Scout is a mobile women’s clothing boutique, housed in a 1980s recreational vehicle refurbished to include clothing racks filled with mostly new items such as Levis jeans, T-shirts, sweaters, sunglasses and a small selection of vintage goods.
“Everything’s been booming,” Ballett says on a warm Friday morning on Harbour Drive, “so I’m expecting to have a very good weekend here.”
After graduating from a fashion marketing program on the mainland two years ago, Ballett returned to the province with the goal of realizing a lifelong dream of owning and operating her own clothing store.
“There’s really not a lot of shopping outside St. John’s, so I was thinking at one point of opening a store in Clarenville,” says the 28-year-old entrepreneur, who also has a background in business administration and marketing. “But I really wanted to live in St. John’s, so I got the idea that I could have a moving store.”
The first step was saving money to fund her idea, which she did by holding down jobs at two local restaurants. This winter, she scoured the local classified websites and looked at a good many options, eventually locating the 31-year-old RV that would become Scout in Grand le Pierre.
“I thought I could drive it back, but I realized very soon that I couldn’t,” says Ballett, who had the rig towed to St. John’s. “That’s kind of how the whole business in the RV has gone down: a lot of hidden costs. You don’t anticipate that your store could have manifold problems.”
The mechanical issues have since been corrected and with the help of her father, an experienced contractor and hobby mechanic, and her brother, who has spent time behind a welder’s mask, the inside of the RV was transformed into fully functional and cozy clothing shop.
“I would have had to have 10 different people on the payroll for all the little types of things that had to be done,” says Ballett.
By choosing an RV over a static location, Ballett was able to avoid significant overhead costs such as more staffing and product, and mounting utility rates. In fact, Scout runs exclusively on solar power.
Still, there have been challenges — chief among them was dealing with the red tape and municipal regulations regarding mobile vending units. Rather than wait for city officials to return her calls, Ballett camped out inside city hall in the morning until someone would speak to her directly. Even then, there were inspection hoops to jump through.
“I was inspected as a food truck, I was inspected as a building, and all these things I’m not. I have no propane lines, I’m not selling any food and I’m not a building.”
Another unique challenge was getting comfortable behind the wheel of the 26-foot vehicle. Ballett hadn’t driven it any serious distance until July 15, the day she opened for business.
“It’s definitely the largest vehicle I’ve ever driven and it’s filled with stuff,” she says. “So you make your decision on whether the light is changing a lot earlier than you do in other vehicles and I need two parking spaces. There’s no way I’m backing this into one spot.”
Since the ultimate goal is to take Scout on the road to different parts of the province, Ballett opted not to pay the annual fee of $3,500 for a mobile vending space in the downtown area. So far she’s been using a pair of spots at the east end of Harbour Drive between Clift’s-Baird’s Cove and Job’s Cove and pumping money into the parking meters throughout the day.
She’ll stay in the downtown core this weekend and move it up near Bannerman Park in time for the folk festival next weekend, followed by the Brigus Blueberry Festival in mid-August. There are plans to be in Corner Brook for the start of the Grenfell Campus fall semester and in Elliston for the Roots, Rants and Roars Fall Festival in mid-September.
“I want people who live in rural communities to tell me where they want me to go, and if there’s enough of a market, I’ll go. If a couple of people say they really want me to come to Gander, then I’m going to stop there, but if I don’t see any interest in the community then I’ll just carry on down the highway.
“Next year I’ll have a much better itinerary made. This year is just figuring out how far I can drive this.”
You can get a better idea of where Ballett and Scout are on any given day or where they’re headed by following on Facebook or on Instagram at Scout Street Style. And if she’s not headed your way, you can also browse her wares and order online at scoutgeneralstore.ca.
Ballett is also offering private shopping appointments upon request.
“I will literally drive to your home if you make an appointment,” she says.
“That’s something I was really excited about, more than waiting for people. I want to go directly to them.”