Boston’s Green Bandits

For Derrick Cheung and Howard Travis, business-as-usual is not so usual after all.  While small businesses struggle to stay planted along our city streets, one small business has decided to literally work the streets in order to keep the dream alive.

 

Enter Derrick and Howard’s Green Street Vault – a mint-green concession truck cleverly converted into a mobile high-end streetwear shop. Wrapped in dope graphics complete with a digital (constantly changing) menu screen on the side of the truck, the Green Street Vault first hit Boston’s scene this summer. Since then, they’ve been slaying street wear sales like their behemoth brethren they park in front of on the daily, only they get to retain the true honor of street cred. (And others are taking notice as well: G.S.V. Media Coverage)
But what’s more unique than the concept itself, is the duo behind the ingenious retail model. I met up with them recently to see just how the two do what they do. Here is Part 1 of a three-part interview with Green Street Vault’s co-owners, Derrick Cheung and Howard Travis…

Part 1: The Back Story
U.R: You’re a college senior at Emerson College. Most people in your position are panicking over the job market and wondering how they’ll get hired. What made you say:  f*ck it, I’ll do my own thing?
GS: Interning made me say f*ck it. I had 4 marketing and advertising internships before my Junior year and I hated every single one. I was locked up in a cube and I had very little creative control over anything. I have always been a neurotic sort of ‘control-freak’ so doing my own thing just made sense.
U.R: Writing a well-thought out business plan is one thing, but making that business a reality only months after writing it, is a completely different thing. Take me through the steps of making your business a reality.
GS: A good idea is just a good idea until you make some money from it. With this business, it’s all about proving the concept. The business plan was written with the presumption that we live in a utopia: everything went to plan when we wanted it to. As you can suspect, however, nothing really went to plan. Launch was pushed back, and then pushed back again. There were a lot of different unexpected costs. We had to stay on our toes and play everything by ear. Since there are no other mobile retailers in Boston, we couldn’t ask anyone for advice or help. At times we felt really lost and it was making us crazy. Still sorta does sometimes. But it’s the reality of business I suppose. 
Howard talking with one of the Vault’s many customers
U.R: What fears, if any, did you have about opening a relatively new concept? 
G.S: So many. Would people like the idea? The concept? The brand? Would we tank and lose money right out of the box like every other small business? What about all the un-expected(s) – how would we overcome those? Is it viable? I project that we can turn a profit, but how realistic is it? My fears were all quelled after our first month open.

Aaron Lyles shooting Howard and Derrick. PHOTO: Jon Smedley
U.R: What was a bigger inspiration for launching the truck: The food truck craze and its use of mobile marketing or the high-end streetwear you peddle?
  
G.S: I think our biggest inspiration was the fact that…. well we felt that there was something missing from the Boston streetwear scene. We wanted to give people more options to shop, and since we’re mobile, we can move anywhere so we can attain our goal of spreading Boston-based freshness. So I guess we’re more influenced by the streetwear. When we had initially come up with the idea for the truck, it was before Boston was on the food truck tip and before they even started the program. Haters don’t hate. 

Derrick Cheung and Howard Travis
U.R: What made you confident that it would work?
G.S: Passion, and everything that’s in my heart. I told myself that failure wasn’t an option. Still sticking to that.
U.R: What role did E3 play in launching of the Vault? What about Emerson in general – do you see your education at Emerson as a precursor to your business?
G.S: E3 played a huge role. My professor, Karl Baehr, was almost like a role model to me. He is such a smart dude and had a lot of business savvy and I thought it was cool. He’s also rolling in dough. I looked up to that too. Emerson has been good in the way that I met a lot of awesome people. The education… meh. It’s ok. The connections I’m making though at Emerson, definitely priceless.
Hangin’ in the Green Street Vault

U.R: You and Howard were co-workers before. What experiences did you have together that led you to partner up and how is being a co-owner different? Which places did you work at before?

G.S: Howard and I have always just clicked. It’s essential that business partners have this natural chemistry I think because the relationship will definitely be tested and strained. It’s different because we execute the “what-ifs” regarding the business. If we were working for someone else, we’d be talking anyway, like “what if we did this” or “what if we could run this sale.” Now we can. We worked at Brooklyn Industries and X Squared together. 
For Part 2 & 3 of the three-part interview, check back often!
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