Treasure Valley woman starts creative vending machine business in Caldwell, Boise

Posted at 11:34 AM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 14:20:24-05

CALDWELL, Idaho — Starting a new business in the middle of a pandemic is a bold decision, but what if you didn't need to maintain a storefront or standard business hours?

Shelley Searle now stocks two creative vending machines in the Treasure Valley stuffed with locally-made jewelry, stickers, toys, and items for shoppers of all ages.

The idea came about last year. While sourcing a spot to sell her affirmation cards, Searle met a mentor with a fleet of funky vending machines.

"I knew the Boise and Treasure Valley area was just weird enough, and likes art, and loves supporting local, that I thought it would be a huge hit," Searle said. "So I jumped in and bought a vending machine and hand-painted it and here we are!"

Searle's machines are located at Lost Grove Brewery near Boise State and at the Oakes Brothers Marketplace in Caldwell near the Indian Creek Plaza.

The business model is certainly unique, offering some freedom without the need for face-to-face transactions.

"There is a lot less overhead, I don't have to pay staff, and I don't have to be here 40 hours a week!" Searle said.

From handmade jewelry to tiny toys, each item is handpicked by Searle herself, hoping to help highlight local makers. She's also sure to keep things exciting, even for visitors who pass by every day.

Caldwell pin for sale inside Leave a Smile Co. vending machine

"I'm extremely proud of how this machine looks," Searle said. "I don't want anyone to get sick of it. I want it to be fresh and fun and the way I merchandise it, I like to have it to where this item and the one behind it are either a different color or a different style, so if you sell one thing, it self refreshes! I want this to be a constantly evolving thing."

But stocking shelves only inches wide comes with its own set of challenges. Searle learned new tricks of the trade through trial and error.

Shelley Searle stocks her creative vending machine near Indian Creek Plaza

"(Products have) to be either four or five inches wide or two inches wide; If you're three inches wide I have to put it in sideways," Searle said. "Items also have to be a certain weight, so stickers have been a bit of a challenge. A fun fact: a lot of the stickers actually have an enamel pin, like a button of some sort, or a piece of candy taped to the back of them to add weight. I figure it's a nice little bonus treat for folks!"

And that's the goal all along, to "Leave a Smile". That is the name of the business, after all.

In the coming years, Searle hopes to expand the creative vending presence in southwest Idaho with at least 10 machines spread around the Treasure Valley — and No. 3 could be up and running by the end of the year.