Q&A with Beth Morken, owner of 260HairBus

In October of 2022, Beth Morken opened the 260HairBus, a fully renovated school bus turned mobile hair salon and a dream more than 10 years in the making.

As you enter the bus you’re greeted by a bright, modern interior, complete with plants and the usual salon equipment.

On top of the usual stress the comes with opening a business, Morken spent hours researching how to legally and safely create a mobile hair salon, and then, she spent even more time completing the renovation on her 2005 school bus. It is likely the first of its kind in Indiana.

And when people ask her about how she got where she is? She’ll tell you she doesn’t even know where to begin.

“I feel like if this was a business that people had done before, there would be some direction on what to speak on,” she says. “It would be somewhat clear, but because no other projects like this exist, I never know which way to come from. There’s the background of me building it and the whole construction thing that’s challenging and then there’s the launching of the business that’s a whole other facet of it. There’s like actually working and running the business that’s a part of it too.”

Input Fort Wayne sat down with 260 Hairbus Owner Beth Morken to learn more about the process of renovating the bus and her mobile salon.

IFW: Tell us about yourself.
Beth Morken: I’ve been a cosmetologist since 2009. I cut my Barbie’s hair as a little kid and at the time I told everyone I wanted to be a model and then a meteorologist. My stepdad said, “Well, you’re always cutting these Barbie’s hair and you’re actually doing a pretty good job at it. You should do that”  This was in the 90s when everyone had a highcut, angled bob, so everyone had short haircuts, which is what I gave my Barbies. 

My mom's hairdresser went to Anthis and she’s the one who really encouraged me to apply for the program throughout middle school and high school. It was a tedious application, but I went to South Side and my guidance counselor helped me get into the program. 

When I got into the program, it was like, “Duh! This is everything I wanted to do!”

After high school, I went to Indiana University to get my undergrad. I had a full class schedule and was also doing hair to pay the bills. Then I moved to Indy and had a couple of different jobs in the beauty industry, including doing hair. I moved back to Fort Wayne in 2013. 

Owner Beth Morken in front of the 260HairBus, which she renovated herself.IFW: How did the idea for a mobile hair salon come about?
BM: I first had the idea of owning a mobile salon about 11 years ago. 

I have always had a very giving heart. I think what you put out comes back to you. I read the book “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne and I really started manifesting what I wanted. I felt like I was getting messages from the universe pushing me to go cut hair for homeless people or find kids that need help. I always tried to pay it forward, but it was really challenging to do that because a lot of times you can’t give a quality cut unless you do a shampoo, and if I didn’t have access to water, I couldn’t just show up at a shelter and give these great haircuts if there’s no water or access to electricity.

I kept the idea in my back pocket– servicing the public, but how to do it in the best quality way and create an environment where people could feel better.

Then, when social media came around, I saw these videos of barbers popping up in places like Downtown New York City or Skid Row and offering haircuts for people. Then my aunt saw an article about a mobile nail salon and she told me I should consider going mobile too. So I kept that idea in my back pocket too, but I didn’t really understand what it meant. 

When COVID-19 hit, I thought about it logically. I was taking care of the kids and we couldn’t go anywhere and it was one of those things that I would be cleaning the house or making dinner and all these ideas about a mobile salon started coming to me. 

I started thinking about how Fort Wayne was growing and expanding. You know, people would tell me to open my own salon, but it’s like what side of town would I ever commit to? 

Owner Beth Morken works on giving Avyn Oliver, 10, a kid's cut, blow dry and style on the 260HairBus.IFW: Tell us about the decision to use a bus for your salon.
BM: I was looking at a truck and trailer as an option or an RV conversion situation, and through my research there I found the Skoolie community online. I really thoroughly researched what it would look like to use a bus. I looked all around the country for the right bus. I bought the bus on June 6, 2021.

It was really hard to find information on the legal stuff on this at first. I had to put in a lot of research. If I could tell people anything about the work that went into this bus, it wasn’t just the manual conversion, it was a lot of research behind the legalities of insurance and what kind of licensing I need and how to plate it, and everything else with that. There are no clear answers because every state is different. People in Indiana do have skoolies, but no one had turned into a business. 

