues that other mobile bar operators are not allowed to go to,” Crosby says.
With her research and new business plan in tow, she resigned from her physical therapy practice at the end of May 2020 — in the middle of the coronavirus (COVID) pandemic — and dived into her new career.
Naming her new business Sugar Moon Mobile Bar Co. to reflect the history of Colorado moonshiners who made their spirits from sugar beets instead of rye, she was ready to start with “Betty the Camper Bar, a 1958 canned-ham camper named after my great aunt who is like a grandmother to me, and Otho, a 1962 Cushman Truckster revamped as a convertible tap truck, who is named after my great-granddaddy,” Crosby says.
While the world was shut down because of the pandemic, Crosby, an avid do-it-yourselfer (DIY), used this time to build out her bars. “I wanted to do as much of that part as possible myself. My husband, family and friends joined in. It became a big DIY project, but we did hire professionals for things like painting, welding and restoring the Cushman,” she says.
To know how to build out these mobile bars so they would be as attractive and user-friendly as possible, Crosby went to a beverage catering company in Denver for assistance with Betty. “They have a training section and showed me how they set up the bar and teach the bartenders to efficiently have supplies where they need them and how they use those supplies. I basically designed the bar that way,” she says.
For the tap truck, she used the expertise of her sister, who is a retired engineer. “We wanted it to do more than one thing. We designed it to have nine different configurations. I think it might be the only one in the world that can have all these different functions,” she says.
By June 2021, Crosby was ready to officially launch Sugar Moon Mobile Bar Co. with her two mobile bars. As described on the company website:
- Betty was turned into a “classy two-tone gray and antique white exterior bar with wood trim. The interior is inspired by a Parisian café and features wooden countertops, green cabinetry and gold accents.”
- Otho was now equipped “with a six-tap Lindr system to hold some of your favorite brews. He also can be set up as a buffet for catering, a coffee or ice cream bar or even a special tasting event.”
That first year was dedicated to marketing her new business. She, with the help of a physical therapist friend who creates websites on the side, created an inviting website for the business. “I also did a ton of social media, something I am learning and trying to grow with. I also had face-to-face opportunities, which I loved. I did cold calls with planners and groups and sent an introduction email and then set up an in-person meet-and-greet. I would take one of my campers and then they would start talking about all the ways we could partner together. The people I met then said I needed to get in touch with another person, etc. It just grew from there,” she says.
Slowly, bookings started coming in from wedding and corporate planners, venues, lodges, Realtors, the Colorado Rapids Soccer Club, brides and members of the public who wanted to host backyard parties.
Initially thinking the business would be a May through October weekends operation, Crosby was pleasantly surprised when business expanded. “By reaching into the corporate planning world, we were having events during the week and even did events through the holidays. In December we even had our mobile bars outside in the snow for an HGTV event,” she says.
To accommodate the increase in rentals, she also expanded her inventory. She added Colette, a vintage peddler’s cart, and arranged subrentals with the owner of a T3 teardrop camper trailer that is a tap truck and the Cheers m’Dears camper bar, a 1958 Rover camper that has been fully restored and customized by Susie and Dan Rieple of 2nd Chance Campers. “Dan, a professional woodworker, has given Cheers m’Dears a stunning, rustic Colorado interior with salvaged wood from Colorado beetle kill and Black Forest Fire pine trees,” Crosby states on her website. In addition, she added rental specialty décor items.
Crosby admits she has had quite the learning curve these past two years with jumping into a whole new industry and taking on a niche area, but she is loving every part of it.
“I love the flexibility. When I was treating patients, it was something if I could break away to go to the restroom or take a call. Now I can schedule my days. Some days are busy and some days are not as busy. I never had that flexibility in 20 years. It is so wonderful. And I love what we offer. These are showstoppers and photo props as much as functional bars. As a physical therapist, I made a lot of people cry when I walked into the room. Nobody cries now. Everyone is happy when I am bringing the bar. We get all smiles. People enjoy seeing the mobile bars and want to know the story behind them. The bartenders get a kick out of them, too,” she says.
Crosby is delighted with her new career choice in event rental. With bookings already set for this year, she is eager to see what other event opportunities and subrentals with other rental operators await her and her vintage mobile bars.
ARA Insurance came to the rescue
When Kelli Crosby, owner, Sugar Moon Mobile Bar Co., Colorado Springs, Colo., was starting her new business, she had tremendous issues finding insurance. That changed when she found ARA Insurance.
“Insurance was a big hurdle in the beginning. Once you say mobile and bar in the same sentence, most insurance companies don’t want to talk with you,” Crosby says.
She learned about the American Rental Association (ARA) and ARA Insurance from another event rental operator in the area. She is so grateful for the connection.
“ARA Insurance was the only company that could give me the time of day because they could separate mobile bar from rental. Thank heavens they insured me as a party rental company. They are covering my big policy for liability. Then another insurance company came through with the commercial auto side. This has been great,” she says.