Mobile fashion truck trend brings innovation to retail
Retail trucks keep vintage shoppers, sneakerheads on their toes
Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011
Updated: Thursday, October 6, 2011 10:10
Oddly enough, people love trucks: take Ashton Kutcher's infamous — and grossly unfortunate — trucker hat phase in the early 2000s, for example. Recent years have seen an outpouring of trucks selling just about anything, popping up in cities throughout the country. What started off as a food truck trend has quickly expanded beyond the realm of falafel and banh mi to now include clothing and accessories too. So au revoir traditional retail storefronts, hello mobile fashion trucks.
From Food to Fashion
Inspired by the innovation of the food truck revolution, Amy Lynn Chase (nicknamed "Punky") decided to expand her online retail store into the mobile vintage shop, Haberdash Vintage, back in February 2009. At the time, Chase was looking for a retail space, but found that everything was too expensive. Chase was hanging out with friends one night, wondering how she could make this work, when something serendipitous happened:
"We walked outside of the bar and there was a food truck there. I go [to my friends], ‘I'm going to put all of my clothes in my trunk and sell them out of my trunk,'" Chase said. "I was just joking around at first. But then I go, ‘Or, I'll buy a food truck, and put [the clothes] in the food truck.' And so the next morning I was on eBay looking for trucks."
Emily Benson had a similar experience when she decided to open up shop with The Fashion Truck in the summer of 2010. After gaining six years of retail experience working at stores like Henri Bendel and Club Monaco, Benson thought it was high time to open a boutique of her own. Like Chase, however, Benson realized that the advantage of a retail truck is that start-up costs are much lower than that of a traditional storefront. Watching the whole food truck trend skyrocket in New York City eventually pushed Benson to take a risk by bringing retail fashion to the streets.
"I always thought, ‘How cool would it be if a store pulled right up to your house or your office?' It always intrigued me, and when I saw the food trucks I thought, ‘Hey, I can make it look like a store instead of a kitchen,'" Benson said.
For Derrick Cheung, a senior at Emerson College and co-owner of the high-end street wear truck, Green Street Vault, along with business partner Howard Travis, this flexibility and freedom to reach out to customers are what sparked their desire to create a mobile retail truck.
"We figured if it's not busy in one spot, we should be able to move to another spot. React to what's going on, react to the business, and then move to another location that's busier," Cheung said. "We weren't trying to work off of the food truck trend or anything like that. We were just trying to reinvent the retail wheel and create something new."
Setting Up ‘Shop'
Mobile retail trucks may be a more prudent option economy-wise, but setting up shop in the confines of a moving vehicle isn't exactly a cakewalk.
"I wouldn't say to anyone that opening a store inside a truck is easy. It's definitely not," Benson said. "But I really fell in love with the idea of having a shop of my own that I could kind of curate and play in."
Chase spent about two months renovating her own retro-style trailer into the makings of a real boutique. "My space is only 12 feet by 7 feet. You have to be creative," Chase said. "I was so obsessed with the trailer that every waking minute I was playing with it. It was all very hands-on."
When Haberdash Vintage opened in 2009, Chase unknowingly paved the way for the fashion truck trend when her trailer became the first mobile vintage shop in America.
"I didn't really know that there was no one else out there until we started getting press right away," Chase said. "We started in Worcester, and then I started doing the SoWa Open Market. Soon stores in Boston were requesting that we come and just open up shop outside their stores. Everybody wanted Haberdash there. It was really cool."
Beyond the obvious innovation, what is interesting about the Green Street Vault truck is how the concept even came about. Cheung was only a junior when he created a business plan for the mobile retail truck in Emerson's Entrepreneurial Studies (E3) program last year. After winning the first prize of $5,000 in start-up cash in the E3 Expo, sneakerheads Cheung and Travis hit the pavement in style with the Green Street Vault this past August.