We’ve been told that the Black dollar only circulates in our community for 6 hours. We are universal consumers — we buy from everyone, there is a clear “trade deficit.” With that in mind we should always “Buy Black” but the goal should also be, “sell to everyone.” But that’s precisely where it gets tricky, for many Black owned businesses. To court non-Black customers, Black businesses must obviously find ways to appeal to them. Where to draw the line between courting new customers and maintaining an existing Black customer base is tough.
Shea Moisture was founded in 1912 by a Black woman to cater to the haircare needs of Black women. When they ran an ad in 2017 appealing to non-Black customers, however, there was an immediate backlash. Many loyal consumers felt that the brand was disregarding their loyal customer base. In seeking to appeal to new customers, the old — Black women — felt slighted and reacted vocally. Industrial Bank is a Black owned bank that has operated in Washington, DC for close to a century. Washington, however, is gentrifying and as it does the bank must clearly find ways to appeal to the newcomers in order to remain vibrant — Industrial is a local institution that depends on local deposits. As the bank features more diversity in its various marketing materials, how will existing customers respond?
We’ve all been to Black owned businesses in which all the employees happen to also be Black. We’ve been to Black owned businesses in which none of the employees are Black — some might exist in non-Black neighborhoods while other are indeed in Black or mixed neighborhoods. Black Founders who open shop in non-Black neighborhoods might see the value in having a staff that reflects the neighborhood or a more diverse staff, in order to appeal to a more diverse customer base. After all, Black businesses have to appeal to non-Black customers before they can sell to them. Still, others would argue that there are examples of Black owned businesses that are so excellent, the makeup of the staff is inconsequential; every color of the rainbow shows up for the quality, not the color. Is there a right and wrong answer?
Above are a series of questions and scenarios, intended to challenge our thinking. We are universal buyers with a serious trade deficit. Something must change. First, of course, is the imperative to buy Black. Our businesses should, however, seek to sell to everyone. Selling to everyone means appealing to everyone. But where to draw the line and how to do so is the tricky part. Can Black consumers celebrate Black businesses featuring non-Black models to sell merchandise to non-Black people, understanding that the new business will result in more opportunities for Black businesses? If Black consumers trust Black Founders in such efforts, will those Founders be careful to reinvest their new prosperity into the Black community? Buy Black but sell to everyone.