May 24, 2012— -- Food trucks triggered atypical cravings for New York fashion designer Joey Wolffer, who was inspired not to nosh but to transform a 20-foot, potato-chip delivery truck into a roving style gallery.
"I had been working for the Jones Apparel Group and traveling for my job and would find so many one-of-a-kind pieces that I would not find here," she said.
"I wanted to bring those unique pieces to people without having to stay in one place."
So she hit the streets with her mobile boutique, The Styleliner, featuring handpicked fashions from several countries including Kenya, Morocco, France and Brazil.
Wolffer, 29, travels to cities such as Miami, Washington and even Montreal to bring customers one-of-a-kind jewels, leather goods and vintage scarves that range in price from $20 to more than $1,000.
"The treasure chest on wheels," as she calls it, has been on the road for two years and is part of a mobile fashion presence occupying more and more space across U.S. parking lots and driveways.
Whereas spring and summer have traditionally meant the emergence of ice cream and taco trucks, for instance, the transient entrepreneurs with an eye for fashion have designs on a different clientele: women with enough purchasing power to bring the merchants to them instead of the other way around.
"It's a great way to build your brand and bring your brand to a target market," said Mike Gatti, senior vice president of the National Retail Federation.
Consumer response has been positive because shoppers know they are getting products that can't be found in a mall, he said.
Some fashion truck owners will pull right up to a driveway or charity event to be like a "stylist in residence" for a private shopping experience.
Count Nita Kuo of Washington, D.C., among the believers who depend on social media to tip them off about the fashion trucks.
"I had heard about them for some time and had been looking for one of these fashion-on-the-wheels trucks just to see what they had," said the American University student who recently patronized Wolffer's Styleliner that's in Washington until next month.
Besides New York and Washington, West Coast events such as the Shop Lot LA feature at least half-a-dozen fashion trucks. One of the mobile boutiques is Le Fashion Truck, which launched in Los Angeles January 2011. Le Fashion Truck features vintage fashions and local designs for less than $60.
Since then, owners Stacey Steffe, 34, and Jeanine Romo, 25, say they receive calls routinely from people inquiring about how to start a mobile retail business, too.
Such calls from the potential entrepreneurs are why Steffe founded the West Coast Mobile Retail Association in April of 2011.
"There is strength in numbers," she said. "I wanted to create an organization where we could all come together and help each other out."
The association now has 12 members and hosts seminars to teach potential mobile retail owners about everything from costs to a city's municipal codes and, of course, how to attract customers and keep overhead costs in check.
"To get a fashion truck started in the very beginning, you need to have about $15,000 and that is not including inventory," she said.
Mobile retail owners or potential owners have reached out to Steffe from nine states including, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and Texas.
WCMRA has even received calls from as far away as Jamaica and Australia, she said.
The business is still developing so she hopes to launch the American Mobile Retail Association to help as many trucks as possible build their brands and clientele properly.
"Fashion trucks are a new way of doing business, so it's very important you do things in the right way and tread lightly," Steffe said.
Gatti of the National Retail Federation agreed. "They need to build trust with the consumer, but it's a great way to do it," he said. "It's new and it's economical."
Fashion truck owner Emily Benson is trying to do just that in Boston.
After being laid off from retailer Delia's at the start of 2011, she decided to go into business for herself. She launched The Fashion Truck in June of 2011.
Benson, 29, recently met with the city of Boston to discuss obtaining a permanent home for her mobile boutique, The Fashion Truck, on a city street.
"My biggest thing is how I can grow my business and make the city of Boston more fashionable while doing it," she said.
The Fashion Truck is only the size of a package-delivery truck but accommodates two dressing rooms, a full-length mirror, a scarf bar and jewelry display quite well.
Benson could not think of doing business any other way.
"I just couldn't imagine sitting and settling down and waiting for people to come to me," she said. "It was boring."