There have been plenty of times when I was walking through the airport or through a hotel and it dawned on me that I’d forgotten something important at home. Whether it’s lash glue or my electronic toothbrush, there always seems to be something that gets left behind that I need on my trip.
Thankfully, serial entrepreneur Dawn Dickson has developed a solution that’s redefining retail technology and meeting travelers where they are to give them exactly what they need. Dickson’s company Popcom is the evolution of the vending machine. The brand is the powerhouse behind PopShop Local, a kiosk-based business that dispenses essential needs to consumers that cater to the types of locations, and they’re popping up all over the US.
Travel Noire sat down with Dickson to discuss her growing business and how retail technology is the future of shopping.
1. The Evolution of PopShop Local
Back in 2012, Dickson created Flat Out Of Heel, a solution that would keep all women from kicking off their heels after a night of partying and walking barefoot to their cars. Vending machines containing the rollable flats were placed in close proximity to nightclub venues to accommodate women walking by and the brand begin to go viral following endorsements from celebrities like Lala Anthony, Eva Longoria, and Meagan Good.
Slowly, other businesses started reaching out to Dickson seeking to have their products distributed through her pop-up style vending machines. The new technology created quick and direct access to consumers without all of the hassles of an expensive brick-and-mortar setup or opening an e-commerce store.
“That’s when I realized that it was a real business opportunity because I was just responding to market demand for a new way to distribute product,” Dickson said. “And that’s how I got started.”
Dickson changed directions and her new customers became retail-based brands with products they wanted to get into the hands of the people. Currently, Popcom has 8 PopShop Local kiosks set up in hotels, convention centers, and an airport.
2. Highlighting Small Businesses
Initially, Dickson created Popcom to cater to enterprise-style businesses looking to get more direct buyer interaction. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the business pivoted. She realized the companies taking the biggest financial hit were local, small businesses. Instead of selling space in the kiosks to large companies, Popcom began leasing slots to local businesses.
Now travelers can find a variety of products derived from local businesses within each PopShop Local kiosk. Dickson says products in each machine also vary depending on its location. So what you’ll find in a hotel kiosk will be different from those in airport terminals. Dickson and her team at Popcom have developed technology that helps pinpoint what products would best serve the demographic of foot traffic in each location.
“Our technology does help to determine if it’s a good fit because our technology tracks and counts all of the people that walk by,” she said. “So we’ll know everyone who walked by and we’ll know the demographic make-up of that crowd.”
The PopShop Local kiosks also include a ton of Black-owned brands and products including Ruby Love, Jelcie, The Brow Dr. Black Owned Outerwear, Ginger and Honey, John’s Crazy Socks, and Dickson’s rollable flats.
3. Coming to An Airport Near You
In June, Popcom announced a new location in John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) in Columbus, Ohio. The first of many airport locations, Dickson plans on curating products in these kiosks that will help travelers board their planes with any last-minute item they might’ve forgotten at home. It also allows consumers to experience new products from small businesses they otherwise would not have access to.
“It’s really to serve travelers and meet their needs as well as expose travelers to local products in a convenient way,” she said.
The kiosk has been in the airport for six months and, because Popcom is highlighting local businesses right in Ohio, they are able to remain in the airport at no cost. Dickson plans to expand to airports all over the country and has her eyes set on Chicago and Atlanta airports as the next locations for PopShop Local kiosks.
4. The Redbox of the Travel Industry
Dickson’s long-term goal is for her PopShop Local kiosks to become the Redbox of the travel industry. Just like folks can grab a DVD of their favorite film, Dickson wants them to have that same level of access to their favorite products and goods. She eventually hopes there will be a PopShop Local kiosk around every corner.
“Everywhere you go you’re seeing a PopShop machine selling products that represent the local entrepreneurs and local businesses,” she said.
Although there are not a lot of people of color in the retail technology industry, Dickson says there is plenty of opportunities and she hopes to see more Black and brown creatives venture into the space. Next, her company plans to develop vending kiosks that allow consumers to purchase alcohol, cannabis, and pharmaceuticals without ever having to enter a storefront. A true visionary, Dickson is revolutionizing retail and automating the buyer experience so that it’s simpler and more convenient.
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