It can be a challenge to support black-owned businesses

Photo credit: MGN Online

Looking at the history of successful African-American businesses, there’s a common question about whether or not blacks actually support them.

When Kiara Woods displays her designer treats at events attended primarily by black women, they are often interested in her designs, and in her experience as an African-American businesswoman. According to the Pompano Beach resident, she does quite an amazing job in sales per month.

“People ooh and ahh all the time following up with a ton of questions, but instantly  (they) fall in love with them when once they taste one,” said Woods, whose Designer Desserts products range from $20 to $35.

The majority of her customers are white or Asian women, she said.

While calls have been expanding for black customers to help black businesses with their purchasing power, evaluated at more than $1.2 trillion a year, web-based campaigns like #buyblack are generally new.

Some other black entrepreneurs who say they think that it’s difficult to pitch to black customers share Woods’ dissatisfaction.

Locally, some business owners are experiencing similar issues.

Brandon Oatts, a local filmmaker in Tallahassee, says his clients have been “timid” lately and pretty hesitant to request his services.

“It isn’t that big of a surprise to me when you’re in a city full of college students, but ever since I raised my production cost I haven’t received as many phone calls as I usually would. And that is OK, it’s all a part of the learning experience.”

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. Shortages can also be a reason. It can be hard to find businesses owned by African-Americans.

Maggie Anderson, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, wrote a book called "Our Black Year" about her effort to buy from black-owned businesses exclusively. That included the stores where she and her husband bought food, clothing, household necessities and personal care items, as well as service providers like hair salons, auto mechanics and restaurants.

Sometimes that meant driving nearly 50 miles to get things. Every now and then it meant abandoning crisp natural products since they couldn't find what they needed at a black-owned store. It implied telling their girls "no" when a toy or book wasn't sold at a black-owned shop.

"It was a message to our fellow black consumers that we have to be more accountable to what has happened to and what is happening to our community," Anderson wrote.

Campaigns like #buyblack and even #bankblack, urges individuals to utilize the black money-related institutions, are having an effect. The #bankblack campaign is backed by rapper and activist Killer Mike, who approached individuals to move their cash to these banks.

For instance, OneUnited Bank has gone from 50 new records a day to upward of 1,000, says Teri Williams, leader of the money related foundation that has workplaces in Boston, Miami, Los Angeles and also works on the web.

Small retailers may think that it’s difficult to compete with a Wal-Mart that can negotiate lower costs. What's more, finding black retailers and specialists isn't as simple as it may seem, Brandon Oatts says.

"As a black consumer, if I wanted to buy from a black-owned merchant, there aren't enough to satisfy my needs," he said.

The nearly 2.6 million black-owned companies in the United States account for about 9 percent of the total number of businesses in a country where 13 percent of the population is black. The 2012 census of businesses found that black-owned operations made up about 6 percent of all U.S. retailers and about 7 percent of businesses that provide food or accommodation.

Many stores in traditionally black neighborhoods may also have changed hands. In parts of Miami, including the once-majority black Overtown area, Hispanics and Caucasians have replaced many of the black residents, and many black-owned businesses have closed or moved. Black-owned businesses offer black consumers distinct advantages — especially if shoppers have felt discriminated against at other places — and studies have found that they can provide services tailored to their needs.