With the slogan, “Love your curves. Sexy comes in every size,” Donna Hundley is determined to bring the latest trends and stylish pieces to her curvy sisters, offering a service that’s very unique to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Rather than going the traditional route and opening a store, Hundley decided to bring a first-of-its-kind mobile boutique to the D.C. area that caters to women sizes 14-24.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the fashionista, who got the wheels rolling on her Curvy Chix Chariot business in September 2013, to get insight on why she decided to open her own fashion truck, some of the challenges she faces, and the importance of having a clear business plan when going into entrepreneurship.
BlackEnterprise.com: Can you briefly tell me the back story on how you got started and what prompted you to open a fashion truck versus a store?
I’m a curvy girl myself, and I was tired of not being able to find outfits that were just as trendy as the traditional sizes whenever I needed to get something right away. So, I was attending an event and needed to find something and got completely frustrated and with that frustration I decided to turn it into something positive by creating a business.
But I could not afford to do a mortgage because it’s so expensive, especially in the D.C. area. So I researched and asked myself, “What can I do? How can I be unique so that I can still have my store and service my curvy divas the way I want?” I heard on the radio about a shoe company that was actually selling shoes outside of a gentleman’s club to men at night. So I said, “OK, they’re going mobile, I want to try and do that.”
I started doing some research and found that [fashion trucks] are already big on the west coast. With that, I just started finding out what I needed to do to open up a fashion truck here on the east coast specifically for my curvy women and here we are.
Now, where did the name Curvy Chix Chariot come from?
Actually, it initially started off as a partnership with my best friend and she thought of the name, but we then decided to just stay friends and not be partners. We wanted something that would totally represent who we are. I’m a curvy chic and the chariot that we’re driving is our truck.
What are some the biggest challenges you’ve faced thus far as a small business owner?
Well with owning a fashion truck, the biggest challenge is that people don’t know what a fashion truck is. So with the unknown comes fear at times and when we were initially getting started people were hesitant about accepting us as a vendor. I think they thought we had stuff thrown on the truck and was just selling stuff off of it. So it’s really the education component that’s been somewhat of a challenge, and building that momentum of understanding that the fashion truck is an actual boutique.
Then with fashion trucks, there are a lot of restrictions when it comes to vending and we are not able to get permits to vend like a food truck would be able to. They can vend on the street. They can park in front of a D.C. office or federal government building and they can make sells, but with a fashion truck we are larger in our size and we’re not able to get those same type of permits. So initially when people think “Oh fashion truck,” they think you will be able to park everywhere, but we are not able to do that and that within itself causes us to be a lot more creative as we try to get that exposure and reach our clients that we’re targeting.
Also, with starting any small business, when it comes to financing, you know there’s a little bit of a challenge. With the horrible winter that we had, we weren’t able to really get out there and make as many sells so right now we’re on our grind to make up for the loss in the winter season.
I know it’s still a bit early, but do you see any future plans of taking your truck outside of the DMV area?
Yes, my five year plan is to be throughout the southeast. Of course, I want to go up north as well, but my initial goal is to expand my business outside of the D.C. area and towards the south. Ideally, I would like to have at least one more truck within the next year so that we can start that expansion. It may even end up being that we find that franchising is the way to go, but for now, we’re really trying to establish a strong footing here in the DMV area and then that exposure will hopefully give us the potential to continue to be able to grow.
I know you said the idea of a fashion truck came about because it was too expensive to pay for a space. But do you think that eventually you might turn Curvy Chix Chariot into a store?
You know, it’s funny because I was looking at a storefront the other day and I was thinking, “How would I decorate it? I might have to paint the front of it to be a truck.”
Yes, I do want to have a [store] eventually and the main reason is that when you have a fashion truck you become very reliant on others in order to have a lot of your events. You have to rely on others to use their lot, to use their facility or to partner with them on an event. Whereas if I had my own facility I would be able to have those sip and shop events within my facility. So you know I would still have my truck, but that would just be another part of it.
You talked about some of the challenges that you faced when starting your business, do you have any advice that you would want to give someone else who wants to start their own business?
I would say you have to plan accordingly. One of the things that helped me specifically is that I did take the time to write out a business plan. I sat down and did a SWOT analysis and truly did a lot of research to find out what our strengths would be, what our weaknesses would be, where the opportunities rest. I really tried, and continue to try to do the latest research on what’s happening in the fashion truck world and what are some of the obstacles so that I could hopefully plan for that. And then with crowdfunding, I was able to get a small loan of $5,000 through Kiva. So get creative in figuring out how to get money to be able to finance your small business. Like I said, you have to plan. You have to understand that you need continuous cash flow in order for you to continue to grow.