When I started Flat Out of Heels in 2011 I had no idea what I was doing…I mean not a clue. All I knew was that I wanted to create rollable portable flats for women to carry in case of emergencies, and I wanted them to be as accessible as possible to all women. In the beginning my #1 focus was selling Flat Out of Heels in vending machines because that type of distribution is very disruptive, innovative, and much needed. Women in heels need relief fast and a vending machine selling flats would be amazing!However I did not realize all of the barriers to entry that I would face — namely finding a company to build custom vending machines for me. Finding an automated retailing manufacturer was taking more time than I expected and I did not want to wait to start selling shoes. I had to pivot my business model to adjust to the challenges and I realized that e-commerce is the fastest and most effective way to bring a product to market with the lowest overhead and highest margins…in October 2011, FlatOutofHeels.com was born.
The first two years were all about research and product development, building the team, getting the product right, narrowing our market focus, getting to know our customer, finding our voice, and most importantly creating the BEST brand of rollable/foldable flats on the market. Our hard durable soles are what separates Flat Outs from all competition along with our extended sizing, and machine washable fabrics.
It was a sweet dream and beautiful nightmare to watch my business growing while trying to manage growth. Let’s face it, it takes capital to build a consumer product company because of the upfront costs for inventory, marketing and operations. All founders, including myself, want to get the big investment check and ‘blow up’ fast — but that is not as realistic as Shark Tank would have us believe. Tech investors and VCs had no interest in consumer products, 85% of investors are male so funding a woman’s shoe brand was not exactly at the top of their list, so bootstrapping and small business loans was the route that I chose to help scale. For every ‘no’ from an investor I got 5 ‘yes’ from customers. Each month over month we continued to grow organically through word of mouth, event activation, influencer posts and social media. It took a lot of time and effort but allowed us to grow on a lean budget.
Fast forward to 2016 — we celebrated our 5th year in business in April, that time flew by! Considering that most businesses fail within the first year I am super excited to be where we are today, but in many ways I feel like we are just getting started. We launched the first Flat Out vending machine in 2013 and we have spent the past few years testing the model and are preparing for expansion. With only three vending machines currently in operation, e-commerce counts for 85% of our business, followed by wholesale and private label/customized orders.
As we approached year five the team agreed that we need to make some changes, level up, and focus on our goal of 500% growth…but how? I thought about raising capital, I figured since we have so much traction now an investor may find the company more attractive than before, but the time that it takes to raise capital will take me away from managing the business. Instead of raising a round we decided to focus on who and what has got us this far….our customers and their love of the brand. Why spend time convincing investors to give us money when we have customers who love the product and are ready to buy…and millions more potential customers who have not been exposed to the brand. We knew that in order to acquire new customers we needed a better strategy and super e-commerce conversion machine. I spent a year studying and working with several developers (it was a nightmare) to create a website that can accommodate our projected growth and that would resonate with our target audience. I am so proud and excited about the new FlatOutofHeels.com website!! We have an amazing new look and new features, please take a look and let me know what you think…constructive criticism is welcome!
To sweeten the deal this week we changed our model to FREE SHIPPING on all U.S. orders now and forever, free shipping makes customers happy so it’s the right thing to do. We also also made some changes to our pricing structure, so far the feedback from customer has been great.
They say ‘it takes 10 years to be an overnight success’ and I am very excited that Flat Out of Heels is half way there!