This post is part of an ongoing series where Ryan, owner of Simply Guapa, talks real talk about launching a mobile boutique in Denver. She's agreed to blog about her entire process here on Hey Little Engine, and even take questions from the viewers at home. Want to know more about a mobile boutique build-out? Are you planning your own? Post your questions in the comments.
How and where did you find the truck?
I knew the types of delivery trucks commonly used for food trucks and mobile boutiques would be tough to come by, so I was on Craigslist all the time searching for the right one. As I was preparing to drive 7+ hours to New Mexico for what I thought was the one, a cute little pink 1980 Chevy Grumman popped up on Craigslist and just so happened to be located 45 minutes north of Denver. I was like a little kid on Christmas test driving that thing! The guys who sold it to me used it as a utility vehicle for their landscaping business, and said they couldn’t get any of their guys to drive it because it was pink! They thought I was absolutely nuts.
What kind of research did you do into opening a mobile boutique?
Once I decided on opening a mobile boutique I began to talk to current small business owners, and piece together my business and operational plan. Other mobile boutique owners, both in Denver and elsewhere, have been amazingly supportive in answering questions and sharing what they’ve learned. There’s this camaraderie and desire to help one another that I simply adore – it truly feels as though it’s this underground movement of creative entrepreneurs who want to build each other up and see this type of community flourish.
How did you and your dad plan the build-out?
The build-out was sort of completed in phases, which wasn’t the initial plan. The first thing I did was create a Pinterest board and collect design ideas that seemed to fit the vision I had for Simply Guapa’s brand and aesthetic. Then my family came to Colorado for Thanksgiving and so my dad and I took all preliminary measurements and walked through Home Depot (I promise you I know every aisle of Home Depot now) to see which materials might work for the floor, walls, ceiling, shelves, etc.
Honestly, I didn’t get a ton of inspiration from other trucks in this department, but I think that may be because I’ve pretty much only seen truck interiors with a heavy focus on clothing and hanger space. Since I wasn’t doing clothing I wanted to utilize the display space in a way that made the interior feel open and warm. So from there we put together a materials list, and then that sort of evolved a bit between November and January when my dad came out for the build-out. For example, we were planning to do tile floors, but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to do wood and make the floors pop to contrast with the whitewashed walls and white bead board ceiling.
We honestly didn’t figure out shelving until the bitter end. I knew what I wanted in my head but we had trouble finding the right parts at the right price. We were going to use plumbing materials but it was super expensive! I really wanted to pair the warm, whitewashed wood with a more industrial look for the shelving, but it was tough to keep costs low and find just the right materials. We were trolling the aisles at Home Depot trying to come up with new ideas and happened upon threaded rod. We couldn’t find the length we were looking for, and at that exact moment a guy popped up behind us and said, "You looking for threaded rod? I have a ton in my truck that I’m looking to get rid of." We literally opened up his truck and pull out all the threaded rod we’d need to complete the project. It was an amazing stroke of luck!
Is the truck solar as well? How did you manage that?
I really wanted to try and power my interior using solar energy, so that took a bit of research as I had no previous knowledge on solar powering a truck. I scoured multiple blogs and read a ton about solar installs in RVs. I knew I’d need far less energy than an RV as I planned primarily on interior lighting and powering a small laptop. I ended up buying a solar panel kit from Go Power! which included a 160-watt solar panel, 30-amp solar controller, and 150-watt inverter to be self-installed. My dad helped me install that during the build-out, and we had quite the time trying to get the interior LED track lights to connect. That is, we couldn’t get them to work at all.
That was one of the projects that ended up being put on hold so we could do some more research and figure out why the connection wasn’t happening. But on round two of the build-out we got the lights working! I’m really excited to be solar powered and love the LED track lighting.
Have you had any moments during the build-out where you found yourself in over your head?
Oh, yes. While working on the truck I had it stored in my friend’s backyard. I kept getting a flat in the front right tire – I had brought it to be patched but to no avail. It was getting closer to spring and I needed to take the truck out of the backyard (by way of taking down my friend’s entire back fence) to get it painted and graphics installed. I decided to bring the tire into the tire shop and just get a new tire for the truck. So I took an afternoon to jack up the truck and jump on a lug wrench to get the tire off. I left the truck lifted as I thought I’d be back fairly soon after to put on the new tire.
It ended up snowing and raining for a few days, so I waited until later in the week to attempt to put on the new tire. When I get to the truck, I realize it’s looking pretty sunken. Turns out I forgot to put a board under the jack and the jack was almost submerged in the wet ground. I tried a million and one ways to get it out from under the truck and replace it with jack stands, but that thing wasn’t budging. This may sound ridiculous, but I really didn’t have the budget to drop another $100+ on a second truck jack that I’d never use again. So I called all sorts of auto stores, Home Depot, etc. to try and find one for rent – no luck. I even called the tire store where I bought my new tire to see if they would lend me one of theirs but they said it was against company policy. I remember vividly lying under the truck in the mud and having my sister Google ridiculous things like ‘how to remove a jack that’s stuck in the mud.’ I decided that it was worth it to drive to the tire store and basically beg to use their jack during off-hours and as quickly as possible. I showed up to plead my case and the guys there said they would turn a blind eye as long as I was back with the jack in an hour. DONE. That was the heaviest jack I’ve ever tried to move in my life, but it did the trick and I (with the help of a friend) got the new tire on!
Were there people who told you this couldn't be done?
I don’t think there was anyone that said I couldn’t do this. It was more a question of would it happen, and would people take me seriously. I’m all for being scrappy and think this business model encourages and embraces scrappiness, but I also want to be taken seriously. You don’t have to have $200k to invest in a “small” business to make it happen. I’m famous for having 10 crazy plans whirling around in my head with the hope that just one will see the light of day. And this one did!
How much have you spent to-date on build-out and launch?
I’ve spent between $15-20k to-date.