Utah brothers find small business success by embracing online juggernaut

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Courtesy of AfroPick

 (ABC4) – As the digital marketplace continues to expand, a group of brothers from Utah has found a way to leverage an online retail giant’s footprint into success for their small business.

The Walker Boys, as their About Us page on their Amazon store introduces them, founded their business, AfroPick, as a way to get a common tool used to shape and style ethnic hair types blended with the storytelling of African-American culture.

Seeing the turmoil that gripped the country last year, not only with the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the globe but also with the civil unrest and racial issues that came to the forefront after George Floyd’s murder, the Walkers brainstormed a way to spread positivity in their community. What they came up with was AfroPick, a spin on hair picks branded and colored with appropriate art reflective of the Black identity.

The Fresher Price AfroPick, Courtesy of Afropick

While they have been working to put their products in traditional brick and mortar stores, the three brothers, Shaquille, Gemille, and Zarrius, have found that building a virtual storefront has been a boon to their success.

“It made a lot of sense to look at Amazon, because, they already have the platform, they already have the audience,” Shaquille explains to ABC4. “People go to Amazon to buy an afropick already. And so in a way, it was kind of a perfect partnership.”

Some think that online retailers can be damaging and harmful to those in the small business game. Local First Utah executive director Kristen Lavelett said that shopping on Amazon can be likened to “lighting your money on fire for what it does to our local economy,” appearing on ABC4’s Good Morning Utah on Thursday.

“When you don’t buy locally, you’re essentially taking your money out of our economy and putting it in an already very rich man’s pocket,” she added with a implied reference to Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, who is reported to have a net worth of $177 billion.

The Walker Brothers, two of which are residing in Salt Lake City and the third in the Bay Area, would say otherwise. They feel that as long as a business owner knows their audience and is using online services to make it as easy to put the product in their customers’ hands, it can be a good thing.

“I just don’t really understand the hurting small businesses perspective,” Gemille replies when asked if he feels selling online is bad for small businesses. “I think if it’s not done correctly, yeah, that’s probably right. If you don’t know your audience, maybe. But in our case that has not been true at all.”

AfroPick doesn’t just rely on Amazon to build its presence in the market. The brothers have worked to partner with small brick and mortar stores to put their products on physicals shelves and are in talks with bigger in-person retailers. For certain orders, such as a large wholesale order, Zarrius handles those by counting, packaging, and shipping the picks from his home in Utah. Still, Amazon has been their biggest and most reliable point of sale, they say.

While the Walker Brothers have already seen a lot of success online, AfroPick has also gotten a lot of help from Amazon’s marketing team to make their business grow even faster. The company is a part of the retailer’s program for black-owned businesses and has been given additional resources to reach additional customers.

Amazon Prime Day, a sale packed with savings on the online marketplace and scheduled for June 21-22, is expected to be a big day for AfroPick, the Walkers say.

As for whether or not selling online will be the wave of the future for future small business owners, Shaquille says he wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes true.

“Everything Amazon touches turns to gold,” he says. “I can see Amazon, as they do with everything kind of stepping in and really making a really strong, competitive play in the space.”

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