Vending Machines Are Retail’s Newest Frontier

July 11, 2016

It was only a decade or two ago that you’d be laughed out of the room for suggesting someone buy clothes or shoes online without trying them on first. Now that that barrier has fallen, though, might there be opportunities to sell more traditional products in nontraditional spaces?

Dawn Dickson thinks so, and she had something of a proof of concept in Flat Out of Heels, her company that sells rollable flats out of vending machines aimed at the female consumer who can’t spend another second in heels. In an interview with Black Enterprise, Dickson explained that, just because her business model called for vending machine-based sales located in places where a pair of flats might be needed as an emergency during a night on the town, that didn’t mean her product needed to be cheap.

“When I created the final product in 2012, I made sure that Flat Out of Heels were the best rollable flat on the market and different from any other brand due to our hard, durable soles that are durable enough for daily wear, machine-washable fabrics, a bag to carry heels once removed and our extended sizes from 4–14, where our competitors sizing stops at a 10,” Dickson said.

While Flat Out of Heels may have begun as an idea specifically suited to impulse, on-the-spot purchases in an unattended environment, Dickson also noted that she realized early on how she couldn’t turn her back completely to direct eCommerce sales.

“When I started Flat Out of Heels, eCommerce was not in the original business plan,” Dickson said. “I wanted to go to vending and retailers first, and that is the route that I took — trade shows and trying to connect with buyers. I quickly realized that eCommerce is the quickest and most affordable way to acquire a customer and manage relationships with existing customers. Online direct-to-customer sales also yields the highest margins, so as I continue to scale, I look for more opportunities to sell direct.”