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Tough Economy Drives Entrepreneurs to Business on Wheels

Tough Economy Drives Entrepreneurs to Business on Wheelsi
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January 16, 2013 6:01 PM
For decades, food vendors in cities throughout the United States have offered meals from trucks and consumers flocked to these mobile restaurants. Now, people who like to shop can also find clothing and accessory stores on wheels. The fashion truck trend is gaining popularity in cities across the country, including Los Angeles. Elizabeth Lee explains why.
Elizabeth Lee
— For decades, food vendors in cities throughout the United States have offered meals from trucks and consumers flocked to these mobile restaurants. Now, people who like to shop can also find clothing and accessory stores on wheels.  The fashion truck trend is gaining popularity in cities across the country, including Los Angeles.
 
Once a month, after sunset, an outdoor parking lot in downtown Los Angeles fills up with rows of trucks that sell everything from ice cream to spicy crawfish, and from clothing to jewelry. While people have seen food trucks around town for years, many, like Janelle Shepard, have never seen a fashion truck until this event.
 
“When you come in, it’s like going into a closet, you know, and you sift through everything.  It’s really cute," she said. 
 
Shepard is currently sifting through everything inside the J.D. Luxe fashion truck.  The back of the truck is a mini-boutique. Clothing hangs on a rack on one side and jewelry and purses are stylishly placed on built-in shelves on the other.  There is even a tiny fitting room.  
 
“We have a lot of handmade jewelry handmade clothing, handmade purses," said Jordana Fortaleza, one of the store's owners.
 
Fortaleza says the cost of owning a truck is much lower than renting a building. There’s also one other benefit.
 
“You’re able to travel to your own demographic," she said. 
 
But, Fortaleza admits, there are some challenges.

“The biggest challenge is definitely the weather. When it’s cold, it’s cold outside and there’s no one here," she said.
 
Another challenge is that, unlike a regular store, fashion trucks must be regularly maintained, and if the truck breaks down it can be out of commission for days until repairs can be made.
 
That’s what happened to Stacey Steffe’s Le Fashion Truck.  So she ended up stuck in the office. 
 
“We find ourselves in the [mechanic] shop at least once a year. Things happen.  Our little truck’s a little older," she said. 
 
Steffe says her 38-year-old fashion truck was the first to hit the streets of  L.A., two years ago.  After many more popped up, she started the West Coast Mobile Retail Association. It now has a nationwide membership almost 50 trucks.  
 
Steffe says the slow economy is driving the trend.

“A lot of people have gone from brick-and-mortar to a mobile truck because it’s allowed them to keep their business afloat," she said. 
 
Fashion school graduate Meagan Rogers says owning a fashion truck has allowed her to start making money while her classmates are still working in unpaid internships.

“The job market is so hard right now," she said. 
 
Fashion trucks are also giving Internet outlets some competition.  California Fashion Association President Ilse Metchek says impulse buys used to make up 20 percent of in-store retail sales.  But many consumers now shop on-line where impulse purchases rarely happen.  
 
She says consumers may be more impulsive in fashion trucks.
 
“This is a way to attract impulse purchasing. There’s a lot of money out there right now, just a lot of loose change," she said. 
 
And there is a lot to spend that loose change on. Steffe says entrepreneurs are putting more than just boutiques into trucks.  
 
“Any kind of business you can put in a brick-and-mortar is what you can put into a vehicle," she said. 
 
So, there is a truck that sells flowers, and another featuring specialty sports apparel.  The non-profit charity Saint Vincent DePaul in Los Angeles operates a thrift store and now puts some of its inventory on wheels to reach more people.  
 
Retail on wheels has also caught the attention of local authorities.  Steffe says her business group is now working with the city of San Francisco to craft laws to regulate this growing trend.

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