Quirky yet practical – when it comes to mobile bars, that’s a winning combination. And a converted horsebox ticks both boxes very satisfactorily indeed.
But before you gallop off on this major upcycling project, you need to rein in your imagination a little and do some solid research to ensure your business idea will be a winner.
What type of horsebox would suit your needs? How much of the conversion could you do yourself, and when should you call in the professionals? And what kind of events would welcome your fab new bar-on-wheels?
After all your hard work, you need to protect your finished product with catering trailer insurance to help keep your horsebox-bar serving thirsty customers for years to come.
Why turn a horsebox into a bar?
Any new business venture is a bit of a gamble. So why is it worth taking a flutter on a horsebox-bar? There are several good reasons.
Perhaps you’re already in the drinks or catering trade, and want a new venture. Maybe you just love vintage vehicles and cocktails, like this American couple!
Perhaps you’ve been inspired by similar set-ups at events, festivals or weddings you’ve attended.
Or perhaps you’re tired of the nine-to-five, and want to be your own boss. These two sisters from Ireland found that running The Giddy Box gives them a better work-life balance, as they can fit events around caring for their young children. Check out our blog with other vehicles that are best for catering van conversions elsewhere on our site.
Whatever your motivation, be aware that running a horsebox-bar can be both great fun and profitable – but it does take a lot of hard work, preparation and dedication to get it right. It’s not an option for the faint-hearted!
Your business concept
Running a horsebox-bar isn’t just a matter of buying a trailer, stocking it with alcohol, and starting to sell. Unless you’re already in the trade, you need to put some serious thought into your idea or else you could fall at the first hurdle.
So carry out some research: chat to people in the catering trade for the inside track.
Consider yourself as a business owner. Can you keep a cool head about you when things get busy or tough? Do you need a business partner whose skills complement your own?
What licences do you need to serve alcohol? Contact your local authority to apply for a personal licence.
What kind of drinks will you serve? In a small horsebox, you won’t be able to offer a full pub range, so what could your focus be – and what will bring you the biggest profit?
Finally, draw up a business plan to clarify your thoughts – there’s lots of official guidance online to help you. If you need a loan to get started, your bank or other lender will insist on this, and even if you don’t, it’s a good idea.
You’ll also need catering trailer insurance to protect your investment.
Choosing the right model of horse trailer
So how do you pick a great trailer for your new venture?
Perhaps you’ve already got your eye on a particular horsebox – you’ve been inspired by one abandoned in a nearby field. Or perhaps you’re eagerly searching for the right model to fit your vision.
Either way, make sure it’s right for your business needs before you invest your time, money and energy into converting it.
For upcycling projects, it’s easiest to choose a trailer pulled by your own vehicle, rather than a horsebox with its own engine. So make sure your vehicle is powerful enough to pull it – don’t forget that it will be loaded with fixtures, fittings, equipment and stock, and that you’re likely to be driving over muddy or uneven ground.
What size of horse trailer would suit your needs? You can get single, double or even triple trailers. A single will make a delightful yet dinky bar, while a triple will enable you to serve more punters, but could be tricky to transport.
What look and feel are you going for? If you’re after a retro rustic image, then a 1960s Rice Beaufort type trailer is a good option, with many of these now popular as catering vehicles. Aluminium panels make them both rust-resistant and relatively lightweight, and you can pick up a good quality model for just a couple of grand.
For a more modern yet still quirky look, you’re spoilt for choice! Whatever you pick, make sure you can stand up in it comfortably.
And remember: while you might have romantic notions about giving a long-forgotten horsebox a new lease of life, you do need to check that it’s salvageable. Very rusty models are probably beyond repair.
Planning your upcycling project
There are several stages to converting a horsebox, which depend on the type you’ve bought, the state it’s in, and your intended usage.
So don’t jump the gun: take your time thinking about what you need. And remember: while you’re probably keen to retain your trailer’s character by keeping it as close to its original state as possible, it’s easier to make changes now than later on.
DIY tasks: sanding down
If there’s one quality that’s essential for people planning on running a mobile bar, it’s that you’re not afraid of hard work!
So even if you don’t have advanced practical skills, you can cut conversion costs by carrying out some of the basic tasks that are essential for upcycling your horsebox.
In their original state, horseboxes come fitted with floors, walls and metalwork. You might need to rip out a lot of this to create space, or to replace with something more suitable.
If you’ve bought a cheap trailer, perhaps one that’s been abandoned in a farmer’s field for years, then it’s going to need cleaning and sanding down to remove any rust, old paintwork, or even horse manure.
It’s not a pleasant task – but put on some old clothes and your favourite tunes, and get the job done. Gee yourself up by imagining your horsebox freshly painted and gleaming at the sun at your favourite festival!
