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Startup Spotlight: Flat Out of Heels comes to rescue for Stiletto-burning soles

Flat Out of Heels

Headquarters: Miami

DawbConcept: On-the-go flats sold in vending machines, online at flatoutofheels.com and in stores for emergency use or daily wear.

Story: CEO and founder Dawn Dickson (pictured) was volunteering at an event on South Beach dressed to the nines in six-inch heels. After standing for six hours, her feet felt as if they were on fire. She desperately searched for a place to buy affordable flats and couldn’t find anything for less than $100. She decided then to create chic and comfy “emergency flats” that were also durable enough for everyday use — Flat Out of Heels.

“Every woman can relate to the pain experienced after wearing high heels for hours. The balls of her feet are throbbing and all she wants to do is take them off, even resorting to walking barefoot to escape the pain. Selling shoes out of vending machines is how we plan to address the problem,” said Dickson, 35, who also started and ran an event and entertainment website and an event planning, marketing and consulting company before launching this business. Flat Out of Heels, which can roll up and fit in a clutch purse, come in 13 colors and five sizes, and sell for $19.99. Each pair comes with a handy carrying bag for the high heels.

Launched: April 2011

Management team: Dawn W. Dickson, president and CEO; Brandan Craft, brand director and investor.

No. of employees: 2

Financing: Raised $200,000 in seed round. Currently raising $500,000 to build inventory, purchase more equipment, expand distribution, make key hires and drive marketing.

Dawn2Recent milestones reached: Launched three vending machines in 2013 at Atlanta Airport concourse E, LIV Nightclub in Fontainebleau Miami Beach (in the women’s restroom) and Bayside Marketplace. Dickson said fashion entrepreneur Loren Ridinger, co-founder of MarketAmerica.com, has recently agreed to design her own collection of Flat Out of Heels in 2014.

Biggest startup challenge: “We were able to find a manufacturer to develop a quality shoe pretty quickly; however, developing a vending machine to dispense the shoes and accept credit cards was a huge challenge,” said Dickson. The first machine arrived inoperable, and Flat Out had to start all over with another manufacturer.

Next step: Expand to 100 retail locations for the shoes and 20 vending locations by July 2014.

Strategy for next step: Partner with national shoe brand to expand retail distribution and secure funding to produce more machines and distribute them nationwide by offering franchise and licensing opportunities to independent operators.

Investor’s view: Tameika Montgomery, a lawyer, investor and friend, said she has been helping Dickson get exposure for Flat Out, such as at large trade shows, festivals, pop-up shops and fashion shows, and has encouraged her to be the face of her brand and expand her team. “Dawn is a hard worker and very determined. And she is a people person — people like her and want to support her, and she is constantly cultivating her relationships,” said Montgomery. “At first, she didn’t want to be the face of Flat Out, but now she is starting to embrace it.”

Posted: Jan. 19, 2014