Houston is a rambling, gambling town and this year Best of Houston celebrates those in the community who are taking a chance.
Coryne Rich, the woman behind the Shoe Bar fashion truck, says she's got something Amazon and Etsy don't -- a curated collection specifically meant to reflect the tastes and needs of Houston shoppers. Sure, those giant retail websites have thousands and thousands of choices, but that's not always a good thing. With so many options, shoppers are sometimes forced to scroll through page after page of suggestions before finding what they want. With Rich's Shoe Bar, shoppers have a fashion-savvy expert offering personalized advice, along with wares shoppers actually can touch and -- gasp -- even try on. (Take that, Amazon!)
"There's a special place for boutiques in the retail world. Boutiques offer...a shopping experience Amazon or Etsy can never duplicate," Rich says.
Rich, along with Sarah Platt of Urban Izzy, Lillie Parks of Park Boutique and Vanessa Mala of Height of Vintage, is a member of the Fashion Truck Collection team. Each of the women initially started her own fashion-truck business, and each had plans to move into a brick-and-mortar storefront eventually. But they all found solo ventures daunting.
Enter CityCentre Houston. Together the women created the Fashion Truck Collection, a unique boutique that offers shoes, clothing and accessories from all four trucks in one cooperatively run storefront at 795 Town & Country Boulevard, Suite 144 (213-537-4244, fashiontruckcollection.com). The hybrid venture is the only one of its kind in the country, according to the American Mobile Retail Association.
Launching a retail fashion business in a truck was a huge challenge, Rich admits. The brick-and-mortar component adds another layer of risks, but she says the Fashion Truck Collection team is ready for it.
"The risk of being in business is much the same as it has always been," Rich says. "The biggest challenge of the fashion truck is the weather. When it's nasty out, people don't shop mobile." It's also a constant hustle, she says, making sure the mobile shop is stocked with items that will appeal to the clients wherever the truck is going that day. "Now that the four of us have both the mobile store and a brick-and-mortar, we're learning the challenges related to the storefront, too."
The daughter of an entrepreneur, Rich says owning her own business has always been her goal. She had been working for someone else's company for seven years when she decided to go out on her own. She didn't have a clear idea of what "on her own" would entail, but that didn't stop her.
"I had come to the point that I needed a new challenge. So one day I just quit. I had no idea what [my] big idea was yet, but I knew I had one in me."
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After Rich had been developing a brick-and-mortar venture for about a year, a conversation with a friend gave her a new idea. "He was telling me that I just had to get in there, just start selling shoes. He said, 'What if you did Mary Kay parties but with shoes?' That was the lightbulb moment."
Private parties wouldn't be enough to sustain a business, Rich knew. A fashion truck would expand her options. "I could set up every day of the week all over town as a boutique on wheels. Shoe Bar was born, and I opened the doors about five months later."
The Fashion Truck Collection team and CityCentre Houston have a six-month trial period in place. If it's successful, the cooperative boutique could sign up for an extended stay. And then Houston just might become the model for other cities.
"Things are going great so far," she says. The retail risk is paying off.