Article originally published on SF Chronicle by Trisha Thadani
In a world that is quickly replacing in-person retail with online shopping, Gower Smith says he has a cheaper and less space-consuming way to keep it alive.
His company, Swyft, creates sophisticated vending machines that sell products from retailers like Best Buy, Nespresso and Uniqlo. These machines are located in places like malls and airports, taking up a fraction of the space that a regular store would.
The growth of Swyft comes at a turbulent time for brick-and-mortar chains, because Amazon and other online sellers are taking a bigger share of retail.
With their products in Swyft machines, companies can have a physical presence without the space requirements of retail, Smith said: “We deliver immediate gratification to the consumer.”
The San Francisco company is trending on startup database Crunchbase because it has made deals with “one of the largest drugstore chains” as well as a grocery chain, Smith said. Smith declined to name the companies, but CVS announced a pilot program with Swyft in September.
Swyft also acquired startup ZoomSystems, which makes a similar product and operates in North America and Europe. Smith, named Swyft’s CEO last year, founded ZoomSystems, which he left in 2014.
Swyft’s vending machines — Smith prefers the phrase “automated retail” — are in hundreds of locations around the country, including the airports in San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland.
The company has $5.5 million in funding and about 70 employees.
“We’re moving into retail automation to help retailers and online companies” that want to have a traditional presence and compete with the online giants, Smith said.