Q&A With Dawn Dickson, CEO of Flat Out of Heels
Dawn Dickson is a fearless woman. It’s the thing that stood out to me the most when we first spoke. She reached out to me via LinkedIn introducing herself and her product, and our relationship quickly blossomed to the point of a partnership (the results of which you can now see on SHOP.COM).
The single mother, graduate of Ohio State, and self-made entrepreneur has only just scratched the surface of her potential. The young company began in 2011 with an idea to create vending machines dispensing rollable flat shoes that women could pick up when they needed them most – after hours of wearing gorgeous but incredibly painful high heels. Dawn had a young daughter at the time and was ready to swap out her very successful role in the events industry for the kind of living that would allow her to be a more present mom. After some serious soul searching, Flat Out of Heels (FOOH) was born.
And yet, in the span of a very short time, she’s already grown from one vending machine at LIV night club in Miami Beach to a quickly expanding brand that has garnered celebrity endorsements for a business built from the sheer inspiration to fulfill a basic need for women not unlike herself – busy, practical, and, above all, stylish. But it’s really only the beginning.
Dawn took some time from her very busy schedule to interview with Loren’s World. Here’s what she had to say about being a working mom, building her empire, and the importance of leopard print shoes.
LW: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. It would be great to get some insight as to how everything has grown since you launched in 2011. Can you talk a little about how quickly FOOH has developed?
DD: We definitely have grown quickly because of the many celebrity placements that we’ve received and the types of celebrities who have worn Flat Out, including Kandi Burruss (Real Housewives of Atlanta), who wore Flat Outs at her wedding and had them on her wedding special on Bravo. They’ve been on Married to Medicine. They’ve been on Mob Wives. Reality TV women wear them often. They’ve been on socialites and trendsetters that are very influential on social media.
Social Media was a very huge driver of my business. Especially in the beginning when I didn’t have a huge marketing budget but I had great relationships. So I would send them out to PR teams and have them send them out to their clients. Also, we did gifting at several awards shows, like the Billboard Awards and the Golden Globes. We just kept getting them into the hands of people who have followers and drive traffic. That’s really how we grew so quickly.
Then after that, I started using the strategy of aligning myself with sites like Gilt, Daily Candy, we did Living Social before. Fab.com featured us a few times. Zulily featured us four times. So aligning ourselves with other websites that could help get additional marketing for us for our signature collection and just building up (was important). I knew that I wanted to have a celebrity design collection, so that was our process in building up to this with Loren.
LW: And it’s certainly caught on. Why was Loren such a great choice for this collaboration with FOOH?
DD: Loren is basically the model of what I see as the kind of woman who needs Flat Out of Heels. She’s a mother, a wife, a busy working woman. And she’s juggling and wearing many hats. She’s fashionable and of course, she has to wear heels. But, she travels and she’s busy. She has the whole image of what I look at as a woman who would be the ideal candidate for Flat Out of Heels.
And in regards to a partnership, she’s perfect because, for many celebrities, all they have is their names. They use their name to sell products or to leverage things. But Loren actually has a network, a global network that she’s built where, not only can she support and promote the product, She can also sell it. So it’s a perfect partnership because I can also extend distribution through the network that she has and the credibility that she brings. Everybody knows that any product that’s associated with her is an amazing quality product.
LW: What was it like on the creative side to work with Loren on this collaboration?
DD: It was really easy. It was awesome. We wanted to create a flat that she would actually wear. So the first thing was that she really wasn’t a big fan of the bow. She liked them, but it wasn’t her particular style. So then it was a matter of getting down to what her style is and creating a shoe that mirrored that. So she told me that she liked Balenciaga flats and Lanvin flats. So we were trying to get to the core of what she likes.
If you look at Loren’s FOOH collection, the Evita and the Glamber, look a little like the Balenciaga style that she likes. And the JGlo flats resemble the Lanvins with the thick elastic band around them. And the great thing is that with these styles, she’s giving her customers a designer style flat with very affordable prices, plus the fact that they’re rollable and foldable – they have a lot more functionality. And you don’t have to spend $350 for a flat like this.
Once we realized she liked that style, we went back and forth picking fabrics and colors that aligned with her. The navy blue, which is a great color to match so many things, we didn’t have in our regular FOOH collection. And then we went higher end with the studs on the JGlo. So we just went back and forth sharing ideas, and sharing swatches and samples. It was actually really easy working with her and her team. Her team is so amazing. Even if she wasn’t available, there was always someone there that could help me. Working with her team has been the best experience I’ve ever had with any project.
LW: So do you have a favorite design from Loren’s collection?
DD: I really love Evita. It’s so classic. I want to wear it with everything. You can wear it with a business suit, or jeans. It’s just a classic. I love the fabric and the style. I love that the front is different, it’s kind of boxy.
LW: Do you have a favorite from the all-around collection for FOOH?
DD: Definitely the leopard. That’s all that I wear. It goes with anything. I just love it. Leopard is the new black.
LW: Your story is really inspiring in terms of how you got started. Did you ever doubt yourself? Did you ever want to go back to the safe bet? To your previous job in events?
DD: No, I never doubted myself. Of course, there were a lot of challenges. But I knew that I could do it. It was just a matter of being patient because as an entrepreneur you never know when things are going to happen. I could use this relationship with Loren as a classic example of patience.
We’d never met before when I reached out to Loren on LinkedIn. And she replied! Which was shocking to me because I didn’t expect to hear back from someone of her status. So building a relationship with her over email, knowing right away that I wanted her to be my partner, took patience. We had to build a relationship. So I asked her opinion on certain things and she would reply. She was just so approachable and so kind and willing to talk to me. But I had to be patient and wait for the right time to even ask her if she’d be interested in collaborating. Once she said yes, it literally took a year and a half. I was so grateful that she wanted to work with me. I could have doubted it, but it was about being patient and never giving up.
And I have a customer base that loves the product. So any time I feel discouraged or overwhelmed, I look at my social media or read an email that I got from a customer telling me how much they love the product and it really keeps me going. It’s really for my customers and women like me who need this product. I know I can’t give up because, if I give up, who’s going to do this, and do it the way that I’m doing it?
LW: Absolutely. So, that being said, who do you admire? Who are your role models?
DD: Loren is definitely somebody that I admire and follow. I would love to be a success story like her. She’s one of the people I truly admire. So is Kevin Harrington, who recently joined my advisory board. He is the inventor of the infomercial. And Daymond John (Shark Tank investor). So basically, the people that I admire the most, that I’ve seen before when I first started Flat Out, they’re all helping me and advising me. These are people who started out like myself and have been able to build a respectable industry. And I’m just so grateful that I can call or email them and they’ll answer.
LW: Considering all the growth you’ve had so far, what’s next for Flat Out?
DD: I want to build Flat Out into a lifestyle brand. So I’m thinking about Flat Out Moments, the moments in a woman’s life when she needs Flat Out, from when she’s wearing her first pair of heels as a high school girl at prom to that same woman at college and wearing heels to her first parties. Then when she’s going to job interviews and she starts commuting and traveling. Then when this same woman is getting married or later becoming a mom. Or she’s a socialite. So creating a lifestyle brand around Flat Out and making them more accessible based on the lifestyle of the woman who needs them and coming up with a distribution for them beyond the vending machines that we have.
The vending machines at the airport are for women travelers and the ones at the night clubs are for partygoers. I have the website and of course I’m focusing on big box retail, but I have some great ideas like doing a mobile feet rescue truck that will go to special events where women can buy the flats when they really need them. I also want to build up my affiliate program so we can expand and reach more women. I want to also introduce a subscription box program where women will automatically receive a pair of Flat Outs every few months plus add on different things that they’ll need based on their particular lifestyle, or depending on what the season is.
I also have what I call Flat Out Cuties, which is a kids collection, so the girls can be like their moms. I have a ten year old daughter and she’s always wanted Flat Outs. She’s finally able to fit Flat Outs wearing a size Small and she’s very excited. But prior to that, I had to manufacture some special ones for her because she had to have them.
Then, of course, there’s other celebrities I’d love to work with. So my goal is to really have a Flat Out for every woman. This product is not about race, color – this is about women who wear heels. What a great way to connect women and see how similar we all are despite our differences. I hope to create a lifestyle around it.
And then, eventually, I’d like to sell it one day.
LW: Really? And what would be next after you sell FOOH?
DD: Well, when I sell it, I’d definitely like to be an angel investor and a business advisor like Kevin Harrington and Daymond John, where they are involved in the development of several business and are helping them get funding and grow. I’d also like to focus on consumer products because as a person in this industry, I realize all the challenges that you face as a non-tech company. There definitely needs to be some help in developing products and bringing them to market. So I’d like to be a champion for those people.
LW: Finally, because you’re a mom and an entrepreneur, do you have any advice for women who are trying to balance work goals and family life?
DD: It can definitely be hard to balance both. I’m a single mom and I don’t have any true support system. But I don’t let that stop me. My advice is to not be afraid to think outside the box. Do whatever you feel is going to work for you. My daughter is home schooled and it was a big deal for me to take my daughter out of school and place her in a more non-traditional educational setting. A lot of people had things to say about it when I first did it. But now she’s been doing it for four years and she’s excelling.
So trust your instincts, trust your spirit – just trust yourself and really do what you feel is right. Of course, always have a plan. For me, I’m motivated because my daughter is watching me and I want to create something for her, a legacy for her to follow. So my advice is to not let anything stop you and don’t give up. Don’t be afraid to do something other people aren’t doing. Do whatever is going to work for you.
LW: Are there any words you’d like to leave our readers with?
DD: I just want to make sure to leave a message of having courage. The number one reason people don’t get what they want is because they don’t ask for it. Or they feel intimidated. Or they feel like they can’t. And my motto is that, the worst that can happen is that somebody says no. And if that’s the worst that can happen, that’s not even that bad. You’ll never know what you can do if you never ask or try. I reached out to Loren, thinking she was someone so far beyond my reach and now I’m launching a collection with her. This all happened in 3 years. So nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself, never give up, and never be afraid to take that first step.
Thanks so much to Dawn for taking the time to give us this incredibly inspiring interview. I’m thrilled to be working with her and such a proud partner! To get your own pair of FOOH shoes, you can find them in the Atlanta Airport vending machine, the vending machine at Club LIV, and on SHOP.COM. Stay tuned for even more exciting announcements about Flat Out of Heels during Market America World Conference!