Black Gurlz Ink, Oakland
Blac Gurlz Ink is a unique source for high quality greeting cards for the LGBT community, as well as mainstream consumers. Artist and owner, Spring Opara, is a US Air Force veteran and graduate of UC with a BS in Political Science. She has program management experience in both the not for profit and corporate worlds.
Spring came to the SBDC with a passion for her business and a very high level business plan. The challenge was to ramp up activities in research and market development to gain a better understanding of the market opportunity prior to entering the market. Another challenge was determining how to price the cards.
The goal was to move the business plan from a high level to an operational one, and launch a greeting card business. The business strategy was revisited and after additional research, Spring realized her cards appealed to an audience beyond her initial target. This led to a retooling of the product line to reach a broader audience.
Like many artist/entrepreneurs, Spring had initial pricing which didn’t adequately cover the labor content in producing the cards. So with the consultant Spring went through a detailed product costing exercise to understand her company’s true cost structure. She recalibrated her wholesale pricing, and created tiered pricing at both the wholesale and retail levels.
Blac Gurlz Ink has a business strategy which forecast a substantial portion of online sales, yet initially the company website was combersome for Spring to manage, and ease of shopping was low. John Lundin, a TAP consultant, was called in to lead Spring through the process of evaluating how to revise her website within a tight budget, to increase its productivity.
When Blac Gurlz Ink was awarded a trip to develop an understanding of the international market, the scope was expanded to so the lead consultant could guide the Client in preparing for international market development within a short window.
As a result of better understanding the market, the average retail sale for BGI increased from a single card to a five card pack, an incredible feat for premium priced greeting cards.
In August of 2009 BGI won The Face of Opportunity contest sponsored by British Airways and StartUpNation, an opportunity to meet face to face with international business owners and develop business relationships - travel and hotel expenses courtesy of British Airways. Spring had a successful trip and has the American Embassy's Commercial Services Division ready to help in BGI's international launch, scheduled for March 2010.
Blac Gurlz Ink was subsequently featured on About.com in their Women In Business section.
Spring has been a very popular panelist for the AC SBDC Marketing seminar, sharing best practices for using Twitter and Facebook as components of the marketing mix.
In January 2010 BGI gained shelf space in SF based Rainbow Grocery. Spring is in the process of acquiring a micro loan to purchase equipment and bulk raw material to reduce her COGS.
"I am currently working with a wonderful team, Irma Lewis, a Harvard Business School graduate from the Small Business Development Center who is my key adviser and John Lundin, of TAP who is my IT advisor. These two have been priceless in making sure that I stay on track with the business goals that have been set for Blac Gurlz Ink and with their guidance I am in the process of upgrading our website, fine tuning the business plan to present to lenders and preparing to pursue major distributors within the gifts and greeting cards industry."
"If it were not for Irma's guidance, many of our accomplishments for 2009 would not have taken place until we had been in business for at least a few years. With her keen ability to ascertain what key elements needed immediate attention, our growth, especially revenue wise was really felt within year one."