Driving a Mobile Boutique
Cyrier pulls from agency experience to grow Mini Emporium business
Boston — In February 2016, Gia Cyrier was 32 weeks’ pregnant with her fourth child and unexpectedly found herself in the job market. So when a friend called to say that a friend of hers was looking to sell a mobile children’s boutique, and asked whether Cyrier might be interested, her first reaction was a flat “no.”
But after talking with her husband, Cyrier reconsidered, despite the fact that she also was taking a new position at The Mars Agency, where she continues to work full time on the CVS account and others. “We bought the truck, and I had our fourth child,” Cyrier says. “I became the owner of a mobile boutique. I had no retail experience outside of working at the Gap in high school. I didn’t understand fashion from a business perspective.”
Cyrier filled the truck, dubbed the Mini Emporium, with merchandise and started parking on weekends at malls, near farmer’s markets and in other public locations, full of optimism – at first. “I figured, who’s more of an expert on children’s clothes other than a mom of four?” she says. But she quickly figured out how much she didn’t know. “My profit was $10 some days,” she says. “I had no idea how to do contact management. I had no idea how to do customer retention. … I would have moms say, ‘I love this. I love this.’ But conversion was hard.”
It didn’t take too long for Cyrier to realize the truck alone would not be profitable. So she started calling commercial property landlords all over the state to see if they had spaces for a quick popup store that would give her a larger brick-and-mortar outlet; and she simultaneously began building out e-commerce platforms, with a particular emphasis on Instagram.
The three-pronged strategy began to work, and Cyrier has placed four popup stores in different locations, sequentially, over the past year, hiring managers to staff them during the week, when she’s working at The Mars Agency. “The property groups talk to each other,” she says. “They all have empty space. I got a call from another one, and another one. And Instagram is amazing. The conversion is unbelievable. I can sell a size run of 2 to 6 on one post in one day.”
But what really catalyzed the Mini Emporium was the opportunity to appear on a local television show called “Chronicle,” which did a feature story about Cyrier’s enterprise and raised awareness exponentially throughout New England. “The floodgates opened,” she says. “My whole idea of doing the popups was to create a stronger brand for the truck but ultimately to get people online. The truck will never be scalable enough.”
Getting people online also helped to build a list and thus customer relationships. “With those three channels working together, that’s when you’re going to have success,” she says. “There’s a retail disaster going on out there. Rents are high; it’s hard to be profitable. Retail trucks are not small businesses [in themselves], they’re brand-building opportunities and customer-building opportunities.”
Cyrier’s most successful days in the truck have come when she’s parked in downtown areas, particularly in Boston, during festivals or other public events. It’s provided customers with a memorable experience. But getting them to shop consistently in a truck, or above a certain price point, has proved challenging. “It’s not necessarily going to be a trip driver,” she says. “And over a $50 price point is a challenge for people, where in the store, they’re fine with $100 or $150.”
Cyrier has found her experience at The Mars Agency and working on the CVS account to be invaluable. “They’re such experts in understanding customer acquisition and retention and loyalty,” she says. “Just understanding how to look at customers has been tremendous. I laugh because marketing is probably the weakest part of my truck business because it’s expensive and takes time. But if I had the time, I could apply so much of the last 15 years of my career to this business.”
From shopper marketing, Cyrier also learned to put the customer first and provide them satisfaction, including returns when their complaints seem questionable, even though that can hurt when running a small business. Her retail truck competitors don’t always do so, she adds, but she thinks the resulting social media reviews are worth the cost.
Ultimately, shopper marketing also has taught her to be an entrepreneur, Cyrier says. “I have to understand the profitability model, whom we’re talking to, and how to sell,” she says. “I have to understand the finances. I have to weigh people’s time. I could never have done this business without being a shopper marketer. It’s inclusive of everything – sales, marketing, e-commerce, and people, people, people.”