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Thinking inside the box: Vending machine connects makers with customers in time of COVID

The Midtown Handmade vending machine, at 921 Kimbark St., allows local makers who can no longer sell at craft fairs to think differently and sell their items in a unique way. The vending machine is available 24 hours, seven days a week. 
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The Midtown Handmade vending machine at 921 Kimbark St. (Photo courtesy of Branded Beet)

Lindsey Bricker of Fettle and Fire first got the idea to use a vending machine for selling local makers’ works two or three years ago. She read an article about a butcher who sold meat after store hours that way. Little did she know how perfectly the idea would fit in this pandemic year. 

The Midtown Handmade vending machine, at 921 Kimbark St., allows local makers who can no longer sell at craft fairs to think differently and sell their items in a unique way. In this case, thinking inside the box is the key. The vending machine is available 24 hours, seven days a week. 

“One of my slickest transactions buying items for this vending machine was when the gal with the snowflake cards just drove up into the driveway, her kid was sleeping in the backseat and she was able to give me the cards. I put them in the machine and she took a picture,” Bricker said. “She didn't have to wake her kid up. She didn't have to figure out parking and other logistics. So, I think we all miss connection with people so much and that is a whole complicated situation in and of itself. But convenience can also be helpful, too.”

Accessibility is Bricker’s vision for the vending machine, and it was a consideration she had when choosing the price range of items it contains. Merchandise in the machine has a price range of $1 to $40. If customers like surprises, they can try the mystery box priced at $5. It also takes payments of all sorts, including contactless options such as Apple Pay. The machine is able to accept up to $99.99, but Bricker wanted items to be affordable. 

Vending machine constraints also affected how many vendors could contribute, what items could be included and how those items needed to be packaged. The machine was installed Oct. 25 and the official launch was Friday. It includes items from eight vendors: Fettle and Fire, Sift Ceramics, Sweet Ada’s, Elderwood Apothecary, Annette Kennedy Fiber Art, Honeyshade Studio, Rose and the Wren and Erin DeLargy

The vending machine only has eight slots, but Bricker hopes to rotate vendors and items. She already has a waiting list. Additionally, items had to be sized not only to fit in the slots but fit through the door, a constraint Bricker hadn’t thought of until the vending machine was delivered.  

2020_11_01_LL_maker_vending_machine_collageThe Midtown Handmade vending machine and an assortment of goods to be found inside.(Photos courtesy of Branded Beet)
She is intending to have themes and, for right now, there is a seasonal, gift-giving focus.  Bricker is including ceramic chimes and holiday ornaments from her shop. Keri Granda from Sift Ceramics shares studio space with Bricker. She notes that while they do similar work, Bricker is exclusively a hand-builder while Granda most often works with a potters’ wheel. 

Granda has a strong focus on functional use and has adapted a collection she created over the summer to fit into the machine. 

“I launched a collection in the spring, based on my upbringing on the East Coast. My current collection is called the Shoreline Collection, it's really a product of that,” she said.

The vending machine contains iterations of those products she already had. 

“So, for example, my prep dishes that I make, I typically offer them as a single or as a set of five in my shop. And I have them as a special set of three, there in the vending machine for size purposes. And also, I think it's kind of neat to offer exclusive things to local people in this weird time where there's like not a lot of special in-person stuff that's able to go on,” she said.

While Granda had to adapt her items to fit in the machine, hand balm from Jane Anderson of Elderwood Apothecary is just the right size. She sells it at the Yarn Shop, on an e-commerce site and to some wholesalers throughout the country, but she said she’s excited to contribute to something innovative that keeps last-minute gift-giving local.

“I’m excited at the potential for being able to offer handmade goods to the community. For one, it's just another way for people to buy handmade goods since we're not doing markets and stuff like that with the pandemic,” Anderson said. “I think it's just a fun, out-of-the-box idea that gets handmade goods into people's hands.”

In March, when the pandemic began, Bricker wanted to spread cheer, so she put some of her ceramic windchimes around town. Now, people can buy them in the machine. 

The chimes also brought her together with Jenn Bridge and Nikki Knez of Branded Beet. Knez was so enthusiastic about the wind chimes she contacted Bricker to buy some. They kept in touch and when the vending machine project became a reality, the company had the opportunity to do the branding photography. 

Branded Beet launched early this year before the pandemic hit. From the beginning, the mission was to support locals by helping them with their online, particularly social media, presence.  Knez is excited about the vending machine project for its creativity and the advantages it gives both local makers and local consumers. 

“The great thing about what Lindsey's doing is she's creating, from a consumer standpoint, an opportunity for shoppers to engage with local makers in a safe way,” she said. “If people are going to come to you, then you have to get creative and find a way to make it easy for them to still engage with your brand. I think that this vending machine is a really smart way to do that.”

To learn more about the Midtown Handmade vending machine, follow its page @midtownhandmade on Instagram. Local makers interested in selling items in the machine can email midtownhandmade@gmail.com.