IFW: Speaking of the physical conversion, can you tell us about how you transformed the bus?
BM: Myself, my husband and a couple of contractors all had to put our heads together to design an infrastructure of this on our own. There was no reference. A home skoolie is a great place to start but they’re worried about different things than I am as a salon. Everything here is electric, which makes it more difficult than a traditional home skoolie.

Because “off-grid” living became so popular recently and because the COVID-19 pandemic drove up the prices of a lot of things, the cost of materials to remodel the bus was about three times more expensive than I originally planned.

Almost everything you’re looking at, I did myself. I hired out for plumbing, electrical, and some minor fabrication.

Scissors on the 260HairBus.Every single detail, every single wire, you have to take into consideration the vibration of the bus, the temperature, the moisture, and the location. Like caulk won’t hold up against the vibration of the bus. 

In a house, you have a cabinet and then you install it. Here, I had to mount a structure off of the ceiling and build it off of that. In a house, you can use 90-degree angles, levels, and T-squares to make everything even. You can’t do that on a bus. Everything in here was eyed in and followed the original lines of the bus. 

These buses are manufactured to transport children, not have designer things in them, so the walls are uneven. Some parts of the wall come out more than a half inch than other parts of the wall. When I built the frame under the shiplap you see, I had to go in and custom-fit every single piece of wood to where it was going to go.

My dad was a contractor and when I was a kid I would go with him to houses and I think that’s what gave me the comfort to figure this out on my own.

IFW: What services do you offer on the bus?
BM: Recently, I opened up women’s cuts and root retouches to the menu. We also do haircuts, blowouts, event dry style, as well as tinsel and feather inserts. 

Owner Beth Morken works on giving Avyn Oliver, 10, a kid's cut, blow dry and style on the 260HairBus.IFW: Where can people find the 260HairBus?
BM: It’s been hard to find locations. I envisioned going to all the food truck rallies because the bus is such a new, fun thing, but that hasn’t worked out.

I started my own food truck rally, called West Main Shabang and I’ve been figuring out where I can go. I’ve been looking to partner with local businesses to help cross-market and support them, or find corporate offices that might want to bring the bus in for employee appreciation. Right now, it’s a mix.

IFW: You’re approaching the one-year anniversary of opening the bus. How has your business evolved over the past year and what have you learned?
BM: There’s no business model to follow, so I try to simplify everything and make it clear how everything works. I wanted this business to be the food truck of hair. You see the QR code on the bus, you scan it, add yourself to the list, and then chill on the bus. I wanted to be like an oasis at the food truck rallies. 

Honestly, what I’ve found is that people are too timid to walk on the bus, even when the windows and the doors are open and you can see in it. It’s new, so I need to figure how what I can do on the outside of the bus to encourage people to come in. 

Cindie Shaleen, left, and granddaughter Lyla Oliver, 12, spend time together on the 260HairBus.I’m at a point now where I’m training a new stylist and she’s doing a really good job, so that’s opening a lot of opportunities for me to not physically be behind the chair on the bus, but be able to do more admin work and reaching out to work on creating the partnerships that I had originally envisioned when I started this. 

Kids have been a huge market with the bus. Little boys that typically don’t like to get their haircut will come in because it’s a bus! My next goal could be to create a kid's cut bus, like on a smaller bus. My hesitation toward marketing the bus to kid’s cuts is because if a mom is coming in and escaping her kids to get pampered and there’s a one-year-old over here screaming, is that mom going to come back? 

I still lead with the heart of wanting to give back. Recently, we did free haircuts for the homeless with Fort Wayne Community Schools at a local shelter. I want to show people that you can be a profitable business and still give back.

You can find the 260Hair Bus on Instagram

To learn more about the West Main Shabang, click here.
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Read more articles by Brittany Smith.

Brittany Smith is Input Fort Wayne's Managing Editor. Previously she served as Assistant Editor and participated in the College Input Program. She also volunteers for Northeast Indiana Public Radio.