Black Friday is only a few days away. African American community advocacy groups and “leaders” everywhere are urging people to support Black owned businesses or not spend money altogether in protest of the continued mistreatment of African Americans, who it seems this country tends to forget are actually citizens.
Buy Black. Support Black.
I’m all for it. Here’s my problem though: this Black Friday Blackout thing is yet another example of African Americans jumping on a social trend for the sake of claiming advocacy without thinking long term. It’s easy to tell people to support Black businesses, as if all a business needs is to have an African American owner to attract customers the day after Thanksgiving. That’s clearly not the case. Otherwise, there would be more Black businesses flourishing throughout the country.
So what’s the problem? Well, for starters, here are seven I have identified:
1) BLACK FRIDAY DEALS
What I find very interesting is the amount of Black businesses that are not offering any special deals for Black Friday. Instead, many businesses are going out of their way to prove they are black owned… and that’s it.
So Black consumers should support a business strictly because the owner is Black? Not because of an exceptional product or great deal on a service?
Again, this is offensive to potential Black customers who truly want to support our businesses. Our businesses can no longer demand our monetary support when there is no incentive. I would actually recommend going to to our “Special Offers” section to see what kind of deals other companies are advertising. See how you can implement the special offer strategy into your business this Black Friday. Raised fists and screaming “not one dime” isn’t enough anymore.
2) NO WEBSITE
(long heavy sigh) There really is no excuse for not having a website if you’re a business. NONE. No “it isn’t in the budget.” No “we haven’t gotten to it as of yet.” And my favorite “Don’t really need one. I have social media.”
I say this with all the love in my heart, folks: whet?
Websites are professional mandates. Your clients need a designated location to find the most up to date information on your business. Stop relying on Yelp and Menupage, for example, to provide your customers with accurate information. It’s not their business. It’s your business. These are your customers. It’s your responsibility to make sure your clients have access to accurate demographic information. Otherwise, do not be upset when your company is spelled incorrectly or your contact information is wrong.
Saying that you own a business without a website is saying you are playing the role of entrepreneur rather than actively being one. No company worth its salt is going to undermine the relevance of a website, particularly in an increasingly online-based climate. Black businesses can no longer afford to justify their disregard of the basics. EVERY company needs a website. This is not to say you need to have the most impressive website on the Internet. Very often, less is more. But none is offensive to the consumer.
This ties in with not having a website, but it goes a bit further. It’s actually alarming how many Black businesses have no Internet presence. No social network. No mention of the business in any listing. Instead we’re told to just “spread the word.” Word of mouth is not a substantial promotional system. People aren’t just going to hear about your to-die-for doughnuts just because a few customers left raving. Not when Dunkin Donuts is plastered everywhere from television to billboards to online ads. Especially not on Black Friday. Not the day that everyone and their mother will be living on their phones in search of Black businesses to support.
Black businesses can no longer afford to be behind the times in terms of anything, but this is especially true in regards to our accessibility. Funds are not always in abundance but mediums are. There are a multitude of sites that provide updated lists of Black businesses, such as Official Black Wall Street.
4) STEPPING OUT OF THE ANTI-EMAIL ICE AGE
During my first stint as an entrepreneur in Brooklyn, I was floored to learn there were Black businesses that still didn’t have email addresses. “I need a few weeks to set that up” one man told me. Granted, he was 65, but that’s not an excuse. Now, math is certainly not my strong point. But none of my inner calculations resulted in it taking weeks to set up an email address when it’s simply a matter of logging on to a computer.
The owner of a new Jamaican restaurant in Crown Heights told me “We don’t carry that kind of advanced technology” when I asked about an email address. You’re a business? With customers? In 2015? And you’re referring to email as “that kind of advanced technology?” Not everyone is going to want to call the restaurant. Quite frankly, calling a restaurant can be so much of a headache that people prefer to find out information about the restaurant online. That brings us back to the whole no website thing…
5) SERVICE QUALITY
Customer service does not begin and end with an individual. A waiter or bartender, for example, are extensions of the customer service experience. Ambiance is just as important. Hell, opening on time is very important. Having all promoted products or services available is important. Let’s be honest, there are too many Black businesses where we’re told “Sorry we’re all out” or “We nuh av dat.” (Sorry…traumatized from multiple bad experiences in Brooklyn West Indian restaurants.) This cannot be acceptable anymore. Tattered bars with Christmas lighting shouldn’t be accepted as ambiance anymore. Leaking pipes aren’t acceptable anymore. Not having the advertised food on the menu isn’t acceptable anymore. Rude customer service isn’t acceptable anymore. Opening 2 hours late isn’t acceptable. We need to start holding our Black businesses accountable if we are going to have a thriving community.
6) FREE WIFI
This is something that is taken for granted but can make a world of a difference in terms of attracting customers. Cafes with bad food are able to stay in business simply because people have the ability to sit down and work on their computer for a few hours. There have definitely been moments where I settled for staying in a fast food restaurant for an hour or two just to get work done. Buying a cup of coffee was always mandatory. Partially because of the work. Mostly because I didn’t want to hear anything from management or security. Your average consumer is not going to be brazen enough to walk into your establishment and try to sit down for 3 hours without buying anything. In order to get that sale, however, you have to get them inside first.
7) ACCEPTING CARDS
I really don’t have much to say about this one. It’s jaw-dropping to count how many times I’ve been told “Our machine isn’t working” or “We don’t accept cards.” In an age where everything outside of air can be purchased with a card, it is insane to not have this be an automatic aspect of your business. Consumers actually survive entire days without using cash. (I know I have.) Remember, meet your clientele where they’re at. Most people aren’t trying to be at the ATM. They’d rather just hand you some plastic.
I encourage everyone to support Black-owned businesses. But I also encourage more Black businesses to provide clientele with higher standards of quality and service. We have the right to ask for as much if you are asking for our money–family or not.
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