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Colorado Springs businesses take retailing on the road as mobile shops gain traction

By: Elise Schmelzer
July 11, 2014 Updated: July 11, 2014 at 6:02 pm
Caption +
Katie Hawkes looks at dresses at the newly opened clothing truck, The Walk-In Boutique, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Interested customers can find the truck at different locations throughout the Pikes Peak region by following The Walk-In Boutique's Facebook page. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Fire department trucks don't usually come in pink.

But when one is being retrofitted into a trendy mobile boutique, a bright shade of bubble gum seems to be a fitting option.

A line stretched out the truck's back door for more than two hours at The Walk-In Boutique's grand opening last weekend at the Tri-Lakes Fourth of July Celebration in Monument, said co-founders Mychele Blakeley and Pappy Greer.

Although it was the first time many of their customers had seen a retail store in a truck, a handful of similar businesses have hit the road in Colorado Springs over the past few years - joininghundreds of others in a nationwide trend. Mobile retailers have been popping up around the country since mid-2011, said Stacey Steffe, co-founder and president of the 90-member American Mobile Retail Association.

Colorado Springs' first mobile retail store, Bridal Boutique on Wheels, began operating in January.

"When I first got into the business I was the only one in town," said Margarita Waters, owner of Bridal Boutique on Wheels and ambassador for the association in Colorado. "But now we're here and we want to grow."

Since then, at least six retail trucks and trailers have started operating in Colorado Springs, Waters said, including a mobile pet store, a vintage home and fashion store in a renovated camper and a mobile arcade. These businesses join the more than 500 nationwide, Steffe said.

"I don't really see it as a trend; I see it as a new business model," Steffe said.

The trucks are popular because they are cost-effective - the average startup cost is about $20,000 - and allow owners to have a flexible schedule, Steffe said, which are exactly the reasons Blakeley and Greer decided to put their boutique on wheels.

In November, the pair considered opening a bricks-and-mortar boutique but were dismayed by the high rent and minimum five-year rental commitments. Plus, both have kids and wanted to choose their hours.

"We wanted it to be flexible and not have to worry about making rent every month," Greer said. "We didn't want to be married to the store."

Before they bought the truck, their store was in Blakeley's living room. The two would fly out to Los Angeles, buy clothes and sell it to friends at private parties hosted in Blakeley's house. The in-home shopping parties were so successful that Blakeley and Greer decided to take their clothes to a wider audience.

"Our thought process was basically, 'Let's just throw it in the back of the truck and see how it goes,'" Blakeley said.

By March, the pair had made enough money from their in-home parties and bought their truck - formerly owned by the Colorado Springs Fire Department and a Fort Collins soap company - and retrofitted it with wood floors and matching shelves and closets. It's not huge but fits up to 20 people comfortably, Blakeley said.

Because of their low operating costs, the pair can keep prices low - almost all of their clothes sell for less than $100.

The only way to describe the truck and the business is "fun," a word repeated endlessly by Blakeley and Greer as they bounce around their store, sifting through the lacy shorts and colorful maxi skirts lining the walls.

"We tend to start partying with our guests," Blakeley said. "And working with someone you love and enjoy makes it even better."

Right now they depend on social media to share their location, buy they hope to establish a regular schedule of locations where they can park. According to city ordinances, retail trucks can't sell while parked on a public street, so Blakeley and Greer are looking for owners of private parking lots who are willing to let them park. In the meantime, they'll continue to host private parties and attend festivals.

Eventually, they hope to join Waters and other local mobile retailers to lobby the city for friendlier parking rules and a business license tailored to their companies.

Steffe said 98 percent of mobile retail operations are owned by women. For Blakeley and Greer, The Walk-In Boutique is a chance to set an example for their daughters.

"We both have daughters and we want to show them that they can do anything - they can think outside of the box," Blakeley said.

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