Ford targets mobile entrepreneurs with 2020 Transit

Entrepreneurs who connect with customers online are choosing vans over stores

Published: August 29, 2019, 5:30 PM
Updated: November 21, 2021, 2:52 PM

Jeff Dimitry Sarasota PopCycles

The virtual marketplace where consumers don’t have to leave their easy-chairs to shop may have made it more challenging for traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers, but that doesn’t mean the “physical” retailer has given up … they just decided to go to their customers, instead.

Many service providers who connect with customers online are choosing to provide their services out of a van, going to their customers when their customers won’t come to them, which also helps them with operating costs (commercial real estate prices are steadily rising at 6%, year over year).

“This trend sits right at the intersection of craft and convenience,” said Sheryl Connelly, Ford chief futurist. “Clicking a button and getting something shipped to you is something we’re used to, but now we’re quickly moving into ‘Click a button, get a service or get a custom experience.’

“We saw this start with the food truck trend, but as we shift away toward personalized retail experiences, we’re seeking a more meaningful connection with brands – one that turns commonplace transactions into memorable moments,” she added. “So being able to build out a van to suit that experience is a new way to imagine a brand.”

As one of the continent’s biggest providers of mobile solutions, Ford is seeing a 5.3% uptick in its commercial sales numbers. The company is adding better connectivity, more configuration options and improving its driver-assist suite to the 2020 Transit, already North America’s top selling commercial van.

“We knew we needed to customize the interior of the van to reflect our history while also creating a new kind of experience,” says Steve McBride, executive director of Pewabic Pottery, a 116-year-old ceramic studio and school.

To find new ways to engage with the community and increase awareness of its business, the company purchased a Ford Transit with portable ceramic firing kilns that allows artists to bring the Pewabic experience to community festivals and schools. “We wanted it to be easy for people to walk through, so Ford’s option for a high roof and easy upfitting made choosing a Transit a no-brainer,” he adds.

Mobile workplaces allow entrepreneurs to not just to their customers, but also to places where their customers may be — at corporate offices or bustling locations where people congregate on a regular basis — in many cases granting them the ability to acquire what they need without having to take time out of their busy schedules.

“A lot of our customers can’t bring a bicycle in, or they just appreciate the convenience of service and sales at home,” said Denise West, co-owner of Sarasota PopCycles with husband Jeff Dimitry. “Having a van lets us take care of our customers better. Plus, because of the big ad space it offers we reach new people when we’re on a run. A neighbor sees the van and calls us to schedule service of their own.”

Remember the garden centre, where you could get advice on where to plant what and what soil to put it in? Chicago’s Howard Nemeroff can do that at people’s homes or offices out of his Plant Parenting EcoBoost Transit. He doesn’t have a store at all.

Neither does Ryan Wells of AZ Dirt Bike Training, who can load up a couple motorcycles and meet new riders at one of the many trails anywhere on the continent, and also use it as his mobile office/home to aid his racing career.

“People wanted to learn riding skills, and I figured it would be silly to bring them to me and for me to have a shop, so I bought a Transit and built it out to work for my racing career and my business,” says Wells, whose Transit has living space up front and a shop in the back.

The 2020 Transit will have the availability of all-wheel drive for the first time, while enhanced parking assist make it easy to find and fit into a parallel or perpendicular parking spot. It also offers Fordpass Connect to grant connectivity for up to 10 devices within a 15-metre radius