Student’s mobile street-wear store drives toward success

by Beacon Staff • September 27, 2011

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strongXakota Espinoza, Beacon Staff/strong

One month after its creation, the lime-green truck that is Green Street Vault has become a staple on Boylston Street.

The truck, emblazoned with the white bubble letters of the Green Street logo, along with the taglines “So Fresh” and “So Green,” is brimming with street-wear merchandise. Almost every square inch of the space is home to brightly colored baseball caps, snap-back hats, and sneakers, while hoodies and T-shirts hang from the ceiling.

The mobile shop is the brainchild of Emerson senior Derrick Cheung and his business partner, Northeastern alum Howard Travis.

According to Cheung, he and Travis, who graduated from Northeastern in 2001, met while working at a sneaker store on Newbury Street. He said they had both been working in retail for years and had ideas of opening their own store. However, Cheung said that after adding up numbers and taking into consideration the economy and fickleness of consumers, opening a shop just didn’t make sense.

“At first we thought it’d be cool to have a truck that would complement a store,” the marketing communication major said on a recent afternoon. “We turned that idea into the whole business after we realized how viable it was. No rent. Just gas. Everything we do is 100 percent out of the truck.”

Cheung’s plan for a reappropriated ice cream truck was put into action last spring after competing against 17 students in Emerson’s E-3 Exposition, a contest that caps off the Entrepreneurial Studies Program. Cheung was awarded first place, winning a $5,000 prize along with an additional $2,000 worth of legal services, according to an Emerson College Today article.

Martin Lowenthal of the Bulfinch Financial Group, one of the judges at the expo, decided to make an investment in the company after seeing the presentation, Cheung said.

After that, Cheung and Travis got to work building their business. They scoured the Internet and found an old NStar service truck for sale in Rowley, Mass. containing about 2,000 pounds of cabinets, work stations, and shelving units that the duo had to haul out prior to making any modifications.

Inside the truck, custom-built wooden cabinets store extra inventory, while a TV screen on the outside of the truck displays a menu of merchandise. According to Cheung, hats have been the hottest commodity so far.

“The majority of our brands are Boston based, designed here and made here,” he said. “Everything we carry is pretty exclusive in general.”

During the interview, passersby would occasionally stop to peer inside the truck and tell Cheung and Travis how cool their concept is. An Emerson College Securitas guard approached the ride and asked the twosome what he was supposed to do if he wanted to return something.

“You gotta find us!” replied Cheung.

Green Street Vault, which operates from noon to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, visits a variety of locations in Boston including the Northeastern University and Boston University campuses, Porter Square, Harvard Square, Boston Common and the South End. Customers can track the truck and make requests for visits to specific areas via the company’s Twitter account, @greenstvault.

Although Cheung’s ride is often seen on Boylston Street, he said the area is not the best money maker.

“Emerson has actually been the slowest [for business],” said Cheung. “People come up to the truck and say ‘Hey, I heard an Emerson kid started this,’ but no one really buys anything.”

Despite sales laggings at Emerson, Cheung and Travis say business, in general, is good.

“We’re always spreading the word or selling stuff. We can react to business,” said Travis. “If business is slow we can go somewhere else, the kids at Northeastern go crazy.”

Cheung agreed.

“We’ll be there for three hours and make our whole day there,” he said.

[caption id=attachment_3813496 align=alignright width=300 caption=Courtney Tharp/Beacon Staff]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/frontpageFinal.jpgimg class=size-medium wp-image-3813496 title=frontpageFinal src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/frontpageFinal-300x279.jpg alt= width=300 height=279 //a[/caption]

Leslie Medalie, a marketing communication professor at Emerson and a judge at the expo, said in an interview that she thinks Cheung will be successful.

“Honestly, I think Derrick can syndicate and franchise and have it all over the country if he wants to,” she said. “It’s a very innovative concept, and trucks like his are very hot right now.”

Cheung said the experience so far has been extremely rewarding, and the attention the truck has garnered exceeded both his and Travis’ expectations.

“I love it, it’s amazing,” he said. “Just seeing peoples’ reactions on the weekends, especially from people out of town...they just don’t know how to react. Everyone stops to take pictures.”

In the past month, Green Street Vault has been featured in the The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, Thrillist.com, Bostoninovation.com, and recently taped an interview for the Boston television program Chronicle HD on Channel 5.

Cheung said that going into the venture, he and Travis didn’t know what we expect, but that 99 percent of the people they encounter are fans of the idea.

“Starting our first day we had no idea where to go, what to do, or how people would react,” he said. “[The] biggest surprise is that the majority of people absolutely love what we’re doing. Even if they don’t buy something that day, that doesn’t mean they won’t come back or tell ten of their friends.”

Cheung said the best part about their business model is that the possibilities are endless.

“It’s all about trucks,” he said. “The trend is going mobile.”

emHeidi Moeller, Beacon Staff, contributed reporting. Espinoza can be reached at xakota_espinoza@emerson.edu. Follow her on Twitter   @xakotaesp./em