The COVID-19 pandemic brought the workforce out of the office and into the wild with remote work. But this newfound flexibility is not limited to employees. Businesses have an opportunity to ditch their brick-and-mortar stores and expand online options by providing a unique shopping experience on the go.
For five years, Vanessa Barkl has owned her clothing retail store, the Dakota Darling Boutique. This boutique was originally based online, but Barkl found that her love for travel could bring the shop out of the digital realm and into the real world.
“My first year in business, I found that I loved doing shows where I was putting the tent up and doing a small setup,” said Barkl.
In 2020, Barkl and her husband Nick came across a large trailer for sale. Her online business was growing and she was seeing success in pop-up shops across the region, so Barkl decided to push her dreams further.
“There is no place where it says you must be stuck in a bubble and do what everyone else says to run your business. If you are doing something that you enjoy and making money doing it, pursue it,” said Barkl.
The trailer was purchased and returned to the couple’s hometown of Arlington. Then they got to work making the trailer an attractive boutique on wheels.
“The design of the trailer didn’t magically look like this. I wanted something with an appeal that was clean looking, bright and inviting,” said Barkl. “When we put everything together, I didn’t copy anyone else. Everything my husband and I did were our own ideas.”
With the help of her in-laws, the trailer was completed and ready for shopping adventures by the spring of 2020.
“In the first year, we did 21 shows from April to December. Some of those were day shows, some of them were five days,” Barkl said.
As the shop travels across South Dakota and neighboring states, it is designed so that inventory and style can be customized to fit the preferences of each community visited. The traveling boutique also allows customers to try on the available merchandise.
The boutique often follows large events like the Junkin’ Markets in Watertown and Sioux Falls, and the state fair. But many of her boutique shows have collaborated with other businesses in the communities she is visiting.
“I truly believe small business is the heart of America. And I love it when small businesses work together,” said Barkl. “When businesses are willing to work together and bring business and experiences to one another.”
Barkl has also had several interactions with long-time customers excited to meet the CEO of one of their favorite clothing stores.
“I had customers last year that started coming to every one of my shows. We have been all over this side of the state and North Dakota, but the customers follow us wherever we go,” she said.
Barkl’s father encouragement her to follow her dreams of owning a business.
“When I was a little girl, I consistently changed my outfits throughout the day. I combined my business skills that I had learned from my family and combined it with my love of clothing and fashion,” she said.
Dakota Darling Boutique features inclusivity sizing from sizes XS to 4X and Midwest fashion appealing to South Dakotans. Barkl is also careful when selecting what goes into her small boutique, ensuring proper fit and comfort thanks to her friends of varying shapes and sizes who volunteer to try on her clothes before she sells them to customers.
“No matter their size or age, I want my customers to find pieces that make them feel beautiful and fun,” she said.
For customers who want to shop online, or see where the traveling boutique is stopping next, the Dakota Darling Boutique app has the answer.