Speaker Feature: Dawn Dickson, Founder of Flat Out of Heels
Dawn Dickson is changing the lives of women everywhere with her popular product and brand, Flat Out of Heels, a fabulous on-the-go solution for uncomfortable high heel shoes. The Cinderella of startups, Flat Out of Heels encourages women to lose their heels for Flat Out rollable flats, found in vending machines in high-traffic venues.
Not only did she invent comfortable shoes that fit in vending machines and purses, but also she started a company to create the data-tracking vending machines that sell them. After three years of beta testing, Solutions Vending International is launching five vending machines in early 2017. Learn more about Dawn and her adventures:
What makes Flat Out of Heels stand out from its competitors?
Flat Out of Heels stands out because of our hard durable soles that roll/fold and can be worn as a daily shoe; our machine washable fabrics (all styles are machine washable); our extended sizes (we offer sizes 4-14, when our competitors only offer up to size 11); our creative distribution (online, in stores, vending machines, Feet Rescue Bike); and we have more celebrity endorsements and media placements than any other brand.
We are the fan favorite!
What was your first entrepreneurial venture, and what did you learn from it?
My first company was called The UrbanStarr in 2001, an online entertainment and events platform to let people know what was going on in Columbus. It was essentially a tech company – we were getting over 100,000 unique visits a month and had 15,000 people on our email list between the ages of 18-45 seeking entertainment options. This was before social media, smart phones, and email marketing tools.
I learned how to organically market and build a list and a community. I have been working in the digital marketing space since before the industry had a name. I quit my job to pursue the company full time in 2002, and I have never worked in a corporate environment since. The biggest lesson was that I could make it as an entrepreneur. I never looked back.
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
I wish I knew about SCORE, and other incubators, accelerators, and free resources when I started my first three companies. I would have saved a lot of money and the mentorship may have helped prevent some costly learning experiences.
What goal(s) are you currently working toward?
Building a SaaS platform to disrupt and improve the automated retailing industry with Solutions Vending. Build a shoe brand that becomes a household name for emergency footwear with Flat Out of Heels. Two separate companies, with two separate teams and missions. I have great people on my teams, so I feel confident about our ability to achieve these goals.
Tell us about founding Solutions Vending International after your first vending machine snafu.
I originally planned to outsource the vending machine manufacturing for Flat Out of Heels; however, that proved to be a nightmare. My first machines were purchased from a company I found on Alibaba that said they could convert old cigarette machines to sell my shoes. After months in development and spending more than $12,000 on the machines, they arrived from Spain completely inoperable. The credit card reader did not work at all. I contacted several other companies to build a machine for me but no one was willing to manufacture a few to test (the minimums were too high), so I started my own company and found a team of people who could create what I needed, and in 2012 SVI was officially formed.
How do you accurately track traffic, conversion rates, and other metrics through your vending machines?
We use a facial recognition API to count the passing traffic (gender, approximate age) and monitor the engagement (glances, emotion, and purchase) to calculate the conversion rates and gather unique customer data.
Do you sell more flats via your online store or via vending machines?
We currently sell primarily online as we have spent several years developing and testing the vending machines. We partnered with my company Solutions Vending to develop intelligent machines that will not only serve as a point of sale, but also as a powerful marketing, lead generation and data collection tool for us.
How do you choose where to locate the Flat Out vending machines? Where are most of them located?
The Flat Out vending machines are located in high-traffic venues where women are wearing heels and need relief. Our target venues are airports, nightclubs, convention/conference facilities, and concert/entertainment venues. Our first machine was in Atlanta airport. We placed test machines in Las Vegas at MGM Grand, in Miami at Bayside Marketplace (cruise port), and we still have a vending machine in Club LIV in Miami in the Fountainbleau Hotel.
After spending three years in beta testing, we are now launching 5 machines as a part of our pilot program in Q1 2017 and will continue to expand each quarter.
What is your college/education background, and how has each endeavor contributed to your success?
I graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism/Marketing in 2000. The writing, communication, and presentation skills I learned in my undergraduate studies have been invaluable to my career. I always wrote my own business plans and content for my companies. I also have managed the marketing strategies for all of my companies. I also attended Devry University in 2001-2002 and studied Information Technology to gain a comprehensive understanding of technology and how it would impact ultimately every industry after the introduction of the personal computer and email. Having a background in technology and being very comfortable using tech has also been a huge advantage for me.
I attended Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) in 2005-2006 for a certification in Fundraising Management. Although the focus was non-profit fundraising, I learned the skills required to raise money that can be applied to any industry. As a consultant I have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for clients for sponsorships, and I was able to use my fundraising skills to raise seed capital for Flat Out and SVI.
How often do you travel, especially between Ohio and Florida?
I travel between the states very frequently. Flat Out of Heels is based in Miami, our warehouse and fulfillment is there, so I visit at least once a month. Before Solutions Vending was engaged with Rev1 Ventures, I only came to Columbus 3 times a year to visit my family, but now I am in Columbus more often and the management teams for both companies are based here for now.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
All money isn’t good money.
What is your 6 word memoir? (Example: Not Quite What I Was Planning)
Running Full Speed in the Dark
How often do you wear heels?
Probably twice a month for no more than a few hours. Luckily people always expect to see me in Flat Outs, so that gives me a pass to always wear flats…winning situation!
To learn more about Dawn’s story and experience, join us at her TIGER Tale, Selling and Scaling Outside of the Box, on Friday, February 3rd, from 11:30am – 1pm.
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