Al McFarlane: What are the strategies to make sure that you sell a quality product, that as a business organization, you are prepared to deliver quality and value, but that you get beyond barriers that don’t make sense, and that keep us at the margin?
Joe Mudd: Be prepared. I say that from the corporate side as much as I say from the entrepreneurial side. Because the truth is, regardless of your product, corporations today are not looking for a reason to add another supplier. You have to understand that going in.
What we try to do is to understand the marketplace, understand the market share and what that company is trying to achieve. So in the case of Garth McFarlane & Mudd, we are approaching Fortune 100 companies trying to sell them on the multicultural marketplace. We need to understand what their current market share is in those marketplaces and what we can bring to differentiate ourselves. We have had some success. We have had some penetration with some large national companies because we bring a differentiated value proposition. We know how to get to a market that they are interested in that they have not been able to do so in the past.
But if we don’t have the differentiation, if we don’t do our homework or understand what it is we are offering, we are going to get left at the front door and that’s a fact. That really comes from my corporate experience. I was somewhat the gatekeeper for Target for half of my career. I can tell you from experience what that’s like not to let you in or why we don’t want to let you in. But when you come with a compelling argument and something that is going to differentiate you, we will listen to you.
Don Bryant: I think there are two areas we need to focus on: innovation and understanding the markets that we are trying to go into. The markets that we are trying to go into are driven by economics. I have considered certain international markets to bring products from to the US market.
I saw distribution as the easiest route for us as a small business because we understood this market. We understood the US market. We understood the dynamics. We had the relationships in place. When you don’t understand the political or the cultural dynamics enough to successfully and affordably enter a market you can spend a lot of dollars making mistakes. So you want to build relationships that allow you to minimize mistakes and minimize the cost to effectively penetrate that market. Identifying partners and establishing value added relationships that will legally allow you to get into the markets is critical.
Recently we were interested in bringing in a product from Jamaica. They have some wonderful healthy snack products… cassava chips and banana chips that are all natural, that are very popular in the Caribbean markets. They are very popular in Florida, but they are not nationally distributed in the United States. As you know, the healthy snack market is a very large market. And it is a market where typically the entrepreneur has the vision, maybe not the capital, but has the vision to produce and penetrate the market on a regional level. But if you have a national plan you can quickly grow that market.
First, understand what market you are best equipped to succeed in and then establish relationships in new markets to successfully penetrate those markets.
Gerry Fernandez: Well I would like to first pick up on something that I think Mr. Mudd said. Company purchasing managers are not looking for another supplier. You absolutely have to have a differentiator, and the days of somebody doing business with a minority company just because they are a minority are probably gone.
Clearly, companies are not going to add you as a supplier if you are not adding value, but I think you can talk about companies and what the cultural groups they serve can bring to the table.
So for example the minority businesses who supply Darden Restaurants, which includes Darden, The Capital Grille and Longhorn Steakhouse and a number of others, often gives input to the company on issues that they struggle with. And they have also seen minority franchisees become the focal point for developing new markets, IHOP (International House of Pancakes) in Manhattan opened up a number of years ago. I think a group of Black doctors were behind that. That business is just producing cash hands over fists. I think in all of Darden the Brooklyn Red Lobster Restaurant is like the second highest grossing Red Lobster in the system. What minority suppliers can do is help understand how to make connections in the community that add value, that help them attract the talent that they need and understand the cultural nuances.
On the manufacturing side, PepsiCo has a couple of great products out there that are flavored with guacamole, a suggestion which came directly from the Latino employees on the production line. So I think minority businesses need to think about how they can add value to beyond just the product. Because if it is just a product, it is no different than anyone else and companies are not going to be open to that.
Al McFarlane: We created the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium, and a wonderful new website. www.multiculturallife.org. It is unique because it amalgamates the content from several ethnic newspapers, Insight News, Mshale which is an African newspaper, The African News Journal serving the Somali community and African community, The Circle serving American Indian Nations, the Asian American Press and Latino Midwest all serving and representing emerging markets in the US. This new platform affords the opportunity to acknowledge the connection between our communities here in this country to our home countries. I am a Jamaican and I am a Cuban. I intend to do business in Jamaica and business in Cuba. It is part of my legacy, part of my heritage. My Asian, Latino, American Indian and African colleagues connect to the “old country” as well. The “old country” may be Wisconsin or Rice Lake, if you are American Indian. But the point is we must recognize the historical value that our cultures bring to humanity and we must promote and exploit those values for the benefit of our own people and for our communities and for our country.
Don Bryant: I am preparing my 5-year-old son who is in kindergarten. I put him in a Spanish immersion class and he is already teaching me Spanish. As I look at the next generation of our business, as I look at the future, I am preparing him to enter into a global marketplace. I am preparing him to be able to do business internationally and multiculturally. I think there is a responsibility to know the mother countries that we come from. I look at the Jewish community as an example in the support that it is giving back to Israel.
Some of my business partners are from Israel and I commend that connection and that relationship. I think as we speak about Africa, we must build those relationships. There are raw materials and talent equity that can be exported outside to other parts of the world. I don’t necessarily feel that we have that connection yet from a product standpoint, but I see that legacy, that connection as a tremendous business opportunity.
Joe Mudd: I have been to Asia half a dozen times in the last three years conducting business, looking for suppliers, looking for opportunities to find better logistics to get product here. I am an importer-distributor, which means I import goods and bring them to the US. We do that through consortiums, through connectivity with other people through my Chinese-American brothers who have helped me with the language barrier, through communicating via many levels of technology that is available today including Skype. But there are many ways to conduct international business without leaving the US with the technologies that we currently have and are available to us.
I emphasize working together as minority groups within the United States. I am proud to talk about the partnership that we just formed with what I call mentors and successful business people, Bill Garth out of Chicago and Al McFarlane, who approached me and said let’s do something together. I am proud to tell you within two months we landed British Petroleum nationally. And I am very proud of that. But I could never have done that alone and I don’t think these gentlemen could have done it by themselves either. So that’s what I am talking about-- It’s the spirit of collaboration. As people of color we have to work together. We have to do it together.
Al McFarlane: Gerry Fernandez how do we create the public mind that supports the initiatives we are talking about and that makes it so that companies that ought to be doing more business with us feel that it is the right thing to do and in fact do it as opposed to stay in their old boy network comfort zone. What do we do?
Gerry Fernandez: If they can make money, ultimately they will do it. But I am going to piggyback on some things that Joe said because he is speaking right out of the song book that I would like to follow. First we have to work together; particularly Black Americans have had a real tough time working together. I am of Cape Verdean descent, so I have Black Portuguese roots. My name is Fernandez, I oftentimes get people who misconstrue what my cultural identity is, but the issue is, we have to work together, and we don’t see enough of that. I see successful business people who find ways to work together building greater success. You guys are one clear example of that. I think secondly we have to build our cultural competencies, our cultural intelligence, and our cultural fluency. By that I mean you can’t go to China and not learn pretty quickly that China is not a monolithic place, what goes on at Beijing is not what goes on at Guangzhou. We here domestically have to understand that our Latino partners can be of Dominican background, Puerto Rican background, they are not Spanish people unless they are from Spain—so we have to get comfortable with other cultures and know how to talk about them, how to communicate with them, how to create valuable added value kinds of relationships.
The last thing I will say is, forums like this can go up to the next step about teaching cultural competency. Here is what you need to know about working with this particular audience to be effective. Again I go back to the Latino community because it’s a common language but not always a common culture. There are many differences between each group. The more you understand that I think the more opportunities we have. But clearly one of the brothers there said we can take a page out of our Jewish brothers and sisters’ book when they work and partner together. The South Asian Indians have been doing the same thing here in the lodging sector where they have partnered together. One will buy a large group of gas stations and then resell the smaller ones to moms and pops. These are models that we can learn a great deal from.
We are stronger together partnering within the Black community across groups between Black and Latinos.
The demographics dictate that the Latino population with an 8:1 birth to death ratio as compared to a 1:1.41 birth to death ratio for whites and something slightly higher for Blacks means we are going to have a big Latino community here for us to partner with and we must be smart to figure out how to do that.