Wheeling and dealing has never been so stylish, as shops on wheels stocking everything from shoes to knitting supplies have sprung up worldwide.
According to the American Mobile Retail Association, in 2014 there were 500 mobile shops operating across the US, up from just five in 2011.
Mobile shops have yet to hit New Zealand in a big way, although food trucks are booming.
Bex Riley recently opened what she believes to be New Zealand’s only fashion truck, Wanderlust Boutique.
Riley was inspired to open her truck after witnessing their success firsthand while living in Europe.
She says mobile shops began popping up after the Global Financial Crisis as a way for retailers to avoid expensive overheads such as rent during tough times.
Of particular inspiration to Riley was The Style Liner (below), which she calls the “crème da le crème of fashion trucks”.
It’s a former potato truck turned fashion treasure trove on wheels that was created by Joey Wölffe, the daughter of Marks & Spencer heiress Naomi Marks.
Riley says fashion trucks hadn’t been done in New Zealand before, so she decided to be the pioneer.
While still living abroad, Riley began scouring Trade Me for buses and gathering clothes from exotic places like Morocco, Greece and Turkey.
She enlisted the help of a builder who’d previously designed a food truck to kit out the bus, which now features a changing room, a couch in the back and lots of shelves and hangers to house stock.
Now a fully-fledged business, the Wanderlust Boutique stocks Riley’s own label, Tosca & Salome, among others. It travels the country in the warmer months attending festivals, visiting beaches and seeking out customers.
This is one of the advantages of having a mobile shop, Riley says: if business is quiet, she moves on.
It sounds idyllic, but before packing up your shop and buying a bus, be aware of Riley’s warning that life on the road may not work for every business.
“It’s not going to suit every brand,” she says. “It especially suits mine because of the bohemian style.”
Weather is also a huge influence, Riley says. If it rains, customers are few and far between, which is why Wanderlust Boutique retires to a garage during the winter.
Stocking bohemian-style clothing doesn’t mean operators can get away with leading a free and easy bohemian lifestyle, either. You need a trading licence if you’re going to stay in a fixed location and the general upkeep of a bus is also tough.
Riley says breakdowns can happen on the way to events, forcing Wanderlust to miss out on the revenue from its scheduled appearance, and there’s wear and tear in the bus each year when it gets out of the garage.
But it’s not all bad, either. The pop-up store Riley opened in Takapuna in Auckland’s North Shore during late September has exceeded expectations, so she’s negotiating to stay there permanently.
She credits the success of the store to the following and attention the fashion bus gets.
The bus has helped cement her business in customers’ minds, Riley says, causing people seek out the bricks and mortar store.
“With Wanderlust Boutique, so many people asked when I was going to open a store. Having the bus means people remember you because it’s so unique and it’s a really good talking point,” she says.
All business aside, she says it’s “so much fun” to own a fashion truck.
“In the summer we sometimes just pile our friends in and go to a beach,” she says.
Now that’s a lifestyle inner-city retailers must be jealous of.
This story was originally published in NZRetail magazine issue 741, December 2015 / January 2016.