LONDON, United Kingdom — House of Holland, the irreverent East London label designed by Henry Holland, has turned a traditional ice cream van into a brightly detailed "roving flagship" that's set to pop up in various locations "up and down the country," selling an exclusive capsule collection of accessories, jewellery, headwear and eyewear in the brand's signature polka dots, candy stripes and acid brights.
Starting Friday, the van (dubbed "Mr Quiffy's") will appear in London's Covent Garden, Carnaby Street, Seven Dials and Spitalfields areas, then travel to Manchester, before returning to the capital for London Fashion Week in mid-September. The label is also examining the possibility of taking the van to Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and the seaside town of Brighton.
The initiative is a colourful spin on the stylised "mobile boutiques" or "fashion trucks" which have become popular in the US in recent years (inspired by the runaway success of food trucks selling everything from tacos to Thai noodles) and proven to be an effective way of getting brands and products directly in front of customers.
No doubt, the Mr Quiffy's van will be an eye-catching mobile billboard for House of Holland, as well as a fun and engaging brand experience. It's also designed to drive traffic to the company's new web presence, which launches Thursday.
"The idea of the van was loads of different ideas coming together really," Henry Holland told BoF. "The truck is branded with House of Holland and the website all the way through. Plus, we wanted to do something that fit with the ethos of the brand and was fun and playful," he continued. "I’d also been wanting to do a high summer collection for our new e-commerce site, which launches the first of August and coincides with the launch of the van. So there’s this whole collection [that ties into] the ice cream van concept, which will be available on the website the same day. So it's a double traffic driver."
Importantly, the van will also allow House of Holland, which does most of its business through wholesale stockists, to meet and interact with its customers first-hand. "Personally, I see and have a lot of interactions with customers because I do a lot of in-store events around the world, but many [of the people] on the design team don’t," explained Holland. "The sales team sells worldwide, but their main interaction is with buyers rather than [end] customers," he continued." So what I’ve done, much to everyone’s annoyance in the office, is [said that] everyone on the team has to work in the van for a day, because I want them to see who our actual customer is. It'll be interesting for them to see the range of customers, and hopefully we’ll get an insight into who buys what."
House of Holland is also hoping that the customer response to the van will help to inform a critical decision the company is currently mulling: where to open its first standalone retail presence.
"Of course, the margins are so much better than with the wholesale business, so we’ve been talking to loads of different landlords for awhile now, looking at different options in London," said Holland. "Covent Garden's King Street is one for sure; also the streets surrounding Carnaby Street, near Liberty. I’ve always like the idea of Floral Street as well… and there’s been so much development and so many brands opening stores East, as well," he continued. "But it’s such a massive commitment. To get a good deal, landlords want you to sign for five years of full-blown rent. So we’re kind of using the van as a bit of a testing ground to find out where our customer is, what the average spend is."
So would Holland consider a longer-term mobile retail presence?
"The van is obviously a much cheaper option than an actual store," said Holland. Indeed, total start-up costs for the van, including custom modification and skinning, were under £10,000, while operating costs amount to only petrol and staff, according to the company.
"I’ve definitely been thinking about it. If it was a success, it would be silly to not continue," he said. "And if certain locations sell really well, we can get vans there — a couple of intermediaries before [standalone] retail, then maybe we do a retail location in Covent Garden and a van in Spitalfields. I think we just need to wait and see what the figures are like."