Fayetteville's 'Yacht Club' Trailers: Low Rent, High Traffic Small-Business Incubators

Cynthia Morris cannot wait to replace her current tenants. She would love nothing more than for them to go elsewhere.

All five of the Fayetteville business owners renting space from Morris are aware of her feelings.

There is, however, no bad blood here. Far from it.

Morris is the owner of property on the corner of College and Trenton avenues. The once vacant lot is now home to five temporary businesses operating primarily out of Airstream trailers.

While Morris is actively rooting for all five vendors to go elsewhere, it is because she wants to see more success stories coming out of what has become known as the Yacht Club on College. Low rent and high volume of traffic have made the location attractive to small businesses with big aspirations.

Morris is hopeful that the photographer, boutique, flower shop and a pair of dessert/sandwich servers now renting space are able to follow the path of Hawaiian Brian’s restaurant and Grey Dog, a vintage clothing store. Both Hawaiian Brian’s and Grey Dog rented space from Morris before outgrowing their trailers and finding brick-and-mortar locations.

The Hawaiian-themed restaurant launched last August and was in a trailer for less than four months. Now a second location in Springdale is being readied to open this summer.

Grey Dog took about 18 months before relocating north up College Avenue, but it is widely considered among current and former Yacht Clubbers as the model to follow.

“I hope everybody does well and I lose them. That is the idea,” Morris said. “I do want people to do well and have success in growing their business.”

Morris does what she can to help her tenants prepare for independent success. For rent that ranges from $350 to $800 per month, the vendors operate in a lot that sees about 24,000 cars drive by per day. Fees charged depend on whether the business owns its own trailer or rents the trailer and land. Plus, there are expenses for utilities figured into each month’s bill.

Because she is using each month’s rent to improve the site, Morris said, she has yet to make a profit. Each month’s rent goes back into upgrades, including recently added amenities like running water, landscaping and a portable toilet.

(Also see Mobile Vendors at Fayetteville's 'Yacht Club' Draw Criticism)

Fayetteville’s Yacht Club on College is a no-frills, limited-resource environment. But Michael Holmbeck, owner of Hawaiian Brian’s, said it was just what he and his wife, Shanea, needed when launching their restaurant.

Overhead costs, Michael Holmbeck estimated, would have at least tripled had they initially chosen a location like the one they’re in now at the Evelyn Hills Shopping Center off College. It was a daunting prospect for an operation that started with Holmbeck serving friends recipes from his childhood home and grew into a catering business he could do on the side while maintaining his day job with a national retailer.

In his heart, Holmbeck said he knew the restaurant would be a success. But he couldn’t wrap his mind around the associated costs. Neither he nor his wife wanted to go deeply into debt as they tried to figure out how to best run Hawaiian Brian’s.

“We actually got time to see if this could work,” Holmbeck said. “For us to come into this building and pay what we’re paying now, having never tested the product? We would have failed miserably, probably. We had a profit in the first month, but it wouldn’t have been enough to survive here. Starting at the Yacht Club afforded us the opportunity to not only survive, but also thrive. We got to sink money into the business and incubate it.”

Grey Dog owner Molly Clark echoed that sentiment.

“It definitely made an impact in how this was able to grow,” said Clark, who was the first Yacht Club tenant and the first one to hit it big. Clark had an initial 90-day permit with the city and was able to secure an 18-month extension.

That extension gave her time to save money and grow her customer base while looking for a location that would suit her best. Clark eventually settled on renovating a building less than a mile from where she got her start.

Clark and the Holmbecks have provided a blueprint for Jonathan Edwards and Chelsea Hermez, a pair of college friends turned business partners. Edwards and Hermez own Pigmint, an upscale florist that opened in 2012 and shows signs of being the next Yacht Club success story.

Pigmint is now operating under an extension from the Fayetteville planning commission. It, like all mobile vendors in the city, initially was licensed for three months.

Edwards said he spent a year researching what it would take to open Pigmint, which is Fayetteville’s first new flower shop in nearly a decade. The prospects for opening up a store looked bleak until Hermez’s mother suggested the duo take her Airstream and set up shop with the others on College.

“Opening a business is not cheap,” said Hermez. “Opening Pigmint was a gamble. Being young and dumb, nobody was going to loan us the money. Committing to a two-year lease right off the bat was a little daunting. This allowed us to gauge what size space we need, what kind of products clients want to see us carry. It’s worked amazing.”

Pigmint, Hawaiian Brian’s and Grey Dog are what Morris had in mind when launching the Yacht Club project. Morris, chairman of the board of Integrity First Bank of Mountain Home, said she has seen how difficult it can be for startups to secure funding and wanted to give entrepreneurs a shot at building their business without piling up debt.

“I know how hard it is for a business to get started. It’s risky,” Morris said. “This is a very low-cost way for people to start a business and see if their idea works or not. It means a lot to me that people are having success here.”