An ingenious business model for distributing healthcare items and toiletries was born not in a marketing office or board room, but in a corporate bathroom. The idea sprung from a shared moment of solidarity in the workplace between two strong-minded and thoughtful business women.
Susanna Twarog and Robina Verbeek formed their business in 2017 when Twarog, like many women in the modern working world, needed feminine healthcare items, but had no access to proper resources. Her friend and future business partner, Verbeek, was in the bathroom at the same time. Verbeek had a tampon on hand and quickly offered it to her friend. This prompted a discussion between the two in how difficult it was to access these items outside the home and how many barriers it set for women in public life. The two left the bathroom with the shared goal to eradicate the vulnerability women face in the workplace.
The result is S/O/S, a female-owned and operated, Boston-based technology company unveiled its first S/O/S Smart Vending Machine at the Prudential Center. The S/O/S smart vending machine will provide femcare necessities and PPE supplies to Prudential Center shoppers, visitors and workers. The Prudential Center location is the first of three locations—to be followed by South Station and Innovation Center/District Hall in the Seaport.
S/O/S’s distribution system comes in the form of a large, touchscreen based, vending machine. It’s a more sophisticated take off of traditional tampon dispensers with several improved attributes. The initial plan of the business was to place these dispensers to be in corporate bathrooms, though this aspect of SOS’s model placement had to be adjusted, like so much else in 2020, because of the onset of Covid-19.
“Our machines bring you the most convenient and elevated on-the-go retail experience, delivering premium femcare, skincare, haircare, PPE, and beauty products from today’s top brands,” Twarog said in a release. “People deserve to have their needs met—whether it’s buying a mask, a tampon, or a dry shampoo.”
They first pivoted placement of the machine to public spaces instead of private offices. The next move was the dispenser’s selection growing to include toiletries such as deodorant, dry shampoo, hand sanitizer, clean wipes, floss, mouth wash, and, most timely, disposable masks. The masks are a top-seller for the vending machine, as people in this time are always in need of germ spreading preventatives. One of the best aspects is each item comes in a small cardboard box, allowing a level of privacy. People who menstruate and are need of a tampon don’t have to worry about any awkward onlookers seeing them pick up items they need.
Another nice touch from S/O/S’s dispensers is the listing of ingredients in the production of their products. It allows potential buyers to get more information about what they’re purchasing for themselves. It’s possible to make purchase selection purely on one’s phone. The device is able to take electronic payment through credit card and apply pay. It’s optimal in every aspect for users in need with common healthcare needs in a public space.
So, what is offered in an S/O/S machine? Feminine care, personal care and beauty products – and now masks and hand sanitizers. The inaugural products—in ready-to-use, single size portions– include Cora feminine essentials, DryBar hair care assistance, First Aid Beauty skincare, Korres beauty products, and Kosas cosmetics. Every S/O/S product was personally selected by Twarog and Verbeek.
These sleek dispensers are going to be essential in several ways going forward. For the common health of all Boston citizens in having access to clean disposable masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. There’s an even larger and more long-term benefit for women in the worksplace.