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From major brands closing to ecommerce seeing massive year-over-year growth, the face of retail looks very different than it did a few years ago. Industry experts are all trying to figure out how retail brands (large and small) can stay relevant through all of these changes. To answer this question, I’m going to look at one section of retail that rarely gets its due: Black women-owned brands, which have helped change the face of small retail and multi-million dollar businesses alike by doing things a bit differently. Every retail owner, regardless of their background, should take notes and implement these four strategies exemplified by Black women entrepreneurs.
1. Creating a community
The word “community” has been thrown around a lot and can mean many different things to different people. But for Black women small-retail owners, community means one’s tribe. They’ve learned that before a new customer buys, they want to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. This new-era customer doesn’t just want to like the products they buy or brands that they buy from; they want to feel like those brands get them and understand their unique needs and wants.
Black women-led brands really took hold of this idea through their marketing efforts. By homing in on a target audience that’s majority Black women, they demonstrated an awareness that many of their customers haven’t felt seen by many other brands, especially mainstream ones. They knew that if they addressed this need to be seen and heard, their brands would stand out among the crowd and attract a buyer that is longing to be acknowledged and and have her dollar valued.
Many Black women-led brands designed their websites around this theme by speaking about community and how their products were designed with site visitors in mind. They used email marketing to really sharpen the tribal aspect of their brand. While marketing isn’t new, these brands went far beyond merely communicating what’s going on with their brand and what it’s selling. These brands used email marketing to truly connect with their tribe by soliciting their feedback, offering advice, checking on their customers’ well-being and making sure to be on-trend with current social issues their customers cared about.
2. Creating the VIP social media experience
If a small retailer wants to be relevant these days, they have to be on social media. How many times a day or week a small retailer should post is often up for debate. Many believe it should be every day; others believe it should be two or three times a day. Truly successful brands are somewhere in the middle, posting multiple times a week. This is true for almost every retail brand out there.
While mostly all retail brands live by a well-designed social media plan, many of the Black women-owned brands took this method a little bit further. Piggybacking on the tribal marketing method, they used social media to solidify their connections with customers in their tribe by creating a more personal and behind-the-scenes look inside their brand. Their guidebook might read something like this:
- Simply socialize with your tribe/customers.
- Get feedback on a new product or line before it is launched to the general public.
- Touch base with your tribe and communicate what’s going on with the brand.
- Bring value to your tribe by featuring industry leaders they’d love to hear from but normally wouldn’t have access to.
- Offer VIP access to your brand’s founders/owners/CEOs to make customers feel even more connected.
The main idea is to ensure that their customers stay loyal and feel like they’re a part of the decisions that are made. Again, this is something that many mainstream brands don’t offer Black women buyers.
3. Creating products that serves your tribe
The recent explosion of Black women-owned retail brands stems from many of them filling huge voids in the market. From hair care and beauty to home goods and tech, many Black women consumers feel that they’ve been ignored in the mainstream market. Black women make up a large portion of the $1.2 trillion of Black consumer buying power, and yet they feel that their voice (and their dollars) don’t matter. The new group of Black women-led brands became successful by listening to their tribe and giving them what they truly want, not what they thought they wanted.
Brands like Mented, Beauty Bakerie and Chic Geeks all saw a void that they knew they could fill that, if approached correctly, would have millions of raving fans all clamoring to be a part of their tribes. Black women consumers (and women consumers in general) became tired of the status quo and were just waiting for someone to truly hear them.
The above companies, and many other Black woman-led brands, heeded the call to give this consumer what they wanted. Understanding that many Black women saw a lack of lipsticks and foundations that truly matched their skin tone, Mented and Beauty Bakerie became some of the first brands to develop a truly “nude” lipstick and skin-matching foundation for Black women. And Chic Geeks understood that women wanted to look stylish and flashy in every part of their lives, thus creating one of the first computer cases and accessories brands geared towards women techies.
Every decision that these brands made stemmed from meeting the needs of their tribe and growing their brand and community from there.
4. Creating more market share through brick-and-mortar
The majority of the new retail owners sprouting up over the last few years have been located online. And while online retail can be very successful, it can also be a challenge to expand a brand’s market share.
Many new small retailers are content in remaining online and growing this business alone. However, just as many Black woman-owned brands wanted something more. They knew that to truly reach more people and create a true impact, they would have to go offline as well.
And despite perceptions, customers do still like to shop at brick-and-mortar stores. They enjoy actually touching and trying a product and getting the instant gratification of an in-store purchase. Smart ecommerce brands understood that getting their products in physical stores would grow their brand’s market reach and improve customer connection. Plus, going brick-and-mortar can take on a few different forms:
- Being on shelves in large big-box retailers like Walmart and Target.
- Being a part of extended categories offered in major department stores like Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Ave.
- Being a part of a store-within-a-store model of an already established brick-and-mortar brand.
- Opening their very own brick-and-mortar store.
By being in brick-and-mortar locations, these Black women-owned brands increased their market share and became industry/product leaders within their respective niches.
The key to staying relevant and successful in retail is to understand that today’s customer has also changed. They want more from their brands. They want a sense of community and a real connection. They want to know that their voice is being heard through products that are created with them in mind. And they want various ways to interact with their favorite brands so they truly feel a part of a special and unique tribe. By taking some cues from many of the successful Black women-led retail brands, any small-retail owner can nurture a brand that is relevant, profitable and here to stay.