By Tonya Garcia
Take a trip to your local Lowe’s or head to the home improvement retailer’s e-commerce site and one of the many products you’ll find is SoilKit , which aims to provide users with an easy way to test and diagnose soil problems.
Unlike the Craftsman power tools (a Stanley Back & Decker Inc. /zigman2/quotes/206369278/composite SWK +3.07% product) or Sherwin-Williams /zigman2/quotes/210069062/composite SHW +0.80% paint on the home retailer’s vast shelves, SoilKit is the flagship product of a small business run by a mom of four. Christina Woerner-McInnis, who is chief executive officer of AgriTech Corp. and also a fifth-generation Alabama farmer, was one of three suppliers selected as part of “Making It … With Lowe’s.”
Launched in 2020, “Making It … With Lowe’s” is one of many programs designed to help entrepreneurs take the ideas they’re passionate about and turn them into moneymaking businesses.
As one of the selected entrepreneurs, Woerner-McInnis received a $5,000 grant as well as mentoring from Daymond John, “Shark Tank” star, investor and founder of the fashion label Fubu . She also got advice about packaging, business practices and other topics to help grow her business.
“I needed a lot of mentorship in a time when we were going through shelter in place with Covid — also had Hurricane Sally , home schooling and other challenges,” she told MarketWatch.
“I know grass and garden. I didn’t know how to put the perfect packaging on the shelves for a national retailer.”
When she was younger, Woerner-McInnis said she was surrounded by male farmers who “to a degree tried to kick me out of the decision making.” She always thought her company would be a small operation, but now she looks forward to listening to customers to see what more lies ahead.
The “Making it … with Lowe’s” /zigman2/quotes/205563664/composite LOW -0.68% program is part of the company’s commitment to small, diverse businesses. Many large businesses across the retail and consumer space have their own initiatives with similar goals of helping entrepreneurs grow their companies.
Macy’s Inc. /zigman2/quotes/201854387/composite M -3.25% , for example, offers a retail incubator for women and diverse-owned small businesses, The Workshop at Macy’s . Launched in 2011, 170 companies have gone through the program, and applications for the latest round are being accepted through Nov. 15.
In addition to the Target Accelerators , a Target Corp. /zigman2/quotes/207799045/composite TGT +0.84% program that helps startups “learn the ins and outs of retail,” the retailer announced in April that it would spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025. This includes spending more with Black-owned marketing agencies, construction companies and other businesses, as well as bringing the number of products made by Black-owned businesses on the retailer’s shelves to more than 500.
Amazon.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.38% , the largest internet retailer, announced in October that it will introduce new tools to help small businesses sell their goods internationally. Among the tools is Customer Service by Amazon, which offers third-party sellers that fulfill their own orders with the option to have Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.38% manage refunds and other customer service inquiries.
Amazon says it invested more than $18 billion in 2020 to help sellers start their businesses and scale them up. The company highlighted small businesses in its Prime Day wrap up this year, saying small-business purchases more than doubled during its two-day event.
Business owners and those who work with them see the value in programs like these, which give small companies a chance to leverage the size and resources of some of the largest businesses in the world. But there are other challenges to overcome if small businesses are going to thrive.
Small businesses form the backbone of the U.S. economy. There are 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S., compared with 20,139 large businesses, according to October 2020 data provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Between 1994 and 2018, about two-thirds (67.6%) of small businesses lasted only two years, nearly half (48.8%) lasted five years, and one-third (33.6%) made it to the 10-year mark.
“The entrepreneurship journey can be a lonely road,” said Arpan Podduturi, director of product for retail at Shopify Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209033712/composite SHOP -2.57% , which counts small businesses and entrepreneurs as a key portion of its client base.
“While people believe that shopping local is an important thing, they don’t want to trade off on convenience and cost,” he said. Services for inventory management, fulfillment and other areas of a business, particularly a retailer, are critical for being competitive.
And while the cost of entry into the market has been lowered through technologies like social media, standing out has become more difficult. For instance, Shopify says it makes it possible for small businesses to engage on Instagram, Facebook and wherever customers are online. And the company provides tools that can help a business “spend time being creative rather than on tedious tasks.”
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