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Should You Take Your Retail Business Mobile?

Illy Mobile Retail

Photo from Spotmarker.

Food trucks have become a phenomenon across North America, and in many cases, have thrown municipal licensing offices for a loop.  While some cities have embraced the food truck movement, others have chosen to create a set of limiting regulations to protect bricks-and-mortar restaurants, who contribute property taxes to city coffers.  This concern for city coffers, in some instances, has been applied to all mobile retail businesses.

Despite the lack of clear regulation, retail trendspotters predict a sharp growth in mobile retail trucks. The American Mobile Retail Association estimates that by the end of 2014, the number of retail trucks will more than double from last year, when there were 300 trucks.

Recently, retail mobile trucks have been thriving in the San Francisco Bay area, with trucks like The Butler’s Pantry selling kitchen and housewares, and La Bella Mobile Boutique selling fashion and jewellery. In Toronto, The Fashion Truck opened for business this spring, launched by the owner of a bricks-and-mortar fashion store.

Like food trucks, mobile retail trucks are a perfect opportunity for an entrepreneur who cannot afford the capital outlay associated with a bricks-and-mortar location. Is there a way a larger retail chain could use mobile trucks as a non-traditional retail strategy to expand business and grow revenue?

Improved Rural and Remote Outreach

A retail chain that has a vast store network in urban and suburban markets may be perceived as having a “store on every corner”. However, there may be real estate restrictions that make it prohibitive to reach more rural markets or more remote areas where there may still be a need for their products and services.  Think of how a drug chain could use a mobile truck if they could service a remote oil rig town, a smaller military base or a town in distress after a natural disaster.

Expand and Test in New Markets

Like pop-up retail stores, mobile trucks can serve as a way to test your retail brand and offering in multiple new neighbourhoods without the need for constant set-up and tear-down of a pop-up booth.  And as the truck moves from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, it is an inexpensive billboard to advertise your brand on the road.  Just look at what Illy did with their push button pop-up coffee shop house. While looking like an ordinary industrial container on the outside, the mobile shop transforms into a modern coffee shop complete with all the features and furnishings of a cozy dwelling.  How’s that for great customer experience?

Micro Merchandise For Traffic Peaks

The mobility of a truck means retailers can quickly customize their merchandise offering depending on where they are going to park their truck on any given day.  A truck also gives retailers the opportunity to be around high-traffic seasonal areas, not unlike those pesky ice cream trucks that just happen to show up at the soccer pitch after the game.  At a summer beach resort, could you have a truck that sells sunscreen, cover-ups, sunglasses or novelty beach toys and accessories?

Host Special Events

Mobile trucks allow retailers to be open for business when bricks-and-mortar stores might not.  Fashion and housewares retailers could have mobile trucks available for special events, including private parties such as bridal showers or shopping parties, offering exclusive or limited edition product lines. Holt Renfrew used their Hot@175 Mobile Tour, which included a pop-up shop and specially designed merchandise, to celebrate their 175th Anniversary all across Canada. Think about how you can make your events even more special by bringing it directly to your customers.

So will you take the plunge and take your retail business mobile? While entrepreneurs have traditionally been the purveyors of pop-up retail and mobile retail trucks, large retail chains can succeed with mobile retail trucks, too, if they start planning with clear objectives, a sound marketing plan and realistic financial targets.


To learn more about how we can help your retail business achieve success, visit our retail services page or contact us for further information.