Black-owned businesses across the U.S. are seeing a sharp rise in demand due to the Black Lives Matter movement. For some of these companies, managing the sudden increase represents an unprecedented challenge.
In June, more people opened accounts with the largest Black-owned bank in the country, Boston-based One United Bank, than in all of 2019, according to the company. For their "round-the-clock" work, some employees will be receiving cash bonuses, CEO Kevin Cohee says.
Black Wall Street, an online directory for Black-owned businesses with 1.6 million users, experienced a jump in Web traffic so large it crashed the site in June, according to CEO Mandy Bowman. While Black-owned companies typically experience an uptick in business in the wake of increased activism, social media has helped accelerate that trend, according to Lisa Cook, a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University.
Though scrambling to keep up with demand can be scary for business owners, it's also an enviable position to be in, as many minority-owned companies are struggling just to stay in business during the coronavirus pandemic. Research shows that the virus has had a disproportionately high impact on minority-owned companies.
Waking Up Viral
On June 3, a tweet listing the names of Black-owned candle companies went viral, generating more than 150,000 retweets. At the top of the list was Durham, North Carolina-based Bright Black Candles. The next day, husband-and-wife owners Tiffany Griffin and Dariel Heron woke up to a backlog of orders that required them to close their website to all new sales, aside from a set of mini-candles. Meeting that demand as a two-person company was virtually impossible, according to Griffin.
"I listen to a million and one podcasts about scaling strategies," she says, "I haven't seen one that has a course in, 'You go viral, and now, here manage it.'"
The couple turned to family members, who drove to Durham from Michigan and New York to help them balance 18-hour workdays while caring for their 2-year-old daughter. Griffin even gathered parents from her daughter's preschool to come over for a night of candle prep and childcare. She says the site will be closed for most sales until August--which Griffin says will help them pace themselves through the massive increase.
Even startups in the early days of launching can get overwhelmed by a flood of interest on social media. Health in Her Hue, a digital platform that connects Black women with Black and culturally competent health care providers, launched the first version of its app on June 29. The next day, a tweet about the company went viral, and 14,000 people downloaded the app in four days.
Now, the company is working to vet hundreds of doctors who have reached out to be added to the online list. Ashlee Wisdom, who founded the company in 2018, says she's had to delegate onboarding to other employees while leaning on her personal network of health care and finance experts to quickly determine which partnership offers best suit the company's goals. "I have a good community and team of people who have my back, which makes this a little less stressful," she says.
On June 14, Efrem Yates, a franchise owner of the pizza restaurant Your Pie in Cary, North Carolina, found himself in a viral tweet about supporting Black-owned businesses. Soon, Your Pie saw an increase in business that required extra runs to suppliers and pausing new orders on delivery apps.
For Yates, the combined impact of the pandemic, a reckoning on racial violence, and a business uptick led him to prioritize his mental health. One way he does this is by expressing empathy for employees who may feel overwhelmed processing current events, being generous with giving them time off, and being explicit about the company's values via speaking out about Black Lives Matter on Instagram. This makes Your Pie "a safe space to grieve the loss of Black life," he says. "We need to be able to get those emotions out."
Yates says volunteering and helping others also helps his mental health. Your Pie donated 100 pizzas to the Boys and Girls Club of Wake County and fed 300 front-line workers at WakeMed early in the pandemic. When Yates opens his next Your Pie location in Triangle, North Carolina, he plans to set the prices to "pay what you can" and donate the proceeds for PPE for health care workers. Between rushes at the store, Yates also tries to give his team moments to relax--and have fun. One way to do this is by being active on the franchise's new TikTok account. Among other things, the platform gives employees the opportunity to bond with each other during breaks. "It's a fun way to have the team engage," Yates says. "I learned a few dance moves along the way."