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Woman's shops on wheels bring retail to customers

PHOENIX — Julia Hutton's retirement lasted only a few weeks.

After she left her job at Orca Communications, a company she founded a decade ago, the Ahwatukee woman bought a house in Cottonwood.

"I was spending time in the little house staying cool, and that's when I noticed all the motorcycles up there," she said.

It wasn't long before she "dove back into the work world" with a retail shop that catered to Cottonwood's motorcycle crowd: Biker Babes and Beyond. That was in August 2009.

"It was a lot of fun," she said, adding "the recession and the economy in northern Arizona didn't make for a very profitable situation."

Hutton noticed that the bikers didn't just stay in Cottonwood but traveled around the state to various festivals and events.

"They were always someplace else. They weren't at my store," she said. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be neat if my store was on wheels and I could take it where they are?' That was the beginning."

Now, Hutton runs four mobile retail shops through her new venture, ExTreme ReTrailers, LLC. The latest, the Man Cave, offers haircuts, shoeshines and shopping for men on the go.

ExTreme ReTrailers started with a biker-themed, 7- by 14-foot bright red trailer, a mobile copy of Biker Babes and Beyond. Five to six people can fit inside comfortably.

Hutton says her profits "increased dramatically" over what she made at the Cottonwood shop.

Not long after she decked out a new trailer, Bling N Things, which sells garden accessories, clothing and gifts.

"I wanted something that could go anywhere" and have more mass appeal, she said. "It's just really fun to go in and look at the stuff, whether you buy it or not. ... It's kind of an adventure in shopping."

The Man Cave has hot and cold running water and a barber's chair. The trailer meets state barber board standards, Hutton said.

"They don't care whether you're rolling or not, you have to have this stuff," she said.

Hutton said many of the items sold in her trailers are one-of-a-kind.

"A lot of people give me things that have been in their family and they don't want them anymore, but they're pretty darn cool," she said. "They have to be odd, unusual, interesting. It can't be Uncle Al's necktie."

Business based on festivals and events means being flexible, Hutton said.

There are "always, always, always" events going on in Arizona, but some times of the year are better than others, she said.

January is slow; business really picks up in March, April and May in the Valley; events shift to northern Arizona once the heat sets in, she said.

Hutton hires people to drive and operate the trailers — "I couldn't back up a trailer if my life depended on it," she said — and she has some positions open now.

"We might have one (trailer) at a church one day and at the same time we might need somebody at a bike rally in Tucson," she said. "We need people that are interested in going out."

She's also searching for a veterans charity to raise money.

"I'm extremely grateful to the men and women that serve our country and protect our freedom," Hutton said.

Information from: The Arizona Republic,