Converting the shell
Your empty shell is a blank canvas for your creativity! It’s also the point where you really need skills, experience and tools, so be realistic about what you can and can’t achieve on your own.
Sure, the more you can do yourself, the greater your pride might be in your finished product. But you also want to create a bar that’s going to last and be a pleasant place to work, not a draughty metal box with doors that fall off their hinges!
Plus, by the time you’ve bought or hired tools, and factored in the cost of getting it wrong a couple of times, you could well find that it would have been cheaper to have hired someone trained and equipped for the job.
Consider how you’re going to serve customers. Most probably, you’ll want to include a large hatch, either by creating a hole in the panel or by expanding an existing window. You’ll need this hatch to have a cover that’s easy to open and close, and that can be secured when open in windy weather.
If you’ve pulled out the old floor and walls, what will you replace them with? Your electrics can also be installed at this point, so cables can be hidden behind any new panelling.
Next, think about security. Make sure all doors, windows and hatches are easy to lock. Protect your investment from theft or accident with suitable catering trailer insurance, too.
Fittings and fixtures
Now your bar is shaping up! But at this point, it’s still looking a little empty.
When designing the interior of your bar, you need to get a balance between function and space to move around. Of course, a bar in a horsebox is always going to be snug – but with clever design, you should be able to make it work.
So think about what you really can’t do without. A counter to serve customers? A sink? A waste bin? A space to chop fruit for cocktails? Storage for all your glassware (or compostable equivalents)? And how about lights and power?
Try to spread out your fittings and fixtures evenly around your horsebox to keep it as stable as possible, both when it’s being towed, and when it’s parked up ready to serve.
There is a lot to cram in. You can get cover for fixtures and fittings included in your catering trailer insurance policy.
DIY tasks: painting
Painting is another laborious chore that you can easily do yourself. All you need is the right metal paint, a couple of brushes, good weather or a covered workspace – and plenty of patience and time.
Perhaps you can coax your friends into helping with the promise of a few cocktails!
Remember: your paintwork will not only make your trailer look good, but will also protect your bar from the elements. Make sure it’s covered with catering trailer insurance, too.
Think you’re ready to roll? Hold your horses! The final look you give your horsebox is what turns it into a viable brand that will capture your punters’ imaginations and keep the bookings coming in.
What are you going to call your new bar? It’s a good idea to think of something that reflects its retro or equestrian theme. So bounce some ideas around your family and friends, and check on Google to make sure that nobody else has got there first.
The couple behind Perry and Porter picked a winner: family surnames that were both alliterative, and the names of two alcoholic drinks. The name is memorable and snappy, and has a pleasingly vintage feel.
Once you’ve picked a name, you need to to turn it into a brand. Unless you’ve got true artistic flair yourself, it’s wise to invest in graphic design and signwriting at this point.
You’ll be including your logo on all your marketing materials, not just your horsebox, so make sure you’re happy with the look.
If you're looking to start up a mobile coffee business, you're in luck! We have a dedicated article with tips and 'good-to-know' information about starting up your very own coffee selling mobile business!
Once you’ve branded your bar, you’ll be champing at the bit to take it on the road. Make sure it’s covered with catering trailer insurance first!
Equipping your horsebox-bar
Loading up your horsebox-bar with all the equipment you’ll need is the point when your budding idea becomes a reality.
Of course, your equipment depends on the type of drinks you’ll be serving. So we’ll just give you a few pointers here for things that are easy to overlook in your excitement to reach the finishing line.
A good first aid kit is essential. Make sure anyone working in your trailer knows where it’s kept, and how to use it. Replace any items you use as soon as you can.
Fire extinguishers and blankets are also crucial, as are torches. Do you have an emergency plan in place, too?
Pack plenty of cleaning kit – even if you’re using disposable or compostable drinkware, you’ll need to be able to wipe up spills, wash up knives, and mop your floor.
And don’t forget the little things that make all the difference to your customers like stirrers, napkins and straws.
Choosing your events
Your new horsebox-bar will be a fantastic addition to many events.
It will certainly look the part at any equestrian or agricultural show, where you can expect to get into some interesting chats with drinkers about its original usage.
Weddings, fetes, shows and festivals can all be good sites, too. Make sure you apply well in advance of any big events, and check out the licensing situation.
Here’s hoping for a great season for your mobile bar. We think you’re onto a winner!
Get a quote from Mobilers today
To run a successful mobile bar, you’ve got to jump a lot of hurdles. But at Mobilers, we aim to make the running as smooth as possible for you.
We arrange tailor-made catering trailer insurance for your van, static trailer or portable cabin. You can choose cover for just accidental damage and fire, or include cover for theft as well.
Optional add-ons include cover for fixtures and fittings, stock, and your generator.
Flexible payment options and instant cover are available. Just ask our helpful team for a quote today.