RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now to a new type of business that's popping up on street corners. They might look like food trucks, but they're not selling tacos or hotdogs. Think of them as rolling boutiques. Hundreds of women and a few men are using trucks to sell clothing. NPR's Lucy Perkins went to Arlington, Virginia, to find out how you put a brick-and-mortar business on wheels.
LUCY PERKINS, BYLINE: Street Boutique is a big, light pink truck. Lia Lee is the owner and can parallel park it without breaking a sweat. Out of this truck, she sells trendy clothing and accessories.
So where are we right now?
LIA LEE: We are in pretty much a driver's cabin. I want to figure out why my generator decided to not start.
PERKINS: And she does. Being a part-time mechanic comes with owning a fashion truck.
So you have jewelry, you have sweaters, bags, scarves, clothing.
LEE: Shoes. Yeah, we carry shoes up to size 10. We have - it's like a mini store. We have departments and everything.
PERKINS: Every department in the truck is packed. The shoe department is just a shelf. The dashboard becomes storage for unused mannequins and a bin of hangers. Wherever Lia Lee opens her doors, she's open.
LEE: Hi, how are you?
PERKINS: The store is really small, but that seems to work to Lee's advantage. In only a few steps, she can be up close with her customers.
LEE: Yeah. No, no, the dress is amazing though.
PERKINS: Inside, the truck feels like a store people are used to shopping in. It's comfortable. If you're standing outside on the sidewalk, it's unclear what the truck even is. The back doors are propped open with mannequins. She does that so people don't think she sells cupcakes.
LEE: Like a food truck but with clothes.
STACY FRAZIER: And so it's just a store inside of there?
PERKINS: Stacy Frazier walks up to the truck and then goes inside.
FRAZIER: Oh, my god. This is bigger than my New York apartment when I lived up there.
LEE: I know. (Laughter).
FRAZIER: Oh, my God. Oh, I'm a big fan.
PERKINS: Two years ago, Lia Lee was told by her financial advisor that she didn't have enough money to open a traditional store. She was told she had three options.
LEE: A - get creative or B - wait 'till you have the capital to do this or C - she was like, just get a job in retail if you really want to work in it so bad.
PERKINS: Turns out, for her, it's pretty smart economically to open a mobile retail store. Lee's original business plan required about $80 to $105,000. Instead, she bought a used truck and remodeled it for 20 grand.
LEE: It's been really amazing. And I have been blessed to be able to be profitable within the first 3 months of opening.
PERKINS: A year after she opened, Lee says the best part about having a mobile boutique is that everything's flexible. It goes where you go. She just closes the pink doors, pulls out of her parking spot, and she's done. Lucy Perkins, NPR News.
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