Boutique On Wheels-The Luxe Wagon

By Heidi Prescott South Bend Tribune, Ind.

While there has been buzz about bringing food trucks to downtown South Bend, another kind of big city truck already has rolled into the region.

Fashionistas refer to it as a boutique on wheels.

The Luxe Wagon pulls into shopping center parking lots in a mobile, bohemian way. The back doors swing open and welcome shoppers to a new retail experience.

"Department stores often take the intimacy out of shopping, but our concept is like having a personal shopper along with you," says Paige Fessenden, of Edwardsburg, who co-founded the business with Dot Kesling.

Their Utah sky blue truck, which measures 19 feet long and 7 feet wide, is a former Mikesells potato chip truck. But you'd never see a chandelier or smell a scented candle in a snack truck.

There's a bowl of sweet fennel candy for guests to munch on while they look at the ever-changing collection of pants and leggings, tops and dresses, pajamas, tank tops and scarves inside.

From beach-side cover-ups to dinner date ensembles, shoppers find a well-edited array of apparel, urban vintage accessories, and gift items inside the truck.

Well-edited, indeed, given the size of the eclectic European-style boutique.

The on-the-go shop does have a fitting room and even an air conditioner.

There are no set hours.

There are really no set locations, either, although Kesling and Fessenden, who wear the same fashions they sell, have a few favorite spots.

"Our destination dictates our hours," Fessenden says.

While the business concept offers low overhead, the co-owners have found some city and county officials being unfamiliar with fashion trucks and the type of permitting they require to set up somewhere for 12 hours.

"We're a new way of doing commerce," Kesling says. "Every town is different; sometimes they don't know what to do with us."

One day shoppers might see the Luxe Wagon parked outside Down to Earth or Beyond Zen in Granger, and the next day it might be found at Skip's Open-Air European Farmers Market in New Buffalo. The owners are choosy about where they are seen.

"Parking outside a McDonald's wouldn't make sense," Fessenden says. "We like to partner with businesses that have philosophies aligned with ours."

The travel was one of the reasons these women decided to create their own mobile business. The downfall of always being on the go, however, is the lack of storage space; Kesling's home in LaPorte serves as the Luxe stockroom.

"People love it, but they can't explain exactly why, and that's why we market our truck as an experience," says Kesling. "We want to build relationships with our customers."

According to the American Mobile Retail Association, there are currently more than 350 fashion trucks on the U.S. roadways. Their owners hand-pick the merchandise they sell on trucks and buses, making each "pop-up on wheels" unique.

"We're attracted to things that have a good back story," Fessenden says about the items they sell. She takes a 100 percent cotton pajama set off the rack. The line is out of Los Angeles and the design is a one-of-a-kind design from Barcelona.

For its size, the Luxe Wagon offers an array of price points. There are soy candles for $10 and vintage stud earrings for $16, on up to $200 rompers and $300 Italian handbags.

"Neither of us wanted to be burdened by a landlocked location," Kesling explains about the concept working for the duo. "We are filling a niche that was missing in this marketplace."

Shoppers can keep tabs on the mobile fashion store under the "find the wagon" tab on the Luxe Wagon's website at www.luxewagon.com.

"We think there will be little depots for trucks like ours in the future," Fessenden says, "by offering customers a one-stop shop and destination. So far, this has been quite the trip."

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