Every holiday season African-American consumers are urged to “Buy Black,” but according to a recent article in the New York Times, “Blacks spend less money in Black-owned businesses than other racial and ethnic groups spend in businesses owned by members of their groups, including Hispanics and Asians.”
But the Dapper Black Box makes it easier to “Buy Black.” It is a monthly subscription service that sends subscribers 3-4 men’s accessories and toiletries from Black-owned brands.
“This may sound contrived, but I was sitting at a Black and Latino male summit at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign on February 28. I was about to subscribe for a SprezzaBox when I realized that hardly any of their featured brands were Black-owned. The idea dawned on me that there wasn’t an obvious choice for a subscription service that invested back into the Black community,” explains Dapper Black Box founder Aaron Barnes, who is a PhD student at the University of Illinois. He graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing.
Barnes funded Dapper Black Box with his own money and has been using the Internet to market the unique company. “The most significant challenge was raising awareness of the brand, but we overcame that through social media and word of mouth,” he says. “Primarily, DBB relies on word-of-mouth and social media to communicate the brand’s value.”
The concept seems simple but brilliant. “We develop relationships with numerous Black-owned businesses and negotiate terms to feature different product assortments each month. Subscribers pay $28 per month to receive 3-4 of these products each month at a deep discount. Shipping and taxes are included in the price,” explains Barnes. “I start with the items that catch my eye. Then, the supplier and I will narrow options down. Afterwards, I’ll invite a few subscribers or external consultants to give their input. Eventually, I make the call, but I try to draw upon the knowledge and tastes of the people involved.”
When asked as to why Black consumers fail to support Black businesses as much as other ethnic groups, he answered, “Many reasons. Trust and awareness are probably the biggest culprits, though. They’re cyclical to an extent. We have a dishearteningly low amount of trust in people who look like us. Therefore, we turn a blind eye to businesses owned by Black folks. After a while, you completely lose touch with the black economy and can’t even identify a black owned business in your neighborhood—let alone your city or region.”
He adds, “Supporting Black companies helps free us from mental slavery, develops long-term wealth, and increases our political leverage.”
Barnes aims to grow Dapper Black Box even more. “We’re looking to grow our supplier list beyond 100 and our subscriber count beyond 200 in 2016. We also would like to have subscribers in all 48 of the contiguous states,” he shares. “Long term, we want the business to inspire others to take the notions of group economics and conscious spending seriously. We’re not in the fashion business. We’re in the idea business. Now, more than ever, we need to rally around big ideas that can propel us into a more prosperous future.”
For Barnes, Dapper Black Box is not only a business but he feels he’s helping Black businesses as whole. “I enjoy putting people onto quality Black businesses,” he says. “Something that really bothers me is the low threshold for disappointment with business owners of color. I enjoy exposing people to black businesses that take pride in their craft and deliver high value.”