Detroit Regional Chamber > Racial Justice & Economic Equity > Corktown Marketplace Wants to Be ‘Amazon for Small Businesses’

Corktown Marketplace Wants to Be ‘Amazon for Small Businesses’

October 5, 2022

Crain’s Detroit Business
Jay Davis

Oct. 4, 2022

A business that started out as a “one-woman show” to help small businesses better brand themselves has expanded and is now occupying space in one of Detroit’s most sought-after neighborhoods.

Ask Jennyfer, a brand marketing firm specializing in supporting small businesses, now operates out of a 1,600-square-foot space at 1620 Michigan Ave., Suite 123 in Corktown. Company Founder Jennyfer Crawford, who established the company in 2012, moved from a 600-square-foot Corktown space, where she worked as company owner and its sole employee. Crawford now employs a staff of four, including an operations manager and a marketing assistant.

“The move was necessary because my business was growing rapidly and we really wanted to service more small businesses than we could include in the original space,” Crawford said. “My passion is people. I enjoy seeing other people succeed. I started my business 10 years ago in a one-bedroom apartment not knowing where it would go. Hearing the stories of businesses that have been helped through our services gives me excitement and added motivation.”

Ask Jennyfer, which Crawford started with $1,500 of her own money, offers event curation, one-on-one consulting, brand advising, and coaching services for entrepreneurs aimed at developing the strategies necessary to ensure their continued growth and the success of their small businesses. The Corktown space, which she moved into in July, allows clients to sell their products, too, through what she’s dubbed the All Things Marketplace. The Corktown space is also available for events and includes an art gallery in the rear.

“I like to think of it as Amazon for small businesses,” Crawford said. “We have a storefront where people can shop.”

Each business is also featured in an online marketplace, in categories ranging from women- and Black-owned businesses, to stationery, home decor, and hair products. Crawford added a shipping and fulfillment element during the coronavirus pandemic that has helped Ask Jennyfer revenues increase by 50 percent over the past two years, she says. The space is open to the public 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Another element that has allowed Crawford to aid small business owners and help her own business is her All Things Detroit Holiday shopping event. The 2022 edition is set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 13 inside sheds three, four, and five at the Eastern Market. About 200 small businesses will be featured, with each paying a $230 vendor fee. Tickets are $5 the day of the event. “Beat the crowd” tickets are $10 and give patrons early entry into the event.

This is the eighth year Crawford has put on the event. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, All Things Detroit took place three times a year. The Nov. 2021 event, the first since the start of the pandemic, featured 150 vendors.

JPMorgan Chase will sponsor the marketplace for a second straight year. As part of its $30 billion commitment to advance racial equity, JPMorgan Chase launched a new program that provides financial health education in