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Innovation Economy

When it comes to ‘retail trucks,’ Boston in slow lane

Highlights from Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog.

I tweeted Angela Schipano, the co-founder of the Sneakerbox retail truck, recently to see when I might check it out somewhere around Boston. “Actually, we are going to be relocating to California,” replied Schipano. “Boston still does not have permits that allow us to sell.”

The City of Boston has been in discussions for more than a year with entrepreneurs seeking to sell wares from their trucks. There have even been some small tests, including allowing the trucks on City Hall Plaza around the holidays. But Schipano says that there’s still no permitting process or pathway for retail truck entrepreneurs to operate on a daily basis.

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Schipano and her co-founder, Tiffany Crews, both went to college in Boston. And they tried to start a business here, offering a small selection of the coolest sneakers.

“The thing that’s great about a retail truck is that there’s not a lot of overhead,” she says. “You can open your own business — and that hasn’t been easy for a lot of young people, given the recession we’ve been through.” The eventual goal, Schipano adds, is to open a brick-and-mortar location.

But Schipano says that she and Crews plan to move to Southern California next month. “There are maybe 10 locations where you can sell street-side and it’s legal, in places like Santa Monica and West Hollywood,” she says.

Melina Schuler, a spokesperson for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, says via e-mail, “We’ve developed several models for launching a retail truck program in Boston that are being currently vetted across city departments. Retail trucks are a new business model on the streets of Boston and any new policy that supports its presence on the public way must be carefully and thoughtfully crafted.”

At least some in city government are supportive of the idea. “We have to figure out how and where it can happen,” Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson told me. “I don’t want innovation to be stunted based on regulation.”

But that, right now, is where we’re at.

“It really is a bummer,” says Schipano. “Boston has so much potential. I wish it would’ve worked.”

E-reseller may hit $100 million in revenue

Gazelle chief executive Israel Ganot made two rather dramatic decisions last year. His Boston start-up, which helps consumers resell their old electronic gadgets after they’ve upgraded, had grown to about $35 million in sales for 2011. But it was accepting 22 categories of products for resale, including video-games, GPS devices, and even computer monitors. And it was spending a huge amount of energy working with such retail partners as Walmart and Staples to persuade consumers to part with old devices at the moment they bought a new one.

Those partnerships, Ganot now says, “weren’t working out the way we envisioned. They required a lot of resources from our side, but where it really failed was their ability to embrace and market the program. It became sort of a ‘check the box’ sustainability initiative for them.”

Ganot told his staff Gazelle would no longer market its “recommerce” service through those partners. And the company would focus on Apple products and higher-end mobile phones.

The streamlining did not set Gazelle back. Revenues for 2012 were $58 million, he says, and “we should do over $100 million this year. Our growth isn’t slowing.”

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit www.boston.com/innovation
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