Celebrating the resilience and innovation of small retailers

Mission-driven small businesses lead by example

In a year that challenged all facets of retail, small businesses continued to prove their importance in our local economies, their commitment to community and their resiliency. At the Retail Advocates Town Hall taking place May 4, small retailers from across the country will join members of the House Small Business Committee to reflect on the past year’s challenges, triumphs, and how they are impacted by legislation.

We take a look back at some mission-driven small businesses who led by example this past year to demonstrate retail’s impact.

Small business retailers are inspired to make change

Starfish Project CEO and founder Jenny McGee, Etkie CEO and founder Sydney Alfonso, Kimberly Smith, founder and CEO of Marjani Beauty, and Katonya Breaux, founder and CEO of Unsun Cosmetics, all created brands to give a voice to and support members of their community.

Smith and Breaux founded their companies after experiencing frustration with finding the right cosmetic products for people of color. Breaux is on a mission to educate women about the hazards of sun damage and Smith responds to those skin concerns through not only her own beauty products, but by carrying nearly 50 minority-owned brands in her store. 

McGee wanted to create lasting change with the Starfish Project, which helps exploited women and girls establish independence and develop careers to break general courses, offering their children better opportunities. Etkie provides Native American beaders a platform to create designs and earn living wages to better their lives.

Ecommerce helps small retailers get creative

Digital was vital this year in keeping small businesses afloat and helping them connect with customers. Social media provided a lot of support for small business owners, who saw great gains in sales from platforms like TikTok.

Small businesses

Learn more about small businesses and how they continue to succeed.

Farmgirl Flowers founder Christina Stembel used social media to update her followers on how her business was faring in the middle of COVID-19. “We've always kept it real with our customers. We've always just told them the good, bad, and ugly,” she said. This transparency not only grew customer trust, but was also a way for customers to figure out the status of their orders. Stembel also used social media for customer feedback to test new products.

While navigating shutdowns and shifting their businesses online, small retailers still ensured customers were able to get a personal touch from home. Mixology company Hella Cocktail launched a program called The Bar Chronicles, which paid out-of-work bartenders for a “virtual shift” to teach customers how to make cocktails using Hella Cocktail products.

As more consumers worked from home, Smith pivoted Marjani’s virtual presence to focus on skincare instead of makeup, offering virtual consulting and promoting facial cleansers, facial moisturizers and skin care treatments.

Paying it forward in the community reaps benefits

The reciprocal support among small retailers and consumers allowed many businesses to stay afloat during the pandemic as more and more consumers shopped locally.

The community support Etkie built during its inception allowed the company to keep all its artisans on board during the pandemic.

“It’s a true statement about the importance of building a brand that serves the community of makers as well as the community of buyers,” Alfonso says. “We’ve created a true connection between who makes the product and who wears it, and living through a time of crisis has shown the strength of this relationship.”

As a company built on altruism, McGee felt the Starfish Project would not be true to its mission if it laid off workers during the pandemic. “We tried new things, took risks and weren’t afraid of making mistakes,” she says. “We kept pushing forward and were able to not only keep all of our staff, but hire more women out of desperate situations.”

Small retailers want to advocate on behalf of their business

At Tuesday’s Retail Advocates Town Hall, co-hosts Margaret Barrow, founder and CEO of It’s NOLA in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Danny Reynolds, owner of Stephenson’s of Elkhart in Elkhart, Ind., will join members of Congress to share the important contributions of Main Street retail and how community support, innovation and grit played a part in retail's survival this past year.

From navigating PPP loans to ensuring their customers could shop in a safe manner, this town hall offers small retailers the opportunity to advocate with our nation’s leaders on issues that are unique to them and their community.

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