You’re dashing to catch a flight at Kansas City International Airport when you suddenly remember you don’t have a gift for Aunt Mary. It can’t just be any gift — it needs to be something that was special to Kansas City, made right here in the heartland.
With little time before entering security you spot your solution — SouveNEAR.
Q: What is SouveNEAR?
“We sell artistic souvenirs that are all made locally by Kansas City artists and we sell them through vending machines,” said SouveNEAR co-owner Suzanne Southard.
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“We have items that you might find in a souvenir shop but there is a real connection to the city and to our community.…There are items that don’t scream out ‘I bought this at the airport,’ but at a cute boutique,” she said.
Southard, who lives in Kansas City, and her friend Tiffany King, of Leawood, launched SouveNEAR in 2014.
“We carry a wide range of items,” King said. “We have little original paintings, art prints, jewelry, T-shirts that are locally designed and made, tea towels, postcards, Christopher Elbow chocolates and dog treats.”
Items ranges from $2 to $40 and there are about 35 to choose from in the machines. The vending machines take credit and debit cards as well as Apple Pay and Google Wallet.
“Using vending machines allows us to have the flexibility to go into tourist areas and locations,” King said.
SouveNEAR has four machines in the KCI terminals and one at Union Station.
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
“Both of us had been in the position of traveling and wanting to take something made locally ... we were the frustrated traveler,” Southard said.
“We saw a gap,” King said. “We wondered why the places that are very well traveled had a lack of artistic and locally made items.”
The women had become friends through their children.
King, who had worked in real estate, had been home with her children for a while “and I was trying to figure out what the next career was,” she said.
Before children, Southard had earned a degree from art school and had done nonprofit retail work with Ten Thousand Villages. The pair had lots of conversations about their next professional moves.
“We both had the entrepreneurial itch,” Southard said. “We wanted something engaging and meaningful,” King added.
Through their conversations, the pair came up with the idea of sourcing locally made, unique items and selling them through a convenient method. Thus, SouveNEAR was born with the name reflective of what the business offered – souvenirs from nearby.
Q: What were the steps you took to make SouveNEAR an official business?
With their idea in place in 2013, the women began doing extensive research about the souvenir industry and what people were looking for.
“For a full year we wondered if we were crazy but decided we were on to something,” King said.
The two also participated in the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac program and created a business plan.
Self-financed, the women worked with a lawyer to make sure everything was in place including trademarking the SouveNEAR name. They also did some product test marketing in a local museum shop. King and Southard incorporated the business in March 2014 and the first machine went up at KCI at Thanksgiving that year.
Q: How did you source your items?
“Shopping locally ourselves and seeing what was out there.” King said. “And we have artist friends and they have recommended things to us.”
“We went to art shows and independent craft fairs and made connections with artists,” Southard said. “Items have to be portable and TSA compliant….The restriction of being in a vending machine has helped us in choosing what to put in and what’s easy for travelers to take.”
Products come from 25 local artists.
With about 35 items in its inventory, some are carried in one machine and not another. SouveNEAR changes out products seasonally and one or two items each month “to keep it fresh,” Southard said.
Top sellers so far have been popular Christopher Elbow chocolates and various T-shirts.
Q: What’s next for SouveNEAR?
We hired our first employee, who started in October, and that’s been great,” King said. “She keeps the machines full.”
“In December we added our online store ... and we hope to expand in the upcoming months,” Southard said.
The pair is looking to expand SouveNEAR locally going into convention spaces, hotels, or larger corporations that have people who travel in and out of the city.”
Expansion outside of Kansas City is in the works.
“We anticipate we will be on the West Coast in the next six weeks through a partnership (with) someone very much like ourselves,” King said. “We are taking on a small investor and with our help will launch in California with locally-sourced items.”
Franchising is a consideration, as well.
“In five years we hope to be a national brand,” King said.
In a nutshell
OWNERS: Tiffany King; Suzanne Southard
ADDRESS: home offices in Kansas City and Leawood
WEB SITE: www.souvenear.com