Calendar Guys

Courtney Hines and Adrian Woods use niche marketing to build profits year-round

When shopping for a calendar during the Christmas season two years ago, Adrian Woods and Courtney Hines were inundated with images ranging from cats to comic strip characters. Few, however, depicted African American life, so to fill the void, the two launched Shades of Color in 1995.

“There was definitely a market for this type of calendar business,” says Hines, CEO of the Los Angeles-based company, which highlights positive images of African American culture. But the two found it difficult to get financing. “We thought if we got purchase orders, we would be able to go to a bank and get a small business loan,” says Hines.

Still, after taking about $ 100,000 in orders for their first calendar, a swimsuit issue, they were unable to secure a commercial loan. To fill the orders and get the business off the ground, they each invested $20,000 in personal savings and borrowed $30,000 from family and friends.

Although the response was good the first year, Hines and Woods, both 30, felt changes needed to be made in order to stay competitive. To create more appeal, they provided a full page for each photograph and monthly grid and extended the calendars from 12 to 16 months, giving them longer shelf-life.

The partners also adjusted their pricing points and broadened their marketing strategy by selling the calendars through catalogs. Revenues for the four-employee firm are $250,000.
In 1996, Shades of Color expanded its product line by introducing the Loving Dad calendar. “I thought it would be great to show loving black fathers to counteract the stereotypical image society projects about black men,” says Woods.

Frederick Douglass Designs, a Berkeley, California-based greeting card publisher and distributor, carries the Loving Dad calendar. “We were impressed with the sensitivity of it and we knew it would appeal to a large market,” says co-owner Joseph Dashiell. “In fact, last year, we sold 1,900 units.”

The calendars are sold in stores nationwide such as Barnes & Nobles, Waldenbooks, Target Stores and Wherehouse Records. Prices range from $11.95 for the swimsuit calendar to $14.95 for Loving Dad and its newest edition, Annie Lee, a calendar featuring the artwork of this popular African American artist. Next year, Hines and Woods anticipate introducing another swimsuit calendar featuring a black supermodel.

While competition has grown in the last two years with the advent of more Afrocentric calendars, Hines believes he and Woods have carved a niche. “The other companies mainly focus on celebrities, but Shades of Color is interesting because it produces a positive product that reflects our everyday community.

Shades of Color, 1311 Arcturus Ave., Gardena, CA 90249; 310-3291838 or 800-943-SHAIES

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