Laranzo Dacres, Gleaner Writer
'Hey, beautiful ... any shoes for you today?' This was what 38-year-old sole trader Hugh Williams asked a female passer-by in the hope of making a sale, as he stood by his '96 Toyota Town Ace van which he not only uses as his personal mode of transportation but also as his 'place of business'.
Williams is a mobile-store operator who sells his wares from his van which is parked in the parking lot at Premier Plaza on Constant Spring Road, St Andrew. Each morning he opens the back door of the vehicle so that the tinted glass of the door provides shelter from the sun and acts as a window for the display of shoes which dangle from laces tied to a string which hangs from the highest point. He has been selling shoes out of the back of a van for the last 14 years since he gave up driving taxis for a living; seven of those years being from his own vehicle.
"I am a person who is always on the go and don't like to stay in one place. So, if business is not going good here, I move to another location, so that is why I prefer to use my van instead of setting up a store," Williams said. "Also, I could be driving and a customer call me for a purchase. In that case, it is easy for me to drive straight to that person or wait at a convenient point to meet the customer. If I was in a store I couldn't provide that service."
Maxine Simpson is also a mobile-store operator who parks in the same vicinity as Williams. She sells all types of clothing items which she hangs from the doors and windows of her '05 Toyota Probox.
"I have been selling clothes out of my car for over a year now but, before I got the car, I used to walk up and down and sell them," said Simpson, who insisted on mentioning that she is a Christian.
"I would like to own a store someday but I can't afford one yet. So, until then, I will continue to sell out of my car which, in a way, has an advantage over the store," she added.
Simpson, a mother of three, said she was stationed in Premier Plaza two or three times per week.
"I have to be very pleasant to attract customers. Also, I have to set out my goods in an attractive way, and, when I do get them to approach my vehicle I have to be very patient," Simpson continued.
Smart and frugal
Williams and Simpson both agreed, that the rising cost of petrol continues to be a challenge in their type of business, so they have to be smart and frugal in how they manage expenses.
"When I have to do a lot of travelling, I have to spend more on gas and more on washing and servicing the car," Simpson told Automotives. "But, overal,l I find it works out more economical to fill the gas tank. If I only travel from home to my regular location, the full tank of gas can last up to three weeks."
While Simpson only sells at Premier Plaza, Williams travels on Wednesdays to sell shoes in Falmouth market in Trelawny.
"It costs me about $40,000 a year for fitness, insurance and carrier's licence; $4,000 to fill my gas tank, plus tyres. Luckily, I service the van myself," Williams explained.
In choosing the right vehicle to serve as a 'mobile store', Williams recommended the van because it has more space for the display of goods and the height of the trunk and rear door from the ground make the vehicle sturdier for travelling on rough roads and in water.
Simpson said he is looking forward to the day when she can open a traditional store, as it is a more fitting establishment on a long-term basis, while Williams still prefers his moving business, although he is of the view that it is more costly to operate from a van than a fixed location.