Streetfest hosts the newest form of mobile vendor
The Downtown Davenport Partnership is a huge fan of incorporating the newest and best forms of salesmanship at the annual Street Fest. For years, Street Fest has hosted traveling vendors who spend their summers jumping from festival to festival, and most recently, we made the push to bring in the latest trend, food trucks. But now there is a new kid on the block, Thirteen West Trolley. The nine-ton mobile gift shop is changing the vendor sales game in the Quad Cities, so we made sure it was parked on 2nd St for the biggest party of the year!
We sat down with Haley Bunting, the owner of Thirteen West Trolley, to chat about her business model, coming home to the QC, and what it’s like driving a giant store on wheels.
First off, why a trolley?
I was living in Denver and they were using old UPS trucks as their boutiques. I loved the concept that you could travel to people; you could travel to big street fests, but have it put away on your own time. When I was in them I felt very claustrophobic though, and the light made it hard to see the products, because most of them didn’t have lighting or electricity. When I was on vacation in Charleston, on a trolley, I was kind of like “Wow! It is super bright in here. You can see out the windows.” That’s where the idea came from. It is so neat if you were able to go these big events and still be able to see outside and not feel trapped in this tiny area.
How did you decide on your product?
I have always just loved little gift shops. I have a very modern bohemian and very eclectic style, so I wanted a hodgepodge of different things. There was no way to do that without doing a little bit of everything. I did decide on baby, a little bit of clothing, stationery and papers, jewelry, women’s gift, and a little bit of home goods, just because there are such fun products available. Those groups make the best gifts when you’re looking for house warming gifts or bridal gifts or birthday gifts. It’s also easier to find small makers who produce those types of items. I love the idea of having different sections. You can make a full gift box of just bath items or a full box of just baby items and it makes gift giving super easy when it can all be done in one spot.
What companies do you go through to order your product?
After college it was my dream to have a gift shop. I didn’t think I would be 28 and have a gift shop though; I thought I was going to be 45-50 with a gift shop. After college, when I would go to street fests, or flea markets or what not, I’d grab the business cards from makers that I loved. Whether it be from jewelry or stationery or flour sack towels or baby clothes, I’d grab their business card. So when this idea exploded in my head, I had 200 business cards that I had saved in an old cigar box and I started going through them, sending them emails, “Do you still make this product? I contacted all of those people and only 25% of them were still in business. Some had blown up and gotten too big to respond, so I had to go through their websites. I also use a lot of Etsy wholesale. I love the backside of it because you get to see so much that’s not on the front, and you get to talk to those makers directly. You can be like “Is there another color available? Or a different scent? Or a different fabric?” They’ll actually work on it for you. For example I saw a follower on Instagram who made pillows with the outline of Iowa on them and I shot her an email and asked “Do you still make these?” I already have them in, and I sent her that about week ago. It’s just easier to work with small makers. I am fascinated by peoples craft and wanted to give them the opportunity to sell their stuff. Small makers! I LOVE THEM!
Why did you come back to the QC?
Denver has a really big market for fashion mobiles. There are only 2 or 3 gift mobiles, but there’s over 15 fashion trucks selling men’s wear and women’s wear. It would have been hard to compete with the market there. They do have a lot more opportunity to sell at large events in Denver and are very open to mobiles, but why not bring something fun back to the Quad Cities?! I had been gone from the Quad Cities for 10 years and I missed crucial time with my family. I was using vacation time from a job to come back for things like funeral and weddings. I’ve missed tons birthdays and just different celebrations. Yes the market was amazing for it Denver, but I needed the support and help from my family and friends. I wasn’t able to do this by myself. And knowing the QC didn’t have anything remotely close to this was a huge push!
What is it like being a small business owner?
It is challenging. I didn’t know very many small business owners when I started this. I always thought that I wanted to be my own boss, I just didn’t think it would be this soon. When the trolley opportunity presented itself I was just like “I’m doing it!” As a small business owner you are the marketer, the web site builder, the buyer, you are the remodeler, you answer all the emails, it’s just endless the amount of hats you wear. You have to be extremely creative and a problem solver. But the reward for all of it, nothing beats it. It comes with immense challenges, and it’s really hard work, but especially in the QC, there is such a great community of small business owners. The amount of people, who have reached out to me, is unreal. There’s so many people doing what they love, but it’s because they are small and keeping it small. It’s more fun to support the small stuff. If we could encourage more people to find their own whole in the wall, or start that online shop, or start in a truck, imagine how cool the Quad Cities would be?!
The city of Davenport was so helpful through the Small Business Department, they hopped on board faster than I thought anyone ever would. They were super supportive and easy to work with.
How many festivals have you done? How many do you plan do to?
I’ve been at nine, but right now I have six more planned. One of the events I did this past week, the organizers invited me and built their event around shopping with me. I’d love to do more events like that. I’m still getting my bearings of what events to be in, because there are still event fees to pay and regulations on commercial vendors. I have people asking me where I’m going to be, if my online shop is going to be up soon, if I’m available for party’s soon and I’m like “yes yes yes!” I want to be out at a ton of events.
What is driving the trolley like?
LOOK OUT! At first I was super nervous, but the company I bought it from let me drive it around an empty parking lot and that made a huge difference! Honestly when you’re in it, you have to watch your right corner, but that is about it. It’s only a 2004 so it’s not super old. If you forget that there’s 30 ft attached to you, it’s not that bad. I didn’t have to get my CDL (commercial driver’s license) if you were taking passengers, or had air brakes, or over 26001lbs, you had to. The trolley weighs 18000lbs, I’m not taking passengers – unless you count the stuffed animals – and I don’t have air brakes. So sure enough, I didn’t need a license and I got in and drove it. I’m getting more used to it.