It’s a typical Saturday afternoon in Midtown, and the aisles of Whole Foods are buzzing with customers. The cha-ching of registers and murmuring of patrons create a white noise while the store’s employees take stock of the many products coming in and going out of the store. Business is good — due in part to a diverse crop of Michigan-made vendors offering a taste of home through specially made brands. Through determination, skill and perhaps a bit of divine intervention, these product lines are available on store shelves and restaurants near you.
One product creator on-site today happens to be socializing in Whole Foods’ community room, located on the store’s second level, and is filled to the brim — mostly by women whose eyes are trained on Gwen Jimmere, 30, creator of Naturalicious and the OooLaLocks Hair box.
Today’s seminar is titled “How to grow your Hair” and Jimmere is in her zone. She loves to share her knowledge of trial and error with a thirsty audience during these type of events, which allow vendors a chance to meet their customers.
“I started the product line because my clients were asking for it. When we did hair care meet-ups or workshops, the products would always sell out.” says Jimmere. “People were constantly asking me ‘when are you going to create your own line?’”
The Naturalicious OooLaLocks Hair Box is mixed, bottled, shipped or personally delivered by Jimmere from her basement in Canton to stores throughout the metropolitan area.
“It gives me a lot of pride to know that the product I created and bottled made it to stores like Whole Foods,” says Jimmere. “My customers know that this product came from me — [by] my hands.”
It’s pride of authorship that drove her to inquire about being a part of the Whole Foods family. “I had this nagging feeling, as if God was talking to me telling to go down there. What was I waiting for,” remembers Jimmere. “[The buyers] were really receptive to the products and a couple of months later I got my first purchase order. A few weeks after, the products were on the shelves.”
In a sea of competition, something as simple as product design can put you over the top with a buyer. Mama’s Sweet Side baked goods is experiencing stellar sales since being placed on the shelves of Whole Foods stores in Midtown and Ann Arbor.
Owned and operated by Detroit brother-and-sister duo Anthony and Kathleen Haralson, Mama’s Sweet Side has been operating for just two years and now expects to grow more than 300 percent in sales volume this year.
“Our first order came on a Wednesday and by Friday, they ordered 200 more,” says Anthony Haralson, 46. “Our products [don’t] sit on the shelves, we restock them constantly. We are in four stores now.”
Mama’s Sweet Side has hired six part-time employees and rents a space in Southfield to bake, package and ship their famous mini-funnel cakes. With projected sales in the realm of $100,000 by year’s end, Haralson says growth should more than exceed the $12,000 achieved in the first year of business.
“My sister just wanted to bake for people in the neighborhood but I knew that we could be a national business,” Haralson says.
Entrepreneur Joseph Uhl, owner of Joseph Wesley Black Teas, whose product line was named one of the top 25 teas in the world by Newsweek has been operating for less than six months and can now be found at Pure Detroit, Steller Café, Urban Bean and several farmers markets.
“We see ourselves as tea connoisseurs, for us tea is about history and culture,” says Joe Uhl, 39, of Grosse Pointe. “Right now, we’re trying to find distributors and developing teas in tea bags. Then we’ll work on getting on the shelves.”
Putting the product in the consumer’s hand is just as important as its messaging, so a huge part of Joseph Wesley’s strategic plan includes company demonstrations. His sales reps physically go and brew a pot of tea on sales and demonstration calls. “There’s not a lot of competition [here],” says Uhl, “so we can be a phenomenon in Detroit.”
Darralynn Hutson is a contributor to the Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].