VOICES: Dayton Black businesses must use tools and resources to survive during these times

April Polk is the owner of JaeLuxe, a boutique in The Green.
April Polk is the owner of JaeLuxe, a boutique in The Green.

I recently read an article by Dwobeng Owusu-Nyamekye, Ph.D., dean of professional studies at Wilberforce University, about how Black-owned businesses and universities have an opportunity to give aspiring entrepreneurs the tools they need to seamlessly start a business. As a black business owner myself, that resonated with me.

After years of working in corporate America, I started my business, JaeLuxe, a chic women’s clothing and shoe boutique located in The Greene. Launching my own business was an uplifting and rewarding experience, but not without its ups and downs. From when I opened my retail location in 2017 up until right before the pandemic hit, customers would come into my store to shop and socialize. When we were forced to shut down in spring of 2020, I knew I wanted to replicate that social experience for my customers online.

I immediately worked on updating our website, revamping our branding and inventory, and spent more time and money promoting my business on social media. Social media really helped us drive sales during the past year, and it also helped me connect with my community during a really hard time for business owners. Tools like Facebook Shops have really helped us drive sales. In fact, 45% of our sales are now online. Social media has also helped me stay more connected with my customers than ever before, by keeping them tightly in the loop with business updates, new apparel, and more.

If I were to share my biggest piece of advice, it’s that tapping into digital tools makes it easy to both grow your business and connect with the other individuals who are facing the same challenges. I’ve also found value in various Facebook Groups that allow black entrepreneurs like myself to get advice from other business owners, which I believe has translated into steady growth and success of Jaeluxe. Dayton has a vast black business community, and I encourage my peers to utilize the resources available, whether digital or institutional, to set up for success.

When things begin to reopen here in Ohio, it’s also important to take advantage of in-person opportunities to spread knowledge within our black business community. The Dayton area benefits from two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Owusu-Nyamekye about business owners needing to better connect with these institutions to directly train the young minds attending these universities about entrepreneurship. In the past, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to students at Wilberforce University about starting their own businesses and it was a very rewarding experience. Giving students the opportunity to learn from black leaders in their community is an opportunity I wish I had when I was first starting out.

As HBCU Week is celebrated in September, I encourage our business community, as Dr. Owusu-Nyamekye referenced in his editorial a few weeks ago, to connect with aspiring entrepreneurs one way or another. Let’s take advantage of social media’s ability to connect us. Get involved with institutions in our own backyard and learn how you can spread the wealth. If the Dayton black business community utilizes these resources, we will band together and thrive not only through the pandemic, but for years to come.

April Polk is the owner of JaeLuxe, a boutique in The Greene.

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