$765 billion spent annually by Black consumers never touches Black businesses or Black communities
By Chris Levister
‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house, no people were stirring, not even the computer mouse. Handmade jewelry maker Cloeta Sterling thinks that’s because they’re all at the mall buying things either with their own money or gift money.
“People say Black Friday is the best day to shop but I disagree. It’s the two days after Christmas,” insists Sterling.
She says shoppers armed with gift cards, return items, and newly acquired money pack the malls and swarm the streets.
“It’s when the smart bargain hunters come out to buy stuff at prices up to 75% off.”
Sterling a retired merchandise manager for a national chain says, after Christmas Sales offer some of the lowest prices of the entire fiscal year!
Most retailers start slashing prices on December 26 because they need to clear as much of their inventory as possible before the New Year.
Surrounded by four large containers brimming with ethnic beads including Czech, African and tribal beads, gemstones, silver wire, jewelry making tools, displays, packing and a cell phone, Sterling is on a mission to boost her bottom line and direct some of that money to small businesses in the African American community.
With a simple twice daily text alert Sterling is offering her handmade jewelry and the kind of personal service she says you won’t find at Macy’s.
“A text alert is a highly effective way for customers to interact directly with the entrepreneur who is providing a service or selling a product.” She said shoppers can often receive prices that are significantly more affordable than other alternatives. The challenge Sterling says is convincing Black consumers that “Buying Black” is good for communities of color.
“Black consumers routinely drive pass struggling Black-owned businesses to get to the major malls where they often pay more and get less. It’s a characteristic of the Black community,” said Sterling.
“What we are saying is ‘Buying Black’ has additional benefits to include boosting employment in communities of color, creating health and wellness options, and providing role models and networks for other businesses and start-ups.”
According to Target Market News, there is $850 billion moving through Black consumers' hands each year, with 90 percent of that amount going to businesses owned and controlled by non-Black businesses. That is a vast amount of revenue that never makes its way to the African American community.
On the flip side of the coin, however, comes bleak statistics pointing to a noticeable lack of support from Black consumers in keeping those Black-owned businesses afloat. Despite significant growth in employment and earnings, Black-owned businesses generated just 0.5 percent of all receipts in 2007, the Census report says.
Based on the special report “African American Consumers: Still Vital, Still Growing” released by Nielsen and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the African American consumer exerts a large influence on popular culture and trends. The number of Blacks in America has reached almost 43 million. The collective buying power of this population is projected to reach $1.1 trillion by 2015. There are also unique generational characteristics, gender buying behaviors, and cultural distinctions within this market segment.
Critics of the “Buy Black” campaign say tapping into Black dollars is easier said than done.
In open letter to aspiring African American business owners, Khadija Nassif of Black Economic Development.com warns that structuring their businesses around African American consumers can be tricky if not downright disastrous.
“I would invite all aspiring Black business owners to look around at the wreckage of most businesses that tried to do business in Black residential areas as visibly Black-owned businesses.”
The primary reason is that African-American consumers don’t want to see visibly Black-owned businesses succeed. The only partial exceptions to this rule were African American owned hair salons and barbershops,” wrote Nassif.
Sterling admits that cultural barriers often prevent sustainability once those businesses have been created.
“This is not to say Blacks should purchase goods and services solely from Black owned businesses. That’s unrealistic. But to sit on the sidelines and do nothing is worst,” said Sterling. That’s why she is preaching the benefits of high tech.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, minorities are not only gaining access to the Web, we’re doing it without necessarily having to access a desktop or a laptop.
While African Americans might not being using desktops to access the Web, the mobile sector is a whole new ballgame. According to the report, Latinos and blacks are more likely to own a mobile phone than whites and outpace whites in mobile app use.
Sterling says you can text someone a product or sales alert save money on expensive ad campaigns and create a following based on a personalized messaging - say to African American women.
Take the text message that caught Felicia’s eye.
“A LiL’ Ebony Sparkle for Movers, Shakers and Rainmakers!”
A follow up message read: “For the ones who make it happen, who accomplish great things without losing sight of the important things!”
The message got her attention said the Ontario hospital executive. “That’s me. It spoke to my African roots.”
Felicia was looking for a unique piece of jewelry to wear to a formal holiday dance.
“I didn’t want to see myself coming,” she said of the dazzling earrings handmade of bone, brass, silver and African beads she purchased in November.
The text alerts have also garnered additional sales this month, all of them from African American professionals.
Sterling says although making and selling handmade jewelry can be a lucrative business, it's also a highly competitive one. She says Black business owners face persist barriers from lending institutions and venture capitalists.
“The business environment can be extremely hostile to even the best prepared, savvy professionals with well structured business models. Some professions are simply un-welcoming to African American entrepreneurship,” said Sterling. “That’s reality.”
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