Selling Alabama: Interview with the owners of Alabama Goods

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Beth Staula and Sherry Hartley began talking about starting a company that would sell Alabama-made products after they participated in a women’s executive roundtable together in 2006. Each was in the process of selling her company and deciding what to do next.

“We didn’t know each other outside of the roundtable,” Hartley said. “But we had mutual respect and decided to explore opening a business together.”

Alabama Goods started out as an online-only business. Now it has stores in Homewood and Huntsville, with a Hoover store on the way. (Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retailer)

“We spent a lot of time developing a business plan,” Staula said. In October 2007, Alabama Goods Was launched. The company initially sold Alabama-made products online as well as corporate gifts.

“We travel North Alabama, South Alabama, East and West. We go to art fairs and craft shows, looking for products to sell,” Staula said.

Manufacturers are also looking for Alabama products. “We are a for-profit business but, at the same time, what we do helps artisans and artists across the state,” Hartley said.

As one of their artist salespeople, Lora McGowan of Owens Cross Roads, put it, “Alabama Goods moves emerging artists out of the starving artist category into the ‘I’m here, support me’ category.” “

The online-only business model worked, but “we kept finding these really beautiful, handcrafted products that didn’t meet our criteria to be a website product, so we decided to showcase them in a store. “Hartley said.

Since 2011, the partners have successfully added physical stores, one in Homewood and the newest in Huntsville. In 2023, they will open their third store at Stadium Trace Village in Hoover. A separate operations center processes gift orders for online presence and corporate sales.

Collaborators and Information Gatherers

Staula is the general manager and Hartley is the president. “We had to call each other something,” Staula said.

Staula manages the operations center, designs gift baskets and boxes, and oversees the website and fulfillment of corporate gifts. The partners recently doubled the operations center space to 5,000 square feet.

Hartley manages store staff, oversees vendor relations and product development, and coordinates company sales in stores.

“We each have our own set of strengths that we bring to the table,” Hartley said.

Both women are data-driven. “We’re constantly reading reports and adjusting,” Staula said.

They keep abreast of trends by reading local, national and online business publications and participate in an entrepreneurial roundtable. “We are always looking for information that will benefit our business,” Hartley said.

Alabama Goods is a Certified Women-Owned Business, and the partners also draw inspiration from other women. When business partners don’t know something, “we look for someone who does,” Staula said, adding that they are “still in touch with some of the ladies” from the Women’s Roundtable where they met in 2016.

“Our incredible staff provide our customers with a top-notch experience; our Alabama suppliers create incredible products; and our customers appreciate unique products and believe in buying local,” they said after being nominated by the Alabama Retail Association. 2021 Gold Retailers of the Year in Alabama in their sales category.

Alabama Goods is an important resource for artists in Alabama. (Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retailer)

Attracted by the locals

Alabama Goods’ flagship store is 18e Street in the heart of Homewood. “Homewood is very much a destination shopping area,” Staula said of why they chose the town and why they plan to stay.

“You don’t find so many local shops and restaurants in one location that offer a wide range of unique products that you won’t find anywhere else,” Hartley said.

The shops and restaurants of 18e Street “help each other” and have similar clienteles, said Staula, a strong advocate for local ownership.

When researching other physical locations in Alabama, the partners looked for areas with a higher proportion of local ownership. That’s what attracted them Valley Bend Mall in Huntsville and Stadium Trace in Hoover.

Alabama Goods capitalizes on the grassroots movement through its private labels – Locally Established (T-shirts, tote bags and hats), Huntsville Home and Birmingham Home (candles).

It’s probably no surprise that the large number of food products made in Alabama include quite a few barbecue sauces and hot sauces. (Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retailer)

Alabama Love

“I grew up in Alabama. I came back as soon as possible (after college and her husband’s military postings), because I wanted my kids to have the same values ​​and education,” Staula said when asked why open a store. which only sells products from Alabama.

And “we thought there would be a demand for products made in Alabama,” Hartley said.

“Each item reflects the warm character and creative spirit of our state,” says the Alabama Goods website.

“When people come into the stores and see what we have to offer, they’re always very impressed,” Hartley said, adding that Alabama Goods also gets great feedback from gift baskets or shipped items.

“Each item reflects the warm character and creative spirit of our state,” says the Alabama Goods website. (Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retailer)

While others may sell products made in Alabama, Staula said, “We’re still a unicorn. No one in the entire state does as much as we, at the scale that we do, exclusively.

While the company started online only, online sales in 2021 accounted for 10% of overall sales. The initial focus, corporate gifts, now accounts for half of sales during the Christmas period and 20-25% of sales from January to October. Companies looking to provide holiday gifts with a touch or flavor of Alabama should consider ordering as early as August, the partners said, adding that they are accepting orders for corporate holiday gifts until at the beginning of December.

“There are corporate opportunities all year round,” Staula said, adding that she had just filled a corporate order for 70 pieces. Alabama Goods looks to manufacturers who can consistently produce large quantities for corporate gifts and online items.

“We usually work with vendors who are business owners, because they’re very small businesses,” Staula said.

Hartley added, “They can make very quick decisions” and “be creative in how they solve supply issues.”

“It would be easier to go to the market and buy stuff and get on with your day,” Staula said, but she and Hartley aren’t taking the easy route. They develop close relationships with manufacturers and customers to ensure both have a satisfying experience.

“We’re proud to carry products made in Alabama and are thrilled that by selling these products, Alabama Goods is making a positive impact on our state,” Hartley said.

This story was originally posted by Alabama Retailer.


THE ESSENTIALS

Based: 2007.

Number of employees: 25.

mentors: Dozens of professionals have helped us in all kinds of areas. We build relationships with people who fill information gaps for us.

Smart Move: Diversify our sources of income and pay attention to each of them.

Learning moment: We opened a store in Tuscaloosa and closed it a year later. If something isn’t working, cut your losses and move on.

Shared wisdom: Don’t listen to experts who give you advice that goes against your instincts. No one knows your business like you do.

Alabama artists and artisans supply the merchandise sold by Alabama Goods – art, pottery, jewelry, bath and body products, towels, leather goods, glassware, t-shirts, hats, books, gourmet dishes and more Again. Meet online at alabamagoods.com.

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