The evolution of mobile retail
When regular people used to dream of opening a restaurant or store, the option was to borrow money from family or the bank, set up shop in a brick and mortar location, and work endless hours. Today, with the food truck explosion, retail entrepreneurs are not far behind the pack, pulling up their converted buses and Airstreams at the same Farmer’s Markets. If someone can set up shop at a fair or a market, these are the same entrepreneurs that are investing a bit more to be less at the mercy of a traveling show, rather, becoming their own traveling show.
Minnesota’s first mobile boutique, The Fashion Mobile is pictured above, and owners Teresa and David Grim opened up shop just a few weeks ago, having closed down their traditional boutique last year. The couple blogs that cost, choice, and limited hours are the top three reasons others may choose to open retail trucks.
The upside and the downside
“Realistically you can start a mobile store for about $20,000 or less,” the couple writes. “If you do a lot of the work you can save even more. There is absolutely no way that you could open a retail store for that amount when you figure in the long term lease, utilities and build outs. Plus, you are probably going to have employees to hire as you can’t work there every single second its open. That really gets expensive.”
Additionally, they note that going mobile adds a lot of choice for the owner. You can run sales whenever you like, or make niche choices like handmade jewelry or only local fares. “No one can prevent you from having the type of store you want to have. It will be totally up to you.”
The third benefit is limited hours, because “you can choose your hours and spend them at events, shows and outings that you know people will be at and are shopping. The battle of finding customers and getting them to come into your store is greatly reduced when you’re at a place where people are already shopping. Or if you offer the option of appearing at home parties your customers are already there when you show up.”
We would add that the expectation of regularity does not exist for mobile vendors, so the element of surprise is high, which lends well to local artisans and hand crafted products, whereas if you walk into a Starbucks, there is an expected recipe that must be exactly right and the same every time. Monotony is certainly not a part of a mobile retailer’s life.
No such license exists
The pair are honest about the disadvantages they and their predecessors will face. “Maintaining a vehicle, bad weather, zoning and licensing laws and the newness of it.” According to the Star Tribune1, the company has already turned a profit, after buying the former newspaper delivery truck for $2,600, revamping it with a $10,000 paint job, new tires, and renovating the interior, but the challenge of licensing remains, as the concept is new (read: no license exists for it yet), and not widely adopted like food trucks, so they may not do business on public streets like their cuisine counterparts, but still participate in festivals, markets, and private parties.
“I would argue that the positives outweigh the negatives and that anyone who is interested in opening a retail store seriously give this option a look,” the Grims continue. “Fashion trucks are catching on fast and my be the next big thing.”