Western Lifestyle Retailers are hitting the road and setting up shop at festivals, rodeos, open-air markets and even customers’ homes. Don’t confuse mobile boutiques with pop-up stores. Pop-ups are seasonal and inspired by special occasions. Once the celebration passes, the store closes. Mobile boutiques are trucks, RV’s or campers that are repurposed and used as a regular sales outlet for retail businesses. “It’s so funny to see people’s reactions to trucks,” said Tierney Perkins, president of Wild Bleu boutique. “They don’t know the protocol—if they can walk right in or if they need to knock first.” Western retailers are embracing the idea. We asked two successful owners of these stores on wheels for perspective and advice on how to design, market and hit the road with a mobile boutique.
Soul Revival Boutique
Brooke Carman of Willard, Ohio, a registered nurse, grew up riding horses and watching her grandmother barrel race. Influenced by a rural childhood, she prefers a fashion style that blends rustic country and glam. “My husband encouraged me to share my fashion sense, which I describe as a southern chic vibe with Western flair,” she says.
In October of 2015, she launched Soul Revival, a women’s apparel and jewelry boutique. The items are available online and at events. When she participates in larger shows she “picks junk,” like antique tractor ornaments, and upcycles furniture and decor.
The faith-focused, fashion-forward boutique supports Carman’s desire to serve others. “We give back 10 percent of the proceeds to missions,” Carman says.
At first she set up shop at local rodeos using a pop-up tent. She was rained on enough that she decided it was time for a camper. It took a year of searching to find the right vehicle, but the mobile business has been a hit. Carman left nursing in early 2017 to focus on growing it.
Brooke Carman chose an Airstream for its Americana style. The mobile boutique expands Carman’s customer base beyond online.
Vehicle: “Loretta,” a 31-foot 1973 Airstream Land Yacht. “I’ve always loved Airstreams; they are flashy and Americana.”
Venues: Whatever fits her rustic glam style: “Rodeos, private parties, vintage markets and barn sales.”
Design: “I designed it, and my husband and I gutted it. I had a vision of what I wanted from the second we purchased the Airstream. It needed new flooring and windows. There were leaks and electrical issues. It was too much to take on ourselves, so we hired a local outfit to help.”
Favorite features: “We have oak flooring, antique tin-pieced wheel wells and a barn-wood storage closet. Crisp white columns support the clothing rods. A lace curtain hangs in front of the dressing room. Accents include a turquoise and gold sideboard for displaying jewelry, cowhide rugs, and a handmade cashier stand made from aged wood and rusted tin. We receive the most compliments on our glitzy chandeliers that make the entire inside sparkle.” If she could do it over: “It was a learning process, but I can’t say we would change anything because the final product [has become] really special.”
Business advantage: “We are able to give customers a one-of-akind experience. It gives us the opportunity to travel and reach women that may not have found us online.”
Advice: “Save, especially if you want a vintage trailer or truck. Repairs and build-outs can be costly. Make sure you get something to fit your current needs and allow for growth. Be ready to work unconventional days and hours. We do a lot of work in the evenings and on weekends.”
Good lighting inside enhances the shopping experience
Tierney Perkins and Leslie Welles-Hale, self-named “sister friends,” launched Wild Bleu in 2011 in Clarksville, Texas. Both women grew up around cattle and horses. It is only natural that the brick-and-mortar store with online boutique features handcrafted leatherwork, apparel and accessories that stem from their Western heritage.
The women live in Texas and Florida, making it difficult to co-own a business, so Perkins bought the business in 2013 and continues to consult with Welles-Hale on special projects. As the business expanded, Perkins contemplated a second location. The logistics were challenging and no clear option presented itself.
“Then it connected with me that if we had a truck, we could hit all of those locations,” Perkins says. “The truck offered so many more possibilities than being boxed into another location.”
Inspired by the food trucks concept, Tierney purchased a delivery truck in 2015. It took two years to plan and renovate the vehicle.
Wild Bleu opted for “Beulah Bleu” instead of a second store location.
Vehicle: “Beulah Bleu,” a retired Wonder Bread and Twinkies delivery truck.
Venues: “Music festivals, street fairs, rodeos, charitable functions, bridal showers, private parties and just about anywhere good times are to be had.”
Design: “We hired an interior designer who created a few different floor plans.”
Favorite features: “The sliding barn doors. These doors give us three to four different set-up options depending on the event we’re doing. We can open them up to create a foyer or close them to create a dressing room. “The truck includes two air conditioners. Summer is hot in Texas. People will come in soak up the A/C and shop for a few minutes.” If she could do it over: “I was really concerned about storage. We have so much storage it seems like we can fit the entire store in that truck. The cabinets are wonderful, but I wish we had more room for clothing racks.”
Business advantage: “When we arrive at a show, we’re ready to go. The interior set-up is made to ride down the road well so we can show up later and be ready to go in a half-hour or less. “It’s also great for photo shoots. We have everything we need—a dressing room with air conditioning, the clothing and accessories—all in one place.”
Advice: “Plan a soft launch to walk through the truck before everything is complete. This way you can get a feel for the mechanics of having people in and moving through the space. Testing the set-up before it’s finished means there is time to go back to the drawing board if needed.”
Air-conditioning is a must for a good shopping experience, Perkins says.
Originally published in Western Lifestyle Retailer Spring 2018 issue.
Compiled by KATIE NAVARRA
Photos Curtesy of Wild Bleu, and Soul Revival Boutique