Michelle Dalzon, the founder of the Black-Owned Market (theBOM)
Black Americans have over one trillion dollars in buying power. But only two cents of every dollar spent goes back into black-owned businesses. Michelle Dalzon, the founder of theBOM, is trying to change this through her bi-annual pop-up market. Through theBOM, Michelle is making buying black more convenient, giving black business owners an opportunity to network and reach more clients, and dismantling misconceptions about black-owned services and products. Read more about Michelle and her mission to encourage Black Americans to #BuyBlack in today’s spotlight.
Michelle, can you describe theBOM and speak about what motivated you to launch it?
TheBOM is a curated pop-up market experience that makes it convenient to shop from black-owned brands. I was inspired to start it because my parents are small business owners and they own a beauty supply store in Massachusetts. Subconsciously I was always shopping from black-owned brands. I loved going to flea markets, like the BK Flea, and there would only be one or two business owners of color. I knew that in my real life I frequented so many different black-owned businesses in NYC and where I lived for the past eight years. But a lot of people didn’t know about them. I wanted to create a space that was solely focused on black-owned brands. It’s about time people start talking about black people and their buying power.
How did your personal experiences and career journey help you prepare to become an entrepreneur?
Before theBOM I was working in marketing and advertising. I moved to NYC right after college and my first job was at Turner Broadcasting as a sales assistant. It wasn’t my favorite job but as first jobs go it was pretty great in hindsight. Before that, I interned at Essence Magazine, directly out of college, and that was my first intro to marketing and also working for advertisers in NYC which was very exciting. So the past eight years was me working for different companies, I also worked for MTV, I worked for a startup called Influenster. That was my most recent job as a digital marketing manager.
I always loved the idea of creating and empowering people to shop or focus on a brand just based off of my creativity. Understanding how we could get a brand in front of the people that actually should be shopping or attracting with them.
Prior to theBOM, I always had this experience of trying to get people to do something but it’s also about seeing what clicks. Because not every day you come up with hits, so I think being a marketer has helped me for sure in entrepreneurship. Specifically, in my last position, I was their first marketing hire, so it forced me to be scrappy and think of new, cool, and innovative ideas to get people to sign up for the website or email. Every position prepared me to be in the position that I’m in now.
What have you learned from working for yourself and establishing what you are looking for in a team member?
I learned that I will get things done by any means necessary. So when somebody tells me no, I explore other options either to get that yes or really to figure another way around the problem. For instance, let’s say sponsorship—these are always the biggest hassle for me to get my events funded. Just because shopping and supporting black-owned brands is still very new and with black-owned businesses, it’s a little different since it’s isn’t tried and true. It’s not something that you’ve seen, interacted with, or used before in most cases so people are always kind of give it the side-eye. And I have to do extra work to tell people that these are quality black-owned brands and these are the reasons why you should shop with it, these ingredients they are putting in their products are usually better than conventional products that you’re using and they’re made with you or people they’re making for in mind.
My team is very small, it’s only me and a producer. And she helps me with all of the events that have taken place so far and the ones that will take place in the future. So we’re both pretty scrappy individuals. We get things done. And you have to figure out ways when there is no way. I’m looking for team members who don’t take no and keep it moving. Sometimes you have to figure out the why behind the no. If it’s not going to happen right now, maybe sometime in the future.
What criteria do you have when selecting vendors for theBOM pop-ups? How does your approach help combat any stereotypes about black-owned businesses?
Initially, it was a lot of the business owners I had already shopped with. Then I ask vendor to make recommendations of business owners’ friends within their network. Once we threw our first two pop-ups, people just kept reaching out. The three main things that I look for: great story, good aesthetic, and good quality. We’re also working with or trying to figure out a way to see why you weren’t selected for theBOM for whatever reason, coming up with a curriculum that allows business owners to really get their head in the game and level up in a sense.
Since launching theBOM in 2016, how do you think the Black community has changed how they spend their dollars? In what ways do you think they still need to improve?
I think the Black community is more conscious of how they spend their dollars.
I think when we started in 2016, there was no marketplace or really any platforms dedicated to shopping with just black-owned brands in a physical form. There were a lot of directories, there was no physical place to actually do it. I’m excited and I’m happy that we kind of started that movement because what you saw was that people started to replicate it and people began to start the same thing in their community. And I like to think that’s because of us and I’m excited to see that. What we can do better in shopping black, is actually we can give US a chance. If we have one bad experience at a black-owned brand, we completely write them off. Whereas if we shopped someplace else that’s maybe not black-owned, we’ll give them chance after chance even if they did us wrong. It’s giving us opportunities because we just don’t have the same platforms and we don’t have the same resources to get our businesses out there. We just need that support.
Black Americans have over one trillion dollars in buying power but only $0.02 of every dollar they spend goes back into black-owned businesses. Within the black community, women play an important role as trendsetters and brand loyalists who influence mainstream culture for women across all races. In what ways do you think Black women can influence others, lead the #BuyBlack movement, and help mobilize the black community to support black-owned businesses?
Yes, black women are amazing, especially when it comes to their support of theBOM. Eight-five percent of the people who shop at theBOM are black women, women in general too. And obviously the other fifteen percent being male, and a lot of the black women that come, are shopping for their male best friend, husband, boyfriend, or brother. Honestly, black women are what keeps us going. As we look to expand to our e-commerce platform, there are influencers and micro-influencers that we’re looking to reach out to, to really help push this new territory out there for us. I do believe in the influence of people who are already doing it, already speaking about buying black. And a lot of those people are black women. We really do establish trends. I read a quote recently and it said: “It’s a privilege to be a black woman.” It truly is because we set the standard, we set trends, what we do has an impact, whether people want to give us the credit for it or not, across all cultures. I do believe black women are going to be integral for this buying black movement, especially for theBOM. Any way I can tap in, use them, elevate them, I will because the majority of the business owners that have been at theBOM are black women as well.
What can we expect from you and theBOM in the future? Any plans on expanding into other digital or physical spaces?
We are in the process of launching our e-commerce platform which will be a semi-subscription model. So what I mean is that is when you go into theBOM or typical pop-up markets, you’re given a bag and you get to shop with all of these different black-owned businesses in different categories. It will be the same online, the only difference is usually you get three to five products from, hopefully, brands that you like, but you don’t actually get to select what you want. With our e-commerce model, you’ll actually be able to curate your own box. Which is great, so you’ll be able to go onto our website, curate your own box, and shop black-owned brands. I’m in the process of raising money for a physical space. My parents are small business owners and still own their store in Boston, MA. My dream is to create a sort of Target for black-owned business, starting in their location. And hopefully, we’ll get the capital that we need to do that this year. My overall dream for theBOM is to create a consistent presence for black-owned brands - our own village. I would love for us to have a space dedicated to black-owned businesses in the food sector but also people that are selling retail goods. That’s my big dream if I had all the money in the world. Steady working on the dream every single day.
Interviewed by Renee