Some of the best business ideas are born from your own experiences. That was what Nia Tillett-McAdoo found out when she launched Cocoa Babies, after looking for a way to empower and inspire young women. Her home-based business took off so fast she left her job as associate director of student activities at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.
“It has always been a goal of mine to be able to run Cocoa Babies on a full-time basis. I was married in July of this year and relocated to be with my husband in a new city, which meant that I had to resign from my position as associate director of programming at UNC Charlotte. When planning the relocation, I had a choice to make about whether or not I would pursue a full-time position in higher education or with my business, Cocoa Babies,” explains Tillett-McAdoo. “I faced a difficult job market and with the support of my husband decided to switch from running Cocoa Babies on a part-time to a full-time basis.”
In fact, in 2009, there were 27.5 million businesses in the United States, according to Office of Advocacy and of those, minorities owned 5.8 million firms, which generated $1 trillion in revenues and employed 5.9 million people. African-Americans accounted for 7.1 percent of these firms. The Buffalo, New York native launched the company in 2005 and sells not only shirts for young girls and boys (with slogans such as “College Bound,” “Pretty Little Brown Girl” and “Destined for Greatness”), but also onesies, bibs, adult tees, home office products as well as products with slogans written in Spanish.
”The response has been great and we are growing in ways that I didn’t initially imagine. Cocoa Babies had a strong foundation which made it easy in certain respects but there were still a few bumps,” notes Tillett-McAdoo. “In July we saw an immediate increase in sales, which is a direct result of the time that I can now dedicate to marketing. But with increased business came space issues. At the end of the summer we moved into a physical office, which allowed us to introduce new products and hold additional stock onsite.”
Since focusing on the company full time, Tillett-McAdoo says her revenue has remarkably increased. “Since the summer we have tripled the number of Facebook fans to over 4,100. Facebook, which is one of the ways that we communicate different contests, sales and new products with our fans has allowed me to receive instant feedback from customers and is a great way to gather and respond to customer comments,” she points out. “This quarter we saw a 46% increase in sales which was our first quarter since launching the business full-time. Currently 100% of our business is conducted directly with the consumer through our Web site www.CocoaBabies.com <http://www.CocoaBabies.com> or in person at various vendor events around the country. In 2011 we are looking to increase the number of events we attend since we are able to travel more often. Also, we are implementing SEO to increase our Web site traffic. We are launching our wholesale catalogue in mid January and hope to reach 10% in business-to-business sales by the end of 2011. It is my hope to increase our B-2-B sales to 50% over the next 5 years.”
But for Tillett-McAdoo the company is more about numbers; it is about making young African- Americans feel good about themselves and their futures. “I truly believe that it’s important to create and promote positive messages for children, especially children of color. We often hear the negative statistics associated with African-American children, especially with our young men. And after working in education, I know that children absorb these messages from a young age,” says Tillett-McAdoo. “Cocoa Babies’ main goal when we started out was to introduce a positive and trendy line that children would like and that parents would be proud of. It’s a great way to spark conversations about various topics including what it means to be a strong black man- or woman-in-the-making and introducing the idea of a college education.”
With all of this in mind, Tillett-McAdoo is looking to the future to expand her company. One of the ways in which she hopes to do this is through custom printing. “I had a group of male alumni contact me about their HBCU homecoming this past fall. They typically take their young children with them and wanted to do a custom tee shirt order for our “College Bound” design in their school and fraternity colors,” she recalls. “They told me that they wanted something that the children could wear on the college tour that they had arranged. It is through conversations like these that make me realize there is not only a market but a deeper need for an alternative to what is marketed in the stores and magazines.”
Next is making Cocoa Babies a household name–literally. “This is an exciting time for Cocoa Babies. We are launching our home parties, which will allow us to sell products in intimate settings in January of 2011. As mentioned earlier, we also plan to launch our wholesale catalogue. We recently introduced our home line and will be releasing new products in the spring as well as working hard to market our custom printing services that we recently introduced,” says an enthusiastic Tillett-McAdoo. “We anticipate 2011 being a breakout year for the company and we are excited about the many things that we have planned. “