How She’s Making It Work: Sherri McMullen
There are nearly 2.7 million Black women-owned businesses in the United States, making this one of the fastest-growing categories of business owners. To celebrate some of the amazing women who are contributing to this growth, we spoke with entrepreneurs from an area in Oakland area where Ayesha’s Sweet July flagship store is located. Endearingly dubbed The Block, the buzzy strip is known for its Black female-owned businesses. Here, McMullen owner Sherri McMullen shares how she got where she is, her best advice, and how she’s coped with the challenges of the last year.
PURSUE YOUR PASSION
McMullen got the idea to open her eponymous boutiques while working as a buyer in corporate retail. “I had moved to Oakland and there is something about the spirit of the city that speaks to my soul,” she says. “It’s a place where women support local businesses, especially those founded by other women.” McMullen quickly zeroed in on three key objectives: establishing her brand, offering a unique product, and building a client base. “I knew if I covered these, everything else would fall into place.”
STAY THE COURSE
“Many banks were reluctant to invest in our first store because retail was considered too risky, especially in 2007, as the country faced a recession,” says McMullen, who financed the launch with $50,000 loaned to her by family and friends, plus some of her personal savings she initially setup when high yield savings accounts rates were better. Funding remains a struggle—and as a black woman, she feels an extra layer of scrutiny. “I continuously have to prove myself,” she says. “I’ve had people say to me: ‘Let’s talk in a few months once you’ve hit another milestone.’ It’s frustrating and emotionally draining at times.” The most important thing is to stay as lean as possible for as long as possible. “You have to make personal sacrifices to sustain and grow as a business,” says McMullen. Her hard work is paying off: Today, the two McMullen boutiques are known as places to shop for fashions created by female designers from all over the world.
LEAN ON YOUR YOUR TRIBE
[When I was starting the business) I created mood boards and would invite friends over and serve them dinner to get their thoughts. I had some money saved, came up with a business plan in 2007, and found a space in Oakland that I loved that same year. Then, in 2018, I moved to the Block (which is filled with businesses run by Black women), next door to my friend Tanya. There’s something special about being surrounded by so many businesswomen—particularly Black business- women. We can lean on each other and have open conversations. If Tanya knows I’m working late, she makes sure I eat. And if she has to go to an event, I will dress her. Being there for each other is just really special.
BUILD A GREAT TEAM
There comes a point when you realize that you have to let certain tasks go so that you can focus on the growth of what you’re doing. When you’re as hands on as I am, that can be tough. But you have to remind yourself that you hired your team for a reason, and you need to trust them.
To share her success with the community, McMullen spends her spare time working with organizations that help women, children, and the arts. “It feels good knowing that I can do something to help other women and support where I can,” she says.
“There’s something so special about being surrounded by other Black businesswomen.”
As seen in the pages of Sweet July Magazine.