For centuries, women have enjoyed a love-hate
affair with their high
heel shoes. They’re so cute! But they hurt your toes so bad!
Sometimes, if it’s a special date or a really
important business meeting, you’ll make the sacrifice. And even as you walk out
of the meeting with a new contract in your briefcase, you may wish you had
remembered to bring a pair of comfortable flats to change into before your
heels kill you.
Dawn Dickson has got you covered.
Shoes When You Need Them
April, 2011, Flat Out of Heels has offered a brilliant solution for women who can’t
stand wearing their painful heels
another second: rollable ballet-style flats
that are stylish, comfortable, durable, and compact enough to fit in a small clutch purse. Sold
from special vending machines in venues like airports, nightclubs, malls, and
hotels, Flat Out of Heels lets you buy emergency shoes when and where you need
Dickson, founder and CEO of
Flat Out of Heels (her design partner is Brandan Craft) has been a full-time
entrepreneur since 2001. She founded a successful company, D1 Consulting, to
help non-profit organizations raise money and put programs and fund-raisers in
place. She is also an absolute whiz at making an investor pitch, having won the
gold (or occasionally the silver) in any number of national pitch contests.
Most recently she took first place (and a $25,000 prize) at the PowerMoves.NOLA
conference in New Orleans.
She got the inspiration for
Flat Out of Heels in 2011. On many occasions, she noticed, women were walking
out of clubs or special events barefoot, carrying their heels—or teetering
painfully in sexy pumps because their feet hurt so bad. Then one evening in
Miami Dickson was out on the town herself, dressed to the nines in six-inch
heels, and her feet were really
hurting. “I wished,” she remembers, “that I could just go and
buy a pair of flats from a vending machine. Then I thought, "Well, why can’t women go and buy flats when it’s
an emergency?” It was Dickson’s aha moment.
Hard and Easy
Some of the startup process
for Flat Out of Heels was hard. Dickson recalls that it took a lot of research.
“For one thing,” she says, “I had to find out if there was
something like this on the market already. I did find a few flats out there, so
I ordered them—and what I found was that the soles of those shoes were really
soft. They weren’t good for walking. So I tried to figure out how I could make
shoes that were better than the competitors. I started researching fabrics,
different manufacturers, where I could get prototypes made…”
Fund raising, on the other
hand, was easy for this Pitch Contest Champ. “I knew how to raise money
from my previous career in the consulting business. I knew how to package
things. I packaged my business plan, I packaged my budget, and I went to close
friends and family to raise my seed money. I’m just now going into a Series A
Flat Out of Heels started
generating revenue right away, but Dickson is still not in profit. “We’re
continuing to grow,” she says, “and we’re putting capital back into
the business to grow even faster. We’re reinvesting our profits, building our
inventory, and paying for more marketing.”
Really Good Shoes
It always helps if your new product is demonstrably
superior to other products on the market. Dickson’s flats are really well-designed:
- They are serious walking shoes—built with thick, hard, durable soles, no-slip, no-skid bottoms, and a memory foam cushion.
- They are designed with elastic on the heel for a great fit; they never flop off or get loose.
- They roll and fold. They’re compact, so you can carry them for emergencies. And they come in a plastic bag you can use to carry your heels.
- They’re even machine washable.
Dickson’s initial idea had been to sell the flats from
vending machines—but it took so long to design and manufacture a proper
flat-vending device (she’s currently on her third iteration) that she decided
to start selling online in the meantime. That revenue stream took off really
quickly, along with sales in some 65 boutiques. Flat Out of Heels has only two
machines at this point, but they are in prime locations: one is at the hip
Miami nightclub LIV at
and the other is at the Atlanta Airport. Still, about 85 percent of
Dickson’s sales are online; ten percent come from sales to boutiques and
partnerships with other online sites. Five percent comes from vending machines.
But that’s about to change.
“We only manufactured
five machines,” Dickson explains, “and we tested them for a year. The
technology is changing fast, and we wanted to make sure we had the cutting edge
technology before we mass produced. The latest model will allow us to expand
into many new airports and nightclubs.”
Social Is Key
Marketing is crucial for a
start-up business, especially when sales matter. And it should come as no
surprise that Flat Out of Heels’ fashionista flats are ideally suited for
promotion via social media.
“Social media is crucial
for customer products,” Dickson explains. “It’s certainly key for us;
in fact it’s been our number one driver. Almost 80 percent of our online
traffic comes from Facebook. And this year we’re going to start putting more
money into advertising through social media—Pinterest and Facebook in
particular. The customers are there,
ready to engage. Our associations with celebrities like Loren Ridinger, Andi
Singer and the Kardashians have been really helpful to us.
"I do the overall
strategy,” she continues, “identifying the hashtags that we need to
follow. Then I use a service called Growth Geeks. You
can contract with these freelancers to manage certain parts of the social media,
and it’s way more cost-effective than having an agency. One girl keeps her
focus on Pinterest; one focuses on Twitter; one focuses on creating new Facebook
content that will drive traffic to our site. It’s been working great. We’ve gotten
5000 new followers just in the last three weeks!”
Dickson’s current plans
include expanding to big-box stores, and experimenting with creative
distribution options like mobile sales—using bicycles and trucks to deliver
flats directly to suffering customers. And of course placing vending machines in
Soothing your aching toes has
never been easier!
[Photos by Slav G]