drew a steady stream of sorority members with a welcome sign, special promotions, and refreshments.
“It has definitely had a positive affect on our cash flow,” said Lewis-Polite, who’s been in business some 15 years. “We’re one of the only minority-owned businesses in the area and this convention has brought in the strongest sales we’ve had in years.”
Some of the customers said they made a special trip to Ida’s to support Karen R. Roache, a South Carolina-based jewelry designer and sorority member, who is showcasing her handcrafted collection, “Another Phase by Karen Roache” all week at the boutique.
“I flew in especially for the convention,” said Roache, whose pieces can be found in hundreds of specialty stores and museums and is worn by such celebrities as Angela Bassett. “The AKAs are some of the most dynamic, educated, African American women in the country. I was very interested in being a part of this, and marketing my jewelry directly to them.”
Meanwhile, inside the convention center’s massive exhibition hall, about 160 vendors spread over 11 aisles, hawked everything from rhinestone AKA T-shirts and umbrellas, to watches and gold pins with the sorority’s crest. Prices ranged from $2 for pencils, to hundreds of dollars for custom-made leather purses, to full length mink furs and jackets (some in shades of pink) selling for thousands.
LaMont Burns, 65, president and founder of LaMont’s Authentic Southern Food Products Inc., was one of the few food vendors on hand. The Mississippi-based entrepreneur had a booth set up with his bottled sauces and cookbooks, plus photos and a video tracing the history of Southern cuisine. His wife Yvonne, a member of the sorority, encouraged him to attend the convention, he said.
“It’s my first time,” said Burns, a former corporate salesman who previously owned three barbeque restaurants in California before launching his company 25 years ago. “I was impressed with the whole organization and the idea of connecting with women from different parts of the country.”
While his barbeque sauces and marinades can be found in supermarket chains in the South and Midwest, Burns called the convention an opportunity to “build brand recognition” among a key demographic.
“This is grass-roots marketing,” he said. “There are thousands of women here who can see you, and you can interface and dialogue with them. My name and face are on the jar, and when they go into the store, hopefully, they will think of me and buy the product.”
Small businesses aren’t the only ones who recognize the potential buying power of the sorority members.
Besides the Barbie deal, the sorority also has a special line of pink and green AKA Converse sneakers. That deal, which McKinzie said resulted from a brand infringement lawsuit that AKA and five other black Greek letter fraternities and sororities brought against Converse, also brings in proceeds. (The company eventually settled the case and is now sponsoring a major convention event, a unity march of Black Greek Letter Organizations to the White House.)<!–[endif]–>
AKA has also collaborated with