Would you buy your next outfit inside a bus? An Alberta business owner is banking on it

Boutique On Your Street is one of the first retail businesses in Edmonton to sell clothes out of a bus — but it might not be the last.

The business is following a growing trend in Canada of businesses turning to new and innovative ways to sell their products.

Wendy Smith opened Boutique On Your Street in June 2023. She had spent the previous month coming up with a business plan, buying an old DATS bus from the City of Edmonton, renovating it and stocking it with merchandise.

From her home base in Spruce Grove, she drives her bus around Alberta, selling fashionable clothing for men and women in places like Fort McMurray, Jasper and Ponoka.

"I had originally looked at opening a brick and mortar shoe store, and being a single mom, I could either rent one or I could stock one, but I couldn't do both," she said in an interview.

Her friend recommended that she sell her products out of a bus instead.

"This seemed like a great way that I could afford to do it and still be there for my kids."

Smith says the limited space in her bus means she's more purposeful with the clothes that she sells.
Smith says the limited space inside her bus means she's more purposeful with the clothes she sells. (Submitted by Wendy Smith)

Joseph Aversa, a professor in retail management at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the retail space is changing because the relationship between consumer and retailer is changing.

"We have a very different relationship with retailers than we have had in the past," said Aversa, who specializes in retail decision-making and location research.

"What we're starting to see now is consumers are largely in the driver seat now because we have access to a lot more products and services," he said.

With so many goods and services today, consumers are relying more on what is convenient or valuable to them, according to Aversa.

"I think we're going to start to see a lot of non-traditional types of retail formats come out to accommodate this change in consumer consumption patterns," he said.

One of the symptoms of this shift is the thinning out of malls across the country. Many of these are smaller shopping centres, said Aversa.

Nora Salem is the owner of Bud+Bloom, which opened in Edmonton's Kingsway Mall in May 2022.

She started her business selling floral cannabis arrangements. Now, she's expanded into selling prints, books and other services.

Nora Salem, owner of Bud+Bloom, makes arrangements out of cannabis plants. She moved out of her Kingsway Mall location last month to focus on saving costs.
Nora Salem, owner of Bud+Bloom, makes arrangements out of cannabis plants. She moved out of her Kingsway Mall location last month to focus on saving costs. (Submitted by Nora Salem)

Salem moved out of her space in the mall at the end of May.

"A big reason for me moving back home was … so that I could recover and come back to that place of ownership of my time, my creativity, my budget," she said.

"I knew I was going to benefit from saving on the overhead costs of running a brick and mortar [store] and having a set schedule that I had to work within."

There were limitations working in a traditional storefront, especially one in a mall. Salem found it difficult to connect with mall shoppers.

With Palestinian roots, she found increasingly that her identity started to shape her work and the products she was selling. She said that was something clients were not eager to accept.

"The general public was not kind or receptive to what I was trying to do and with the different things I tried," said Salem. "It just felt like the mall wasn't the best space for me."

For Wendy Smith, it's the connection she's formed with her clientele that has made her unique business worth it.

The products she sells are more personal to her. She thinks other entrepreneurs could benefit from trying a similar approach.

"I want to share this with as many people that want to be a part of it," she said.

"I'd love it for somebody else in my position to be able to go out and earn their own money and take pride and ownership of their own business."