Fashion in the Fast Lane

Minnesota’s first mobile boutique took off in Stillwater.
Teresa Grim enjoys the outdoors and taking her business on the road with Minnesota’s first fashion boutique on wheels, The Fashion Mobile.

When Teresa and David Grim closed their Stillwater shop, Doozie Chic Boutique, in 2011, they had an idea for an entirely new way to run a retail clothing shop—on four wheels.

Encouraged by the food truck craze, the pair decided to see if the mobile business model could mesh with fashion retail. The Fashion Mobile, Minnesota’s first women’s clothing and jewelry shop operated out of a truck, resolved many of the issues they’d confronted during their three years as owners of the brick-and-mortar store in downtown Stillwater—namely, seasonality and the high cost of staffing.

For the couple (who have since separated), this unusual venture began on Craigslist. After a month of scouring the vehicle postings for something bigger than a car but more maneuverable than a full-sized truck, they found a Star Tribune delivery truck that required “a bit of fixing up,” but was perfect, Teresa recalls. “It was bright green and had stains all over the inside.” In addition to applying a new coat of paint to the exterior, David refinished the interior with floor tiles, chic wallpaper, clothing racks, a modular shelving unit and a dressing room.

“We were kind of flying blind,” David says. “We knew that our first event was going to be Market Fest in White Bear Lake, and we just worked back from that date. From the time we first got the idea, to the time we opened, it was three months. It took us a whole month just to find the truck; I’d say we moved pretty quickly.”

The result of their efforts is akin to a walk-in closet on wheels, with enough browsing space for four shoppers at a time. Weather permitting, additional wares can also be displayed on racks around the truck. Teresa keeps the shop stocked with women’s clothes, jewelry and accessories. She prides herself on finding unique items, and travels to fashion markets several times a year to find new merchandise.

In the beginning, getting shoppers used to the concept of an itinerant boutique was a gradual process. “[Customers] weren’t sure they were supposed to actually walk up and go inside. I ended up making a sign that said, ‘Please, shop inside,’ ” David says.

All items are priced under $100, and most are $50 or less. Teresa describes the prevailing style as “fun and trendy, but comfortable.” The idea of a store that can pull up to your driveway is particularly appealing to moms and other women who don’t have much time on their hands, she says.

Teresa Grim currently operates the mobile shop with her friend, Dawn Lord, who serves as director of marketing and sales. This is a part-time job for both working mothers. Given her full schedule and a second full-time sales job, Grim says that the flexibility of the enterprise is a major plus.

David says that the financial advantages of this model are considerable.“You have lower start-up costs, and monthly expenses are 90 percent less” than those of a brick-and-mortar shop. On the other hand, he also warns, “You might pay anywhere from $50 to $300 to sell [at a particular venue], so you have to mind that it’s going to be worth your while. Go where the people are, and know who your target market is.”

Over the past three years, the Fashion Mobile has traveled throughout the Twin Cities to “go where the people are,” setting up at street festivals, fairs and private events. “We still do a lot of business here in Stillwater, but we’ve also gone everywhere from St. Cloud to Minnetonka to Maple Grove,” Teresa says.