AFRICANGLOBE – When Terina McKinney displays her leather bags and belts at events attended primarily by Black women, they are often interested in her designs, and in her experience as an African-American business owner. But she seldom makes sales.
“They all ooh and ahh and ask a ton of questions, but don’t necessarily make purchases,” says McKinney, whose Jypsea Leathergoods products range from $20 to $325. Instead, her customers tend to be white or Asian women.
While calls have been increasing for Black consumers to support Black-owned businesses with their buying power estimated at more than $1.2 trillion a year, social media campaigns with momentum like #buyblack are relatively new. And McKinney’s frustration is shared by some other Black business owners who say they can find it hard to sell to Black consumers.
The factors can be logistical or practical, such as being located farther away or having higher prices than big chain stories, retail experts and civic leaders say. Scarcity can be a reason: It can be hard to find businesses owned by African-Americans.
But other considerations might be emotional, like wanting a trendy design everyone is wearing, or the perception that national brands are better.
“There’s a myth that’s been placed on our communities for many generations: White people’s ice is colder. White businesses are superior to Black businesses,” says Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chambers, a national business organization for Black-owned companies.
“We have to change that mentality. We have to be better, conscientious consumers.”
McKinney, who lives in Camden, New Jersey, outside of Philadelphia, says her lower sales to Black shoppers don’t seem to be a matter of money, since she finds that many will spend on well-known labels.
Designer Joede Brown has seen similar responses to her crocheted clothing, which sells under the Black Pearl Creations brand from under $30 to up to $500 for the most intricate pieces. She finds Black customers sometimes say her products are too expensive, although they’ll wear a big-name brand that costs the same or more.
Brown, who lives in Manchester, New Hampshire, recognizes that a preference for well-known brands isn’t limited to the Black community, but also wonders if buying them is a statement: “You’ve beaten me down, but look, I can have this too.”
Consumers who do try to focus their spending on Black-owned companies say finding them requires research, and it can take more time and effort to get there. But locating options is getting far easier, both through local and national social media campaigns and online lists from groups like the U.S. Black Chambers.
“This is the only way we as a people can generate wealth, by supporting our own,” says Rebecca Briscoe, of Houston. Her grandfather’s photography company was Black-owned and focused on Black customers from the 1940s onward because white photographers would not do business with them.
“If you don’t support their business, they don’t have a business,” Briscoe says.
Campaigns like #buyblack and also #bankblack, which encourages people to use Black-owned financial institutions, are having an impact. The #bankblack campaign got a boost recently month from rapper and activist Killer Mike, who called on people to shift their money to these banks. OneUnited Bank has gone from 50 new accounts a day to as many as 1,000, says Teri Williams, president of the financial institution that has offices in Boston, Miami and Los Angeles and also operates online.
“It’s opening the community’s eyes to the many ways they’re spending their dollars,” Williams says of the campaigns.
Businesses that provide a service may have more success than those that sell merchandise, says Jerome Williams, a marketing professor at Rutgers University.
“Since service businesses tend to involve more people interactions, the people relationships should prove to be more important, compared to situations where the focus is primarily on the product,” he says.
By: Joyce M. Rosenberg