Great Business Ideas: Get Certified as a Minority Supplier

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Get Certified as a Minority Supplier

Marguerite thompson browne, director of special projects for San Francisco–based Washington Sportswear Inc., was among the 4,000 people attending the National Minority Supplier Development Council’s (NMSDC) twenty-fifth annual conference in New York City.

“This conference gives you access,” said Thompson Browne, whose sportswear company is a certified minority-owned business. Although its products have to stand on their own merit, being certified has opened doors for the apparel firm, which has 140 employees and annual sales of about $5 million.

During the busy trade show, Thompson Browne made a promising contact with members of the Pequot Indian tribe, which owns the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Thompson Browne’s company, which already makes clothes for Sears and Target, is leveraging its minority status to close more deals. She is now hoping to sell a new line of casual clothing to the Pequots.

In 1996, minority-owned businesses like Washington Sportswear sold about $30 billion worth of goods and services to major corporations, according to the Manhattan- based NMSDC. That $30 billion represents about 4 percent of total corporate purchases. The national council serves as a matchmaker—working closely with forty-three regional sup- plier councils to match up 15,000 certified minority business owners with 3,500 corporations.

There are local, state, and federal programs that certify minority-owned businesses. A good place to start collecting information is by writing to the NMSDC.

Although the NMSDC said that making personal contacts is critical to landing a contract with a big firm, most big U.S. companies are actively seeking business with minority firms in order to meet various government and corporate goals.

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They also see the economic advantage of catering to minority consumers. “The buying power of minority groups is $900 billion a year, and that is a huge opportunity we have to pay attention to,” said John Edwardson, former president and chief executive officer of United Airlines. Edwardson said he encourages all United suppliers to seek out business with minority- owned firms whenever possible.

Small minority-owned companies also provide a variety of new products to large companies. For example, H.K. Enterprises, a small New Jersey firm, developed “Undeniable,” one of Avon’s best-selling fragrances. “We see minority business development today as an investment in our own future,” said James Preston, former chairman of Avon Products. He said Avon contracts with 400 minority-owned suppliers, accounting for 12 percent of the cosmetic company’s annual purchases. The 12 percent is about three times the national average for corporate purchases from minority suppliers.

One reason Avon is so committed to minority-owned firms is because Avon products, sold by independent representatives, are extremely popular among women of color and their families. Preston said his minority suppliers also pro- vide Avon with insight into the marketplace.

Dealing with minority-owned companies makes good economic sense for any company. Census data indicates that by the year 2050 two of every five Americans will be of minority descent.

The U.S. Small Business Administration and the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency have programs for minority business owners. Minority Enterprise Development Week is celebrated in November every year.

For more information, contact the NMSDC at 15 W. 39th St., 9th floor, New York, NY 10018. You can also try the SBA and your local Commerce Department office.

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