INDIANAPOLIS, In.–Keith Payne is the owner of North Meridian Hardware store, located in a prime location near 16th and Meridian Street. While he has a wide variety of customers, he said he has quite a few African-Americans who strongly support his business.
“People will go out of their way to shop here, which is good. Even if they come here to get an item and have to go to another store to get another item, they support the business. Others live near the store,” said Payne.
Many Blacks say supporting Black business is important to them and do so as often as possible including local African-American Jocellyn Ford.
“If we don’t support ‘us’ who will,” Ford said.
Harry Alford, president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce said there is a rising support base of Blacks who patronize Black businesses and seek the expertise of Black professionals such as physicians and attorneys, but he believes more is needed.
“The Black population, according to the University of Georgia, has about a trillion dollars in disposable income each year. According to the census bureau, Black business does about $138 billion in revenue. There’s a big gap there and I think that’s a good indicator that we don’t support like we should,” said Alford.
Alford has personally felt the effects of a lagging Black clientele. His current home is in Washington, D.C., but years ago, Alford owned a video store near 40th and High School Road on Indianapolis’ Westside. He said a White-owned video store opened nearby and shortly thereafter, he noticed that Blacks were frequenting the other store rather than his.
Alford adds that other cultures strongly support one another and can be a source of inspiration for the Black community. He recalls a conversation with a Korean business owner who admitted that not all Koreans mesh well together, but supporting one another is important in their community. He also recalls a time when he was competing for a client against a Jewish contender.
“My competitor said ‘I’m going to get the deal.’ I asked her what made her so sure and she said, ‘member of the tribe. They’re Jewish, I’m Jewish, I’m going to get the deal.’ And she did,” said Alford. “(Blacks) need to think like that.”
There is a group of African-Americans who do the best they can to support Black business, however there are some in the community who choose not to support.
“I got tired of the ghetto attitudes and the bad service, so I stay away from certain kinds of Black businesses,” said Andrew Locke.
There’s also a segment of the population who would support more Black businesses, however they tend not to patronize various establishments because, the business may be unkempt or is located in a dangerous neighborhood.
“Just because you’re minority owned, doesn’t guarantee my business. You have to at least have good service,” said Tim Jones.
“No, it’s not worth risking your safety or health,” added Peggy Lowe Brown.
Resident Harrison Page said he does support Black business, however he does wish the community offered more variety.
“A number of businesses that sell in the community are not Black owned. And the others are specific services like barbers, hair stylists, or pop up businesses like clothes and rugs,” said Page. “There are exceptions like RCR Technology, Mays Chemical, Finch Construction and others. But we need additional growth and diversity in types of businesses.”
As a Black business owner, Payne encourages Blacks to become more intentional in supporting Black business not only to help other Blacks, but to boost the local economy.
“Think about shopping at Target, Lowe’s, Kohls and other big box stores versus a local boutique shop. When you shop local, those dollars stay within the community longer and make it stronger,” said Payne.
Blacks supporting other Blacks also helps spur more entrepreneurship and business creativity when one knows that they’ve got the backing of a large number of people.
Experts add that Blacks supporting each other is very important, however the community must be treated fairly and not expect the owner to “hook them up” simply because both parties are Black.
Consumers have their role in boosting Black business, but there are things Black business owners can do to help themselves. Alford suggests that Blacks work to move past the “crab in a barrel” mentality and realize that there’s plenty of business for everyone.
Blacks should also make sure their business is competitive with similar businesses despite race and make sure they offer good, quality service. Alford advises that when Black businesses don’t deliver, patrons must share their frustrations and owners must be willing to accept the criticism.
Payne suggests business owners work hard to invest in their establishment by making sure the business is aesthetically pleasing.
Owners can also invest in themselves by attending classes, conferences or joining industry-related organizations to better run the business. Payne regularly attends, meetings and conferences with other entrepreneurs.
Owners should also make sure they have a well-trained, polite and knowledgeable staff.
“And when we do ‘make it,’ we need to reach back and help those who have the skill set to become future entrepreneurs,” said Payne.