Pillows from a vending machine?

If you can get hot-cooked kosher food from a vending machine, why not a pillow? With no end to the creative ways people are using vending machines these days, a custom-made pillow is actually not such a strange concept.

And The Dream Machine does not operate the same way as the vending machines that dispense candy or pop. It’s really a mobile manned kiosk that lets consumers select the shape, density and embroidered message they want in and on their pillow. It takes about 10-15 minutes to make and costs anywhere from $130-150.

“It’s a bit of retail theater,” said Dave Young, the CEO of bedding-materials supplier VyMaC Corp that bought the master licensing rights from the machine’s creator Merrimac Dillon, the owner of The Pillow Bar retail chain. Young’s company rebranded the technology as The Dream Machine. “It’s a lot like the popcorn machine. It takes about the same footprint as those little red machines.”

The consumer is able to select their own pillow based on sleeping preference: side, back or stomach sleeper. Then they can sit back and watch as the machine fills it with its patented duck down. Customers are able to squeeze the product as it’s being stuffed, which Young said makes it more fun and interactive.

The machines are fitted with an embroidery needle that lets people personalize their pillow case with their name, initials, a word or message such as: “I love you.”

Four wheels and style to burn

– By Regina Schrambling. This article originally appeared on SecondAct.com. –

First food trucks gave eager young chefs a route into the restaurant world. Now a new fleet of entrepreneurs is close behind with seriously cool mobile retail.

On weekends, one of the hippest places to shop in SoHo In New York sits at the corner of Broadway and Prince, with street artists to the west, trendy stores all around and an endless stream of tourists and shoppers flowing past on the sidewalk. Danceable music pulses out of speakers to stop the human stream long enough for it to notice a show window with graphic T-shirts and collectible toys on display. And every few minutes, a passerby becomes a patron, handing over $35 in cash for a tee and providing a smiling photo op – everyone who buys is snapped with a Canon digital camera, his/her visage to be posted on a website.

High-end water filters a tough sell

Manuel Desrochers and his sister, Noemie, are the founders of Aquaovo, a Montreal, Canada-based startup that designs unique water filters, aimed at reducing the environmental hazard from billions of plastic water bottles filling up landfills (see original story here).

Their trademarked Ovopur unit is a 23-pound ceramic egg-shaped apparatus that holds 11 liters (2.9 gallons) of water and uses the combination of gravity and a glass filter cartridge to purify ordinary tap water.

“Our target market is really 30-50-year-old young professionals, who really like the design of it and they’re thrilled to hear that it’s actually functional,” said Noemie (read her journal here), who added they raised the price for the filters from $560 to $660 after their first six months in business. “We really came to this price thinking this clientele is willing to pay for quality, so they’ll spend around $700 for the Ovopur.”

Holiday sales like “crack” for retailers

Over the last few years Black Friday and Boxing Day have become the two biggest sales days on the U.S. retail calendar, but some experts say it may actually be bad for business.

According to ShopperTrak, Americans spent a total of $10.66 billion the day after Thanksgiving and $7.9 billion on the day following Christmas, making them the No. 1 and No. 2 sales days respectively. Overall, ShopperTrak said holiday sales volumes were up 1.6 percent over last year.

So what does this really mean for struggling retailers, especially small businesses that can’t match the door-busting discounts offered by retail giants like Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Future Shop?

Experts weigh in on Twitter-based shopping site

IMshopping's Twitter pageYesterday we presented entrepreneur Prashant Nedungadi (read his entrepreneur journal) and his startup website IMshopping.com, which offers a platform whereby consumers can ask specific retail-related questions, through the website directly or via Twitter, and have them answered by an online community of retail experts. (click here to read Nedungadi’s pitch)

Nedungadi launched his website last April and has already received $4.7 million in venture capital investment from SK Telecom, but now needs to find retailers willing to pay to utilize his virtual sales force instead of going the traditional route and hiring their own sales people.

Our panel of experts have watched Nedungadi’s pitch video and gave us their reaction to IMshopping and Nedungadi’s business model.

Starbucks and small business

The popularly-held belief that Starbucks kills mom-and-pop shops is a fallacy, says Temple University history professor Bryant Simon.

“In fact, Starbucks created the market for the small coffee shop,” says Bryant, whose new book “Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks” is due to be released in October.

Simon argues that 20 years ago you couldn’t find a “good” cup of coffee anywhere, until Starbucks came along and “created a desire and a taste for specialty coffee” that eventually gave birth to the corner specialty coffee shop.