Note: It is estimated that African-American spending will reach $981 billion by 2010 (Radio Advertising Bureau), and there will be a shortage of
workers to service sales.
Atlanta, GA, July 21, 2006…Thousands of perspective African American shoppers converged on Atlanta this week, but only a few attended AmericasMart’s International Gift and Home Furnishings Show, a wholesale market limited to pre-approved business traders and their guests. Other major events in town included the National Black Arts Festival, the Summer Olympics 10th reunion festivities, and T.D. Jakes’ MegaFest.
While Jakes was encouraging 80,000 followers at the Georgia Dome to believe in God, purchase spirituality-based products and save money, AmericasMart’s motivational speakers were urging attendees to believe in themselves and sell goods that fulfill material wishes.
Between Peachtree and Harris Street where AmericasMart’s three buildings and 52 floors jammed with merchandise reside, blacks were working as greeters, admissions clerks, baggage handlers, chefs, bartenders, and security guards. Absent were African American marketing executives, showroom operators, exhibitors, or award winners. There were a few exceptions.
Joe Burford, formerly showroom manager of Rags West in the Apparel Mart, greeted and collected fees from buyer’s guests in Building One. Guests who were not registered were charged $50 to attend the show from July 11-19 when accompanied by a trade member.
Former AmericasMart Pressroom Hostess Ruby Oakley (seated) was honored by international media in a luncheon sponsored by Keri Arroll, marketing director of media services and public relations. Ms. Oakley’s impact and professionalism left a lasting impression on the Mart.
Other drawbacks to black participation at AmericasMart were dwindling numbers of African American retailers at trade shows and lackluster diversity of buyers from major stores.
African American Expressions has a showroom in the Mart 6-17B, Bldg 2. Mellonie Preston is organizational development manager who works in the office and on the sales team. Preston travels to the company’s permanent showrooms in Atlanta and Chicago and is on the tradeshow circuit.
“We offer all of the things that are not offered by other companies,” Preston said. “We fill a niche to express African American people and artists. We present spiritual and Christian-based products.”
When asked about the lack of African American shoppers at the Mart, Ms. Preston said, “I wish I had an explanation for that. On busier days, there are more privately-owned, diverse companies shopping, especially in areas like Atlanta, DC, Baltimore and other predominately Black areas. Across the board, buyers for larger companies are not diverse enough, and that’s why we don’t see more African Americans at the Mart.”
Ms. Preston has advice for retailers wanting to market the African Expression product line: “Displaying our product beautifully is the key. It’s really important to show people you have it and present it well. There are some things that we know work, so we pass the information on to our customers. We advise retailers to always ask for advice; that’s a very good thing. Try out products, create a mix, and figure out what works for you.”
(Pictured with Tomi Johnson from r to l)
David Garcia, Carlos Jimenez and Norale Sebastian represented Banilivi & Nabavian Inc. at the 2006 Rug Retailer of the Year (ROY) Awards Ceremony, an AmericasMart sponsored event held at the Georgia Aquarium. Importers of fine oriental rugs on Madison Avenue in NY, their company won the Spanish Design Category Award in 2004.
According to Black Enterprises’ publisher Earl Graves, Sr., the future of black business ownership depends on ability to achieve the following:
1. secure large corporations as customers, investors, and strategic partners
2. tap professionally trained, visionary management driven by energy and vision
3. reward people who build performance-driven network
4. parlay successful ventures into new ventures with larger growth and profit potentials
adapt business model across variety of industries.
WingcomLtd traveled away from the Mart to visit an African American storefront in Atlanta to ask the owner whether he had attended AmericasMart or taken advantage of its business courses, like “How to move from surviving to thriving in today’s gift and retail industry.” Twin Brothers Gallery, located in the Perimeter area at 155 Hammond Avenue, opened in 2003. Owned by twin brothers from Senegal who also previous operated stores in New Orleans and DC, it features African art.
Abdoulaye Bipeye: “I didn’t get a chance to attend this year’s show. I buy my merchandise directly from overseas and California suppliers, so it is not necessary for me to go to the Mart. The majority of my products are from Africa. Right now, I’m not that busy. I need to get more traffic, but I don’t see that much competition in products I sell. My products range from watch batteries which may cost around $5.00; to custom made jewelry and jewelry repair on gold, platinum and silver; and antique art pieces ranging from $5,000 to $8,000.
When asked how he could increase business to his store, Ms. Bipeye stated, “I don’t have any idea how to increase business. I would love to. If people come here and spend more money, that would be a good thing. More newspaper stories about my business and advertising would help.”
As far as taking marketing and sales courses at the Mart, Bipeye stated, “I don’t have time to take classes. My experience is not enough, but I can continue with my business for a little while. Sooner or later, if I have time, I wouldn’t mind taking a class or attending a convention to improve my business.”
Although Blacks tend to be big on buying in retail stores, their numbers are miniscule when compared to shopping the week-long wholesale Mart. “Maybe it’s because they can’t afford to leave their businesses for eight straight days,” said an anonymous retailer. “Many black business owners who work with tight margins and high operating expenses can’t leave their businesses to shop and party like rich whites.”
Black buying power continues to increase nationwide and is the focus of marketing studies aimed at securing profits. According to Target Market News), blacks outspend other ethnic minorities. Its “Buying Report” confirms black households had $631 billion in earned income in 2002, an increase of 4.8% over the $602 billion earned in 2001. ( http://www.targetmarketnews.com/Buying%20Power%20report%2003.htm) Yet the amount of black retailers is small, leaving African Americans to buy from majority owned stores. Black owned stores are dwindling, and the few that remain have a hard time offering competitive prices.
Nearly 85% of African Americans prefer to buy from companies that have historically supported the black community, according to a 1998 study by Ketchum Public Relations African American Markets Group. The study found that two-thirds of survey participants investigate a company's minority hiring practices or any negative press it may have received relating to racial issues. (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1365/is_5_30/ai_57943394
After integration, many neighborhood black-owned drug stores and retail establishments closed up. Many black retailers have been relegated to street vendors or small business/family-owned shop keepers who have diversified to make profits.
Some black retailers have found it necessary to establish their own market in the form of the International Black Buyers and Manufacturing Expo and Conference sponsored by International Black Buyers and Manufacturing Enterprise Consortium (IBBMEC). Other technology-savvy black retailers have opted into selling their wares online instead of the traditional retail storefront.
WingcomLtd posed the following questions to AmericasMart’s VP Chas Sidney and Marketing Director Kerry Arroll:
Do you have any statistics on African American participation in the Mart?
In your opinion, why aren't more African American retailers using AmericasMart to promote their products?
How can African American retailers become more aware of AmericasMart's marketing and educational services?
When this article was posted, WingcomLtd had not received answers to these questions, however, we will keep you posted when the information is obtained.
The information in this article is the opinion of the author and, therefore, should not be construed as libelous.
Written by Tomi Morris Johnson
Photos by Kurk D. Johnson
AmericasMart competes for black shoppers and workers during international show
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