Whether it’s their first venture into the retail market or a way to expand their business, a growing number of Columbus retailers are hitting the streets with mobile trucks. Retail trucks provide flexibility and an easier way to reach customers across the city, while typically providing a lower financial barrier to entry than brick-and-mortar stores. Four mobile retailers offering everything from men’s and women’s clothing, to vintage gems, and unique accessories and home goods, discuss what trends they are seeing in their niche market and why they made the decision to explore mobility.
Brick-and-Mortar vs. Mobile Retail
When it comes to expanding a business, mobile offers retailers the unique opportunity to test out different markets without putting down roots.
“Flexibility is the key,” says Nate DeMars, owner of Pursuit. The men’s clothing retailer expanded from their brick-and-mortar pop-up shop into mobile earlier this year. “We can take the business to the opportunities without the time, investment and risk of opening brick-and-mortar locations. And it allows us to test these locations for the potential of supporting a brick-and-mortar location.”
Mobile presents a third option for retailers in addition to the traditional outlets of in-store and increasingly common, online. “For us, we see mobile as one of the three retail experiences we plan to offer, as we say it, in-store, online, on-wheels,” DeMars says. “There are limitations to all three but we feel the combination will allow us to maximize the reach of our brand.”
Tigertree Owner Josh Quinn echos DeMars. “We’ve been looking for ways to grow the business for a few years now and it became a great path for us,” he says. “It’s a great way to meet new communities as a brand and look for places to put future brick-and-mortar shops.” Tigertree will launch their mobile truck that will contain an abbreviated line of the accessories and home goods available in their Short North boutique within the month.
Josh Harden of Ghetto Vintage uses his unique 1968 Avion Trailer to further support their brick-and-mortar location. “We have a retail store on the campus of OSU,” Harden explained. “Sales are pretty slow during the summer, so this is a great opportunity for us to get out and make some extra income.”
Quoting the well-know phrase, “Location, location, location!” Boutique Truck Owner Catherine Shadeed recalls that picking the right location was one of the first things she learned in business school. A mobile truck means not just one location, but several. “A mobile fashion truck allows us to go to customers and we are able to reach customers in all parts of Columbus…it’s amazing,” she says.
Retailers are choosing mobile not only because it easily expands their reach, but the solution can provide a lower barrier to entry financially.
Shadeed had a lifelong dream of opening her own store, but quickly found the locations she was most interested in were out of her price range. After hearing about the trend of mobile trucks in California, she had found her way to market. “My jaw dropped and literally a light bulb went off in my head!” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, Columbus doesn’t have this yet…Ohio doesn’t even have this yet…what a great idea and opportunity!'”
For other retailers, the idea of signing a long-term lease is limiting, making mobile a better solution. “Signing a long commercial lease for the first time can be one of the most intimidating things a new business owner goes through,” Quinn says. “Being able to pull up the stakes and move until you find something that feels right is huge.”
Mobile does have its pros and cons expense-wise as any business does. Mobile can eliminate monthly rent, and the risks and obligations that come with a lease, but Shadeed says mobile comes with a different set of expenses to be considered – purchasing and building a truck, maintenance, as well as vendor fees and gas. However, Quinn notes that mobile means building out stock in a much smaller space so it will typically cost less.
Providing a Unique Customer Experience
Mobile retail trucks are a growing trend meaning business owners must take a special focus on attracting customers to their unconventional shopping experience, but uniqueness can be the draw. “People love the experience of shopping on the trailer,” Harden says. “Most of our customers have never been inside one before, so they just want to see what it looks like.”
Shadeed finds a similar sentiments with her Boutique Truck customers, “The majority of customers who enter the truck just marvel about what a cool idea it is and how well the inside is actually built out to look like a boutique,” she says.
In addition to changing where they shop, mobile changes the way consumers make purchasing decisions.
“There’s the psychological side of a mobile store where customers know they need to buy now because the truck may not be there tomorrow,” DeMars says.
Harden has figured out how to encourage these purchases. “Most of our customers didn’t know they would be shopping with us when they left the house,” he says. “So having those impulse buys or items they can’t live without help drive sales.”
Many of these mobile advantages hold true anywhere, so why Columbus?
“Columbus is a very open community that loves new, fun concepts and embraces them with open arms,” Shadeed says.
Events like the Moonlight Market and numerous other festivals are providing a platform for the mobile retailers to thrive and residents to support what they love, which is all things local. “In Columbus, the huge support of local, unique businesses really makes the trend possible,” DeMars says. “So many people in this city don’t find the mall interesting anymore – they want something different. Shopping in a truck certainly is that!”
For more information on our mobile retailers visit Pursuit at pursuityourself.com, The Boutique Truck at theboutiquetruck.com, Ghetto Vintage at facebook.com/ghettovintage, and Tigertree at shoptigertree.com.
Photo by Mollie Lyman for ColumbusUnderground.com.