Travelers prone to procrastination rarely wind up bringing home decent souvenirs. Fact is, shopping for legit, last-minute trinkets at the airport isn’t easy. Most options are lame, generic, and over-priced. Startup SouveNEAR is looking to upgrade the experience for these same travelers with a clever repurposing of disused vending machines around the U.S.
SouveNEAR’s concept is so simple that it’s a wonder no one thought of it before. The Kansas City-based company repurposes neglected and nonprofitable vending machines as tiny gift shops. The machines are rebranded and stocked with 100-percent locally sourced artisan crafts and knickknacks. Travelers can browse a variety of small, easily packable trinkets including hot sauces, chocolates, handmade jewelry, woodblock prints, and even small pieces of art. Some machines even carry T-shirts.
The company actively seeks out new artisans at craft shows and online — craftspeople who are making items that uniquely showcase their hometown. They then partner with select artists to purchase their works in bulk or to commission entirely new works exclusively for SouveNEAR. The hard part has been finding pieces that fit well into a vending machine.
The key is that every souvenir is locally made wherever it’s sold. This was an essential piece of the business for SouveNEAR’s founders who found it depressing that many “local” souvenirs are emblazoned with a city or state name, yet offer none of that destination’s story or spirit. In an interview, co-founder Tiffany King told Startland News, “We both had that experience of being travelers and trying to grab something at the last minute and we couldn’t find anything other than, you know, something stamped with the name of the place, and we both had a real interest in giving back to communities and the difference it could make.” They admit the vending machine idea was merely an afterthought, though it turned out to be a rather clever one.
SouveNEAR currently runs a total of 12 machines in a handful of locations around the country, including Newark Liberty International Airport, Kansas City International, and Oakland International. Plans are in the works to expand to an undisclosed East Coast airport later this year, with additional locations to be announced in 2019.