This piece originally appeared on Black Enterprise.
In February 2011, during a night out on the town, Dawn Dickson experienced something many women face on a daily basis. “I was out one-night wearing stilettos and my feet were killing me. I thought to myself ‘why aren’t there vending machines that sell flats so that I can get some relief from these heels?’ said Dickson.’
That’s the moment that sparked my idea to create a rollable compact flat that can be sold in vending machines and carried for emergencies.
Black Enterprise caught up with the enterprising trailblazer to learn more about her journey.
How long did it take you to go from idea to execution?
The next day the idea was still in my head so I decided to do some research to see if there was an existing product on the market. I did see a few other brands, however, none of the other brands were sold in vending machines and none of the other brands had hard bottoms so customers complained online about the soles being too soft and flimsy.
I wrote a business plan and sent it to a few friends, within two weeks I had raised $10,000 to launch the business and get the first samples made.
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How did you differentiate yourself from competitors?
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.
What are three things you’ve done consistently to ensure your success?
- Pray and have faith.
- Read, study, ask for advice, attend conferences, and constantly be educating myself on my industry, trends, and technology that can improve my business.
- Surround myself with the best team, advisers and mentors—human capital is the most valuable capital.
What are two challenges you’ve faced in business?
- Access to capital. But I was able to raise $250,000 from friends and bootstrap to scale. Despite the challenges of raising outside capital, my customers continue to purchase shoes daily and we use our revenues to grow.
- Building a team. It’s very hard to find good people to be on your team and stick it out for the rough patches that many startups face. I overcame this challenge by looking to my network for advice and referrals for hiring, I got much better results when people are vetted in advance.
Flat out of Heels are sold online, in stores, and in vending machines. How did you know when you were ready to scale your business?
When I started Flat Out of Heels e-commerce was not in the original business plan, 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 e-commerce 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.
Retail stores are not one of our focus areas for growth in 2016.
I plan to increase my online sales by 300%, expand to more vending machine locations and launch more innovative, direct-to-customer concepts that I can’t wait to reveal in 2016.