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Retail innovation: Stepping inside bGreen's mobile showroom for eco-friendly products

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 18, 2010 10:02 AM

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bgreen.jpgNow that Boston seems to be undergoing a welcome explosion of food trucks, I wonder whether retail trucks might be next...

Retail trucks? Basically, boutiques on wheels.

Part of the first wave is the bGreen Mobile Showroom, the first real-world manifestation of an e-commerce site launched last fall that focuses on — what else? — environmentally-friendly products for your home.

Founders Barry Greenstein and Lee Schneider brought the showroom to my neighborhood in Cambridge earlier this week to give me a chance to check it out. (See the video visit below.) Its first public appearance is this week at the Boston GreenFest on City Hall Plaza ... but when they parked it in Cambridge and threw open the back doors, a handful of passersby couldn't help but wander in.

After launching their Web site last October, Greenstein and Schneider had to acknowledge that it was going to be hard to generate traffic, in a cost-effective way, for yet another specialty e-commerce site. That's when they came up with the idea for a mobile showroom, which they thought would stand out.

There are two kinds of products inside. There's stuff you can purchase on the spot, like toys made of recycled plastic, EcoDiscoveries kitchen cleaner, and Klean Kanteen water bottles. You pay with a credit card (the showroom uses a nifty credit card reader from Square, which plugs into an iPhone.) But bGreen's founders expect that the bigger revenue generator will be home renovation projects using sustainable materials, like bamboo cabinets, cork flooring, and colorful countertops made of recycled glass and concrete. (They're even happy to drive the truck to your house, show you product samples, and refer you to a contractor who can handle the installation.)

bgreen2.jpg"You might buy a ChicoBag [a compact, reusable shopping bag] for five bucks, but we look at that as a gateway drug," says Schneider (on the right in the pic). "Our interest is really in the home design stuff."

After the GreenFest, the truck will be at the Sowa Open Market on certain weekends in September and October, "but at the events, the goal is to meet people, and then bring it to their homes to show them product samples in a more leisurely way," says Greenstein. The plan is to communicate the truck's current location on Twitter. On test runs, they've had as many as eleven people in the truck, a FedEx-style box truck that they bought used last year). At that point it starts to get a little crowded, they say. The truck, incidentally, runs on regular unleaded gas; the cost of converting it to burn biodiesel was prohibitive, say bGreen's founders, who spent about $50,000 of start-up capital building their Web site and outfitting the mobile showroom.

I wondered about parking it. No one bothered us while we sat for a half-hour on a side-street near Porter Square, but Schneider said they haven't yet been able to figure out what permits they might need to park on a city street. "You can get a permit if you want to sell burritos, but no one seems to know what we need to sell beeswax candles," he said.

Here's a first look inside their mobile showroom.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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