Michelle Dalzon, a digital marketing manager based in New York City, has been shopping “black” for years. After growing up with Haitian parents who started a retail business in Somerville, Massachusetts, Michelle saw first hand the triumphs and tribulations that came along with being your own boss. Troubled by the lack of promotion that black business owners were getting in her community, she decided to take matters into her own hands and launch The BOM (The Black Owned Market), a one-of-a-kind pop-up destination for people of color. In this interview with BAUCE, Michelle tells us why she cares so much about improving the black economy and what inspired her to create a disruptive retail experience.
There is a lot of conversation about strengthening the “black dollar” and building wealth within our community. What inspired you to create BOM?
Michelle: The BOM has been brewing for about two years now. I’m the type of person that has always been fearful of taking risks and chances. I’ve been able to do it in my career, but not so much in my personal life so I put it on the back burner for a really long time. But what sparked the interest in shopping black was definitely my parents. They run a beauty supply store out in Somerville, Massachusetts and they have for the past 28 years. It was completely funded by my Mom and Dad putting their savings together. For my parents it seemed to be a means to an end because my father hated working for other people and they are immigrants.
I realized over time how my parents’ ownership of their beauty supply store and having people patronize it in their community really benefited not only the community but people as a whole. We were really the only black-owned beauty supply in that area of Massachusetts, so my parent’s business was really the blueprint for a lot of business. Moving forward years later, a lot of beauty supply stores started popping up and my family started to lose money. The retail economy also started to change so that made things trickier.
So you can thank your parents for your budding interest in business early on!
Michelle: I have always had an interest in shopping black because of them. I felt better doing it and it became a subconscious thing for me to do. When I moved to New York in 2010, I wouldn’t say I actively sought out black brands to shop for, but I knew it was important to do so. What made me upset was when I went to beauty supply stores here in New York City and saw that they carried products for black people but the people behind the counters didn’t look like me. I started thinking to myself, what could be the change? How can I make a difference where I live? Brooklyn is so rich with culture, people and black businesses that I knew more people needed to know about.
Why not create a list of businesses or a directory of some sort then?
Michelle: At first I thought about doing a database filled with black businesses or a list but I feel like a lot of people have done that already. There are tons of lists. I wanted to create something different and I know that there are a lot of people like me who see those lists on their timeline and think they are cool in the moment but forget about them five minutes later. I wanted to create a pop-up space for black-owned businesses because I feel that even though the retail industry is declining, there is still a need for people to go into a space to talk to a business owner or to touch and feel a product. My differentiator is to create a pop up experience that brings my favorite or popular black-owned brands in one room. I think that would be so powerful.
A lot of the vendors that I chose have great followings of their own, so the people that come into the BOM space will have the opportunity to discover these cool new brands. Its also a chance to network and be inspired by other business people of color.
How are you balancing BOM and a full-time job? Has it been difficult?
Michelle: It’s so hard and I didn’t estimate how hard it was going to be until I actually got into it. I don’t get too much sleep so I actually have to schedule down time so I don’t burn out by balancing work and BOM. I am a marketing manager for a startup and it’s tough because I am the only marketing hire on our team. I work from 9 to 6 and when I’m not working, I’m consumed with the BOM. Although I am a soloproneur, I’ve hired freelancers to help me and I’m blessed to have their support. My team includes a former MTV colleague as a videographer, a super cool web developer that I met at a networking event and my events manager who has worked for huge brands like Kiehl’s and Tiffany Bluebook to name a few. Without my remote team, I don’t know how I’d do it.
How did you got your first vendor? How did you pitch BOM to people who had no idea what it was?
Michelle: I first started by pitching the video series to business owners. I reached out and told them about the BOM mission and asked if I could interview them about their business and what it meant to be “black-owned”. It was free promotion so a lot of people said yes, but a lot also said no. The first person I pitched was Tracy Chambers Vintage who is now one of my vendors. She’s been amazing and very supportive and got the vision right away.
The vendors after that — a lot of them were cold emails. I specifically tried to reach out to vendors that didn’t have brick and mortar buildings so I could provide a space for them. Some were friends of each other. One person, Teri of Harlem Candle Company, had two friends that had amazing businesses and was like, “Oh no, you need to get them on board as well!” So she directly contacted me and made that intro and it went from there. Overall, having strong vendors made it easier to attract new vendors, but over time some did say no and some people pulled out.
This event is completely funded by me, so I’m charging a specific vendor fee. Because it’s an upscale experience, the cost is a bit higher than what vendors may experience at other pop-up markets.
What should someone expect when they visit BOM?
Michelle: My event team has been working on this secretly behind my back (laughs) but when you walk into the BOM you are going to feel like you need to take your shoes off! It’s an event that will capture all of your senses. Debra Cartwright, who is an amazing watercolor artist, will be doing sketch art of guests. There will also be a cool photo booth experience. I don’t want to give too much of the surprise away, but its going to be a must-see event that you can only experience in person. In the black community, we are used to just getting service that sometimes is not up to par; it has been my mission to create an experience that no one has ever been to through BOM.
What is your recommendation for people who say that want to shop “black” but don’t know how?
Michelle: I would honestly say shopping black is difficult and it does take a great deal of sacrifice because we aren’t commercial businesses. You really have to do your research and be passionate about shopping black to find us because we are like needles in a haystack in the world of business. A great way to start is to look around your neighborhood. Wherever you live, you should try to figure out where those black-owned businesses are and support them because black-owned businesses are really the cornerstone of how we make our black economy work and how we strengthen it. I truly believe that if more people supported black-owned businesses we would be able to thrive as a community.