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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

African-Americans Need to Realize that Having a Black-Owned business is Just NOT Enough to Compete in the Business World

Reflecting on my shopping experiences at the defunct Hue-Man bookstore I’m starting to understand why many Black-owned businesses fail.

It’s because many African-American business owners don't think they have to WORK for their money. They think that just being a Black person who owns a business entitles them to the money of Black customers.

That attitude is what stops many Black businesses before they even get started. It’s what keeps Black businesses from expanding and establishing themselves as a brand. It’s what keeps Black business owners from creating wealth. 

I’m sorry but Black-owned businesses are going to have to offer more than being owned by a Black person to compete in a 21st Century Marketplace.

Many African-American business owners still think just because they’re Black other Black people should do business with them But they never think about the products on their shelves or the quality of their service. Moreover, they don’t think about how these things impact their business long-term. 

Most African-American business owners fail because they have the worst products For example the defunct Hue-Man bookstore often had dozens of old books and dog-eared magazines on their shelves. And they charged full price for them.

Even worse than the products at most African-American owned businesses is customer service. When a Black person enters a Black-owned business the first thing they’re greeted with is attitude. Rolled eyes, sucked teeth and defensive body language. 

Not to mention passive-aggressive abuse. Want to wait an hour to two hours for a lunch or a dinner? Head over to a Black owned restaurant. Want to wait three to four hours for a haircut? Head over to a Black owned barbershop. Want to get cursed out? Head over to a Black-owned hairdresser.

Black owned businesses don't understand that the customer's time and money are precious. They never do business on the customer’s terms. The customer is never right there. No, in a Black-owned business they do business on the owner's terms.  And the customer has to settle for whatever shit sandwich that is presented to them. 

And in the eyes of that Black business owner the Black customer has to settle for that shit because they’re Black. 

Black-owned businesses are never there for the convenience of the customer. They don’t serve the customers’ needs. No, a Black-owned business is for the needs of the owner and making them comfortable at the expense of the customer's dollar.

The sad part of it is Most African-American customers say they’d love to frequent African-American owned businesses. Many brothers and sisters want to give them their money. 

However, no one is going to do business with a company that doesn’t have their stuff together. If a business can’t be professional, it’s not going to be able to compete. 

And most African-American business owners don’t understand this.

I’ll tell you a story. Back in the late 1980’s early 1990’s when I first got my first flat-top fade, I used to go to Jerry’s Den un on Grant Avenue and 167th Street here in the South Bronx. However, to get that haircut I had to endure waits for hours.

Guys would open up the shop…Whenever. Most times it’d be after 12:00. One time they didn't open until way after 1:00.

Then there was the preferential treatment. If the drug dealers wanted to get their hair cut, they went ahead of you. If their friends wanted to get their hair cut they went ahead of you. 

And when I finally went to get my haircut I’d have to deal with attitudes. Because Black barbers wanted to cut your hair…THEIR WAY. The day before Thanksgiving in 1994 a barber at the defunct Jerry’s Den jacked my hair up.

On top of the long waits, there were the prices. Depending on the barber it was $12- 16. 

In 1996 some Dominican guys opened up a barbershop up the hill from my apartment. The Dominicans would open up their shop at 9 A.M. Every day including Sunday.

With the Dominican guys I could walk right in and get a haircut. No one got preferential treatment. If the chair was open I got a haircut. If I asked for my fade to be cut a certain way, they did it. And the prices were reasonable usually $10-$14.

With the Opening of the Dominican barber shops in my neighborhood Black-owned Jerry’s Den lost most of its business by 1997. By 2000, they were out of business.

Now I didn’t want to walk out of a Black-owned business. But they never gave me a reason to stay. 

As a customer I realized don’t have to settle for less. And I don’t have to put up with bullshit. The first opportunity the I got for better treatment, better products, and better service, they I took it. 

Which is why many Black brothers like myself don’t frequent Black-owned businesses. Even though we want to.

Seriously, Black owned-businesses have to get their shit together. They have to realize they serve the customer, not themselves. A Black business needs to be BETTER than the businesses of corporate America.  It needs to give people a REASON to spend their money and keep it in the hands of other brothers and sisters. A Black business needs to give its people the VERY BEST in terms of products and services.  

Until Black-owned businesses adopt this attitude, they’ll never compete in the 21st Century marketplace. Until Black owned businesses put the customer first they’ll never keep money in the Black community. And until Black businesses start producing quality goods they’ll never build the wealth that will allow brothers and sisters to improve the quality of life in their community.


  1. Shawn, I have to say this is a masterpiece of useful criticism, pointers for improvement, and an attitude of valuable helpfulness for anyone of any race to succeed in business.

    You'd think by this time that anyboy who wants to go into business would study others in that business. But sad to say, it seems that doesn't always happen.

    As with so many of your best blogs, and there are very many, I'd like o see these go further. I'm thinking that you can catch the ear of more younger blacks than the rest of the older population, and they could profit greatly. Peoople of all races are succeeding in business these days, even in a poor economy.

    Do carry on with such winners as this!

  2. The blog is not too bad. Kudos. As the lady who previously commented. anybody who wants to go into business would have study others in what they do. I am going to post a link to this post on my blog site.