||From Food, Fashion to Flowers, Sellers Set Up Shop in Trucks
At first, people didn't get it.
The funky trucks parked throughout Portland, Ore., neighborhoods were all selling food. When Vanessa Lurie set up her boutique on wheels, people came in expecting cupcakes, not plaid bow ties and vintage dresses.
"People thought I was a bakery," the 29-year-old says of her teal 1969 Cardinal Deluxe travel trailer. "People didn't know what to think about it."
That was in the fall of 2010. Now Lurie's fashion truck, called Wanderlust, gets about 100 customers a day in the form of regulars, tourists and others who peek in while waiting out brunch lines at neighboring restaurants.
"It's an eye-catcher," she says.
It's also an inexpensive and easy way to start a business that entrepreneurs such as Lurie are increasingly turning to.
Across the country, fashionistas, hair stylists and even florists are gutting old delivery-type trucks and turning them into decked-out mobile stores, avoiding the overhead costs associated with brick-and-mortar retail and bringing consumers in cities including Austin, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., New York City and Boston a new and more personal way to shop.
An accessible business model
Stacey Steffe was selling vintage clothing at craft fairs and farmers markets in Los Angeles when she met Jeanine Romo, who was selling her jewelry line. After witnessing the success of gourmet food trucks that also frequented the markets, the two collaborated to launch Le Fashion Truck in January 2011.
"We were both so tired of packing and unpacking our cars for every event and thought, how fun would it be to put our product in a truck?" Steffe says.
The pair invested $2,000 in a 1974 International Box Truck they found on Craigslist and a couple of thousand more renovating it.
"We didn't have the capital needed to go into a brick-and-mortar in Los Angeles," Steffe says.
Lurie says the same of starting from a truck rather than a fixed location.
"It seemed more within my grasp," she says, adding that the retail spaces she looked at before buying her $400 truck off Craigslist were "prohibitively expensive."
A truck is a cheaper and faster way of doing business, one backed by the power of social media and the freedom to go to your customers, rather than waiting for them to come to you, says Dave Lavinsky, founder of Growthink, a firm that helps entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
"The mobile retail option literally saves hundreds of thousands of dollars," he says.
Truck owners say they start profiting quickly due to a low initial investment. Lurie says she was making a profit her first year in business. Her products range from about $5 to $80, and during nice weather she says she sells "a couple hundred dollars a day" in merchandise.
Joey Wolffer of The Styleliner, based in the Hamptons and New York City, says she made a profit her first summer in business, in 2010. Although she declined to give specific figures, Styleliner spokeswoman Sara Droz says sales from the truck and from its e-commerce site have doubled in the past year. The clothing and accessories Wolffer sells by international designers as well as handbags from her own line range from $18 to $1,800.
It's those types of vintage and handmade pieces most fashion trucks sell that help keep shoppers engaged, owners say.
"When the economy is the way it is, you have to give people a unique way to buy," Wolffer says of filling her mobile boutique with one-of-a-kind pieces.
"I loved that they had so many different designers that you just don't find other places," 32-year-old Kate Chan says about The Styleliner, which she visited when the truck was in Washington, D.C., this month.
'The way of the future'
Trucks could become more mainstream as the go-to business model for all sorts of entrepreneurs, several owners say.
Michael Gomez is waiting for approval of his Hairmobile franchise, hair salon trucks he hopes to launch nationwide in 2013. Owners would pay a franchise fee of less than $200,000 for a fully outfitted truck that includes two salon chairs, two sinks and the option for a nail salon area, designated territory to do business in their respective cities, and customer service and marketing support.
"Mobile sites are pretty much the way of the future to decrease overhead and increase profit for a small-business owner," Gomez says. He plans to have more than 2,000 trucks within 10 years.
When Steffe and Romo of Le Fashion Truck saw other retail trucks pop up in Los Angeles, they started the West Coast Mobile Retail Association, which currently has 12 members from Northern California and the Pacific Northwest that sell everything from kids' clothes to school supplies. The women plan to expand the association nationwide by the end of the summer and anticipate adding up to 50 members.
While Steffe and Romo hope to have a permanent retail location at some point, they say their truck offers shoppers something out of the ordinary.
"When's the last time you went shopping in the back of a truck?" Steffe asks.
(Source: USA Today, 06/27/12)
What's In It For You:
Food trucks are a terrific addition to nearly any outdoor event campaign. With so many other types of trucks coming into the markets, the concept practically begs for a Box Truck Event with all kinds of foods, boutiques, etc.
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