Winter 2012 The Right Fit
A self-serve machine dispenses essential clothes and accessories when needed most.
It was at Harvard Business School, as part of a class project, that Gina Moro created a business plan for a vending machine that dispensed clothing and accessories. At the time she didn’t think the concept would morph into a viable business. But after receiving positive feedback from professors and fellow students, Moro set out to make the concept a reality and launched her company, Automatic Apparel, when she graduated in 2010.
The Boston-based company consists of Moro and several engineers and has locations at Boston’s South Station, a busy commuter train hub, and Boston Athletic Club, a large gym. Additional locations are set to open at Boston Logan International Airport and an area hospital.
How it works
While self-service kiosks are popping up everywhere in malls, airports and other high-traffic locations, shoes and clothing aren’t what one would typically expect to see in a vending machine.
The Automatic Apparel machine sells basic apparel and accessories including T-shirts, tank tops, socks, ballet flats, underwear, headphones, toiletry kits, umbrellas and other accessories. Everything is priced less than $15 and the products are tailored to the location; people at a gym might not necessarily need ballet flats, but they often forget items like socks and headphones, for example.
“The machine has been doing really well at South Station,” Moro says. “Electronics are very big there, and the basic tees and ballet flats are great for the commuter [who might need a quick change out of work attire]. It’s very high need; it’s raining and you need to change your wet clothes, or you forgot an umbrella.”
The Automatic Apparel machine is similar to a traditional vending machine, as it has a glass front so you can see everything inside, but instead of typing in “E3″ on a traditional keypad to get your product, you use a touch screen to order. “You browse through products on a screen similar in size to an iPad, and it’s like shopping online,” Moro says. “There are images of the items on models, size charts and product information, as well as our return policy. You select a product, size and color, then hit pay and swipe your card.” Cash is not accepted at the machines. The products, which are all housed in clear tubes, are picked up by a robotic arm and dropped down for the customer to retrieve.
Moro says the company knew it was important to make returns as easy as possible. Assuming that customers would be hesitant to try Automatic Apparel if they couldn’t return the products, the packaging was created with this in mind. “The clear tubes that house the products actually serve as a mailing tube. You open the tube and there’s a label inside along with the item; all you have to do is stick the label on the outside of the tube, [add] postage and drop it in the mail,” Moro says.
The machine dispenses only Automatic Apparel’s private-label merchandise; no other brands are carried. “We’re the only ones [on the self-service apparel market] doing a new brand. You see other players selling big brands, and they’re just an operating company selling the products. Since we’re doing our own brand for basic clothes, we’re able to offer really high quality products at accessible price points. We have a lot of savings in our overhead because of the self-serve model,” Moro says.
As for expansion, Moro is targeting high-traffic locations such as airports, gyms, hospitals and malls for Automatic Apparel’s growth, and is planning a national rollout. The company does not sell machines to third parties.
For more information, please visit www.automaticapparel.com.
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