A fleet of retail trucks saw 125 N. Main Street in Downtown become more shopping mall than City Hall on Thursday afternoon. The occasion was the rolling out of MEMMobile
, the latest initiative of the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team
On hand were five retail operators--KPreSha Boutique
, Sache Mobile T-shirt Press
, The Bikesmith
, The Henny Penny
and Thigh High Jeans.
The MIDT, partnered with alt.Consulting
, offered total funds of $75,000 in forgivable loans for the mobile startups. "Each entrepreneur was able to apply for up to $15,000 in forgivable loans, of which they needed to provide 25 percent equity," said Abby Miller of the MIDT. "And then we had a $5,000 grant supplement if they work with a local artist or designer."
alt.Consulting has helped more than 3,000 small business start-ups over the years and will offer consulting in accounting, marketing and technical aspects to the mobile businesses. MEMMobile hopes to build on the popular MEMShop initiative that has seen ventures such as Five in One Social Club
go into the Broad Avenue Arts District, and @Home Computer Services
and Klassy Chics
shoe boutique into Soulsville.
Jim Steffen had his truck, little more than a workspace with utilitarian metal shelving, toolboxes and a bike stand, wrapped in logo and lettering designed by Farmhouse Marketing
, parked alongside The Henny Penny and Mark's Grill food truck. Steffen and his wife Julia had been working on a five-year plan for a brick-and-mortar bicycle repair shop when he met Tommy Pacello of the MIDT.
"He asked if we had ever thought about mobile," said Steffen, who had already toyed with the idea of going to community centers to repair bikes for children. "Once he mentioned that, it just seemed like a great idea and something we could do quickly, and also the start-up costs would be really low."
The Bikesmith's startup costs were less than $20,000, Steffen said. He will offer bike repairs, tune-ups, overhauls and regular maintenance at a customer's home, office or out in the city at events and along the Greenline. Steffen has a full-time job outside of the mobile operation and has also been working with Shelby Farms Park on a contract basis for maintenance on the park's rental bikes. He has been operating a bike valet at Tennessee Brewery Untapped as well.
Haul of Fashion, owned by Kimberly Taylor, is an extension of her South Main clothing boutique, KPreSha. In contrast to The Bikesmith, the interior is inviting, with warm wood and tracklighting. The mobility of the truck is a way for her "to eliminate the boundaries of a physical location," she said. She hopes to park and sell at outdoor festivals, college campuses and private shopping events.
In addition, she hopes the visibility of the truck will entice more people to her brick-and-mortar home base. "I want to expose more people to the South Main area."
Doug McGowen, Director of the MIDT, pointed out the overwhelming success of the food truck concept in Memphis. He reiterated the sentiments of Steffen and Taylor to an assembled audience, saying that mobile business startups can be done quickly and at lower costs than traditional retail locations, and that it helps those with a permanent location to expand their market to places they may not already serve.
He said of the fashion trucks in particular, such as Sache, The Henny Penny and KPreSha, that the ability to "take fashion from the catwalk to the sidewalk right here in Memphis, Tennessee, is one of the real advantages."
Mayor A C Wharton was on hand as well to speak to the crowd that had come from nearby office buildings to browse the offerings and have lunch, saying that it "opens up shopping opportunities to so many of our segments that virtually have no place to shop at this time. That brings life to all sectors, every neighborhood … it brings life where there is no life at this time, so it's more than just what's on the truck, it's a reawakening, a revitalization of the core city."
By Richard J. Alley