Fashion On Wheels: Le Fashion Truck
Mobile Retail: Exploitation of the Indie World?
Americans need things immediately. We have immediacy on the highway. We have immediacy in the grocery store. And now, we have immediacy in retail.
The first generation of fast retail was online shopping. The second generation was stolen from trendy designers in Soho, New York who opened pop-up shops to introduce their line for the next season. Now, fashion immediacy has gone mobile.
However, the ever-growing trend of fashion trucks and pop-up shops is more than just a ploy in business to sell more clothes; it has robbed the indie culture of their underground street-credibility.
Indie Exploitation ‘Pops Up’
Many people stagger by, some pause and look in, and few enter the store beaming with curiosity. At around 3 p.m on Black Friday, I sit in front of the pop-up shop, pressed up against a railing on the third floor, between two elderly couples.
Within a span of 15 minutes, 11 people enter the store and 7 of which probe the employees to answer the question of the day, “What is this?”
What began as an underground, indie movement by using pop-up shops and trucks to sell high-end designer duds has now gone mainstream. Even Walmart has taken something so raw and unique, and commercialized it to make money off of this holiday season. The major retailer has already opened up two pop-ups shops in Southern California.
Contrary to obvious assumptions, the temporary store does not actually sell coveted gift ideas like electronics, clothing, or toys. It is systematically set up with tablets running along the edge of the tiny shop, so that customers can order online.
That’s right; you go to the Walmart.Com pop-up shop to do the same thing you would do on a lazy Sunday in the comfort of your home.
“The goal was to give our local customers easier access to the range of products on Walmart.com…it’s not uncommon for us to test different formats and different offerings in different markets just to learn how customers respond”, said Walmart spokesman, Lorenzo Lopez.
The mini store in Westfield Mall in Canoga Park, Los Angeles is only 1,000 square feet. It entices customers to come in and give the electronics a test run with is top to bottom windows, a smart strategy by the corporation.
Most of the Walmart.Com shoppers were not families shopping for the perfect Christmas gift for relative, but instead teens allured into the store by the latest video games that you could test-drive on obnoxious flat screens. One woman spent over 20 minutes on a high tech tablet with her son with no prospect to buy.
“I didn’t go in to buy anything. My son wanted to use the computer and they let us stay in there”, said Mojdeh Robati.
As the crowd died down by 8 p.m, a man came and sat next to me on my now-spacious table. He watched his buddy go into the store and waited for him outside.
“Walmart is a retail giant. I stay away from all this stuff. I buy all my stuff on E-Bay”, says Howard Stevens.
He fidgets in his seat as he discusses his woes about the retail industry.
“They are what they are. They sell crap, but they sell crap people want. Now, they even have this, a store that doesn’t even have the crap, you just go into order it. They’re a beast”, he says anxiously.
The idea of a pop-up retailer is nothing new. The mall always has one vacant space where a Halloween or Christmas store will open for about 2 months. Internet sales have gone up by 39% percent over the last year (Internetretailer.Com) and Cyber Monday alone ranked in 1.25 billion dollars (Shine.Yahoo.Com). Of course large corporations wants to take the familiarity of a pop-up shop and the trend in online retail. It gives them the best of both world’s to make money: safety and experimentation.
Although Stevens adamantly criticizes large corporations, much of the blame must fall upon the consumers themselves and their dire need for urgency; a societal flaw that retailers have now caught on to.
Why wait to go home and check out Walmart.Com, when you can do it in the mall as you shop?
Keep on Truckin’
Le Fashion Truck is parked in the heart of Hollywood on an unusually chilly day. It’s not the retro pink exterior that seduces customers; it is the bubbly laughter that can be heard exuding out through the windows from paces away.
The owners, Jeanine Romo and Stacey Steffe, are the perfect combination of business savvy and customer friendly. The duo is dynamic in every sense of the word.
Romo is quiet and calm. She calculates the next move she will make and has earned a degree in fashion design, while Steffe is energetic, impulsive, and uses her vibrancy to complement her street-smart background in media and business.
Their relationship is symbiotic. Both offer their unique expertise to run a popular shopping stop in a bustling city. The truck travels mostly in the Westside of Los Angeles, in trendy locations like Silverlake, West Hollywood, and Los Feliz, and the life is not easy. In fact, Steffe argues that it is harder than owning a traditional boutique.
“Life on the road is hard. If it’s cold outside, we’re cold. If it’s hot out, we’re sun burnt…it’s really hard”,she says.
The Immediacy of Fashion
Food Trucks have proven to be one of the most viable markets in retail. Unlike restaurants, food trucks move to the business, they do not wait for the business to move to them. There is a sense of control that can be found in mobile retail that is difficult to find in a poor economy. A sense of immediacy may be crucial in the future of business. The stakes have risen and Americans simply do not have the luxury to wait and see what happens.
Romo and Steffe have also recognized the need for immediacy, and their muse is fashion. Los Angelinos boast one of the busiest and well dressed cities in the nation. When the idea of opening a “boutique on wheels” came to fruition, the pair knew that this would be the next big thing in fashion-forward market.
“We saw this mobile revolution and we were able to do it. It was attainable, it was possible. It was a viable option. I went to Jeanine and I’m playing around with this idea of throwing a store in the back of a truck. She was like, ‘Let’s do it!’ and the truck was born within two months”, says Steffe.
With Romo being laid off because of the economy and Steffe leaving behind the corporate world for the sake of her happiness, the young entrepreneurs entered the retail industry during trying times, emotionally and economically.
Driving down just one block in downtown Los Angeles, two store front mirrors have for sale signs. This is now common throughout the United States. Small business’ must not only compete with larger corporations, but paying thousands of dollars on rent, simply puts them at an extreme disadvantage.
It seems plausible that the next best option would be to open a truck, which typically costs between $10,000-$15,000. Le Fashion truck was bought for a mere $2,000.
Yet William Cockrum, a business professor at UCLA, contends that the stationary and mobile markets are not in competition.
“We’ve seen this in other cities, like New York and Chicago. They’re filled with trucks. I don’t think they they will die down for a while, especially since food trucks became so popular. You can’t even compare the two types of retail markets. A truck and a store are different. They each aim at a different audience”, he says.
Sumi Siegel, owner Sumi’s in Silverlake, Los Angeles, has a unique jewelry store in an uber-trendy location of the city. Although she has played around with the idea of opening a truck to complement her store, she argues that by no means would it be her first choice.
“It’s a neat idea but I prefer to be a location. I want people to know where to find me and not have to hunt me down”, she says.
Yet, Steffe does not feel that she settled by opening a truck rather than a stationary boutique.
“I don’t feel like I had to compromise. I don’t think I had to compromise anything. I think that I was compromising, I think I was compromising and when I decided to go into this business for myself was when there was no more compromising”, she says.
The Future of Fashion
Perhaps the immediacy stems from the poor economy. Perhaps it stems from our obsession with more, more, more. Regardless, shoppers want clothes fast and retailers want cash fast; a relationship as true as time.
With people now using the cell phones to order clothes, more fashion trucks throughout the nation and major retailers using pop-ups to increase revenue, we are left to wonder what the next move will be in the fashion industry.
Will it be involving teleportation? Will it be involving holograms? While the answer remains unclear, there is only one thing that is certain: the need for immediacy.
Le Fashion Truck shines among the mobile retail industry. Stacey Steffe and Jeanine Romo started the truck less than a year ago, being the first “retail on wheels” in Los Angeles.
The mobile boutique connects with its shoppers and posts the location for the day via Twitter and Facebook and makes stops in West Los Angeles. The truck has inspired several other trucks to sprout up, selling everything from clothing to home furnishings to flowers. Although the duo has accomplished what other small business’ can only dream of in such a short amount of time, they continue to brainstorm innovative and unique ideas to stand out among the crowd.
As the holiday season shopping goes into full swing, Steffe and Romo remain optimistic as they compete against the major discounts offered by larger retailers in the market.
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