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Decked out in fluorescent pink and blue that draw you in, the MK Glam vending machine is placed strategically at the entrance to the check-out lanes at the Brown’s ShopRite in Eastwick’s Penrose Plaza.
Loaded with extensions, wigs, and other Black hair care and beauty products, it’s the first of a dozen self-service outlets coming to Philadelphia ShopRite stores from hairstylist Maeyonni Westbrook — and it’s been a hit.
“Business is so good, really good,” said Westbrook, who thought up the idea about five years ago, and finally saw it come to fruition this year after participating in the 2021 Brown’s Business Incubator.
In 2017, when Westbrook began working after hours as a hairstylist, she dreamed of a way to be in multiple places at once. Clients were constantly seeking wig and hair extension appointments, but she couldn’t accommodate them because of her 9-to-5 job.
So Westbrook decided to create a vending machine. She priced them out, set about obtaining the necessary permits, and started looking for a location. Initially, she tried pitching the machine to malls and clothing stores, but kept being turned down.
Her mother pointed out that during the pandemic, grocery stores were one of the only places that maintained foot traffic. With that in the back of her mind, Westbrook reached out to ShopRite.
The corporate office put her in contact with Alexandra Beauvais, manager of Sales for Brown’s Super Store, a suite of local supermarkets run by rumored mayoral candidate Jeff Brown. After a few months of back-and-forth, Westbrook got the opportunity to pitch her proposal to Brown’s Business Incubator.
The program works with local entrepreneurs to get their products placed in the big box stores — which also benefits the ShopRites, Beauvais said in a video, explaining that community members are the most frequent shoppers, so they know what’s missing from the shelves. Westbrook’s concept fit right in.
“The presentation was like a regular conversation,” Westbrook said. “I went in thinking about having one vending machine placed in their store, but they offered me 12.”
She left the meeting and ran down the hallway screaming with excitement, she said, still in shock about the business opportunity.
MK Glam’s vending machine hosts a variety of different cosmetic items like hair extension, oil sheen, hair glue, hair caps, make-up, and Westbrook’s branded edge control. Products range from $7 to $300 — and the higher-ticket items are actually selling more.
“What I thought wouldn’t sell is actually selling faster,” Westbrook said.
One contributing factor: the service is convenient. Most hair supply stores close at 6 p.m., she noted, so the machine’s accessibility is a selling point.
Westbrook chose the Island Avenue ShopRite as her first outpost because she lives nearby, with additional ShopRites machines slated to come online soon.
There’s additional expansion brewing. Westbrook said she hopes to eventually have MK Glam vending machines in hotels and on college campuses, and looks forward to offering more products from small, Black-owned businesses as her own business grows.