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Highlighting Hillman: Underrepresented Companies Overcoming COVID

Featuring: Black Owned

It can be safely stated by now that what we are all experiencing is really crazy, and even more scary. The uncertainty is the primary catalyst for the fear, which, aside from quarantine life in general— is driving most of us mildly mad. Yet, fear catalyzed by uncertainty is right up there next to passion in terms of what drives a startup founder to success. If anyone could be prepared for such a time in history, startup founders definitely count amongst the most qualified! At Hillman, our accelerator alumni are part of a community of more than 4 million small business owners who have applied for PPP funds and are waiting to know whether the current economic drop off is a temporary circumstance they will bridge to a new normal— or the unexpected realization of their worst fears.

“When it first happened it was scary not knowing what would happen both with the established business, and the new one.”

Means Cameron, Owner and CEO of Black Owned, the wildly popular Cincinnati based brick and mortar & e-commerce streetwear retailer, and Black Coffee, his recently opened community centric coffee shop occupying the space next door, shared with us his experience thus far with startup life in the time of Covid-- and most notably, what his life and his approach to business will look like, after.

Fear → Focus

Like every other retailer in the country, Black Owned was ordered in March to close its doors as part of the nationwide effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For even the most successful startup, this kind of abrupt disruption in operations can be dangerously tentative. In fact, pre- pandemic survival rates for small businesses were already dicey with around 20% failing in their first year and nearly 50% folding in their fifth year. Entrepreneurs like Means manage to evade falling victim to these statistics by setting themselves and their businesses apart by leveraging amazing instincts and what can only be described as ‘adaptation driven innovation’.

“We had to close the shop down, but we wanted to find a way to bring in revenue and be a resource.”

One of their best selling items, their branded bandanas, stood out to the team at Black Owned as the perfect way to continue generating revenue while being an active force in the fight against COVID. So they reimagined the design, contacted their manufacturer and made mask magic. The stylish mask with a message is a literal example of how savvy businesses adapt, re-invent, and innovate in response to changing markets. As a popular new item on the Black Owned site, the masks are 100% cotton and being shipped all over the world.

Thinking ahead...

As this paradigm shift in modern culture has forced many of us to re-evaluate and rethink our approach to life, Startup CEOs like Means are also tasked to lend this same contemplation to their business models. Unlike many brick and mortar retail operations who for years have suffered through the slow motion brick-and-mortar retail industry crisis, before the Covid melt down Black Owned was comfortably positioned in their Cincinnati neighborhood as a popular retailer with desirable foot traffic. And while they certainly had an online presence, in-store traffic remained substantial enough to prolong the expenditure of resources necessary to expand their e-commerce business— until now.

Moving forward we will definitely be giving more attention to e-commerce. It’s a real wake up call for brick and mortar businesses. This has been crippling, and we do not want to let this happen again”

Crushing it in the e-commerce space requires targeted strategies, and the decision to allocate resources to such a project is one not made lightly—yet 49% of retailers have listed e-commerce platforms as a top 3 investment priority in the coming year.

The team at Black Owned have gone to work in the immediate direction of growing and solidifying their e-retail presence, committed to securing the same sort of loyal customer base through e-commerce that they’ve been able to successfully establish in-store.

And while there’s no way to predict what the future holds for any of us— small business owners like Means Cameron who are out here adapting, learning and growing— give everyone here at Hillman hope for the sustainable startup ecosystem of the post-pandemic economy.

Written by your Friends at Hillman

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