By Lincoln Wright South Bend Tribune, Ind.
I watched many shoppers at University Park Mall this week stop in their tracks when they saw the Boho Pretty Mobile Boutique.
I did the same thing -- I guess most of us aren't used to seeing a pink trailer sitting inside a mall.
You'll find the women's clothing store set up inside a retro 1970 Shasta RV, with a gold stripe and iconic wings, parked inside the mall near Barnes & Noble through March. The mobile boutique, which travels to a variety of locations, is the culmination of owners Amber Huber's and Mary-Catherine Miller's dream.
The two friends from Goshen had always talked about partnering up, but finally got the chance when Huber moved her family back to the area from Indianapolis a few years back.
The idea of a fashion truck was something, Huber said, she personally had always wanted to do. She previously owned and operated a boutique in Indianapolis, but seeing traveling stores growing in popularity on the coasts, she saw the opportunity to start one in Indiana.
Although they will travel around, this store has some personal connections to the area. Not only are the friends from Goshen, but Shastas have been produced in Elkhart County for years. Miller's husband also works for an RV company, which came in handy when they needed to gut and rebuild the RV after finding it rusting in a field, Huber said.
Now Boho Pretty -- which stands for Beautiful On Her Own -- has been in business traveling around, setting up shop for more than two years.
"We have a lot of fun with it," Huber said. "There's a really fun social aspect to it."
And it's the social side of the Boho Pretty experience I found to be the coolest part. They will literally bring the RV-based store to your house. You can arrange a Boho Pretty party, and Miller and Huber will set up shop in your driveway. They will also work with other businesses, setting up outside their stores and will donate 10 percent of sales when partnering for fundraisers. Hosting a private party will also get you 10 percent of the day's sales in free merchandise.
Even when the Shasta is set for a period of time, like it is currently at the mall, the partners can still bring racks of clothes for a party, but the true experience is shopping inside the RV. Though small, it's decked out like any good store is. The walls are lined with racks of clothing, with shelves topped with accessories. "We have a fitting room and everything," Huber said.
Though the holidays are always a good time for pop-up and mobile stores, the shopping experience has been changing -- driven by technology and the evolving expectations of consumers, according to Melissa Gonzalez, author of "The Pop-Up Paradigm" and chief pop-up architect at Lion'esque Group.
Founded in 2009 by Gonzalez, Lion'esque Group has produced more than 100 pop-up retail experiences in many major cities.
Because of changing expectations, retailers and brands are having to shift how they serve consumers, Gonzalez said.
It's something, she said, that can't just be done online or through social media anymore.
For big brands, short-term, pop-up style locations aren't usually about selling a lot of products, Gonzalez said; it's about continuing to grow brand awareness. For small stores and up-and-coming designers, though, a pop-up can be the perfect way to start connecting with customers and building loyalty, she said.
But no matter big or small, the pop-up store has to focus on the experience. "It's not utility shopping," Gonzalez said. Something has to wow the consumer and get their attention.
"They are expecting to walk in and find something new and cool and unique," she said. "There has to be story-telling aspects. The ability to learn and dive deeper than just the products."
And I think that's the perfect way to describe the experience at Boho Pretty. The pink RV is an attention grabber, but beyond that there's a personal story. All of that combines for a fun shopping experience that has Huber and Miller hoping for a second trailer to keep up with demand.
"We are a full-function store," Huber said. "We are just on wheels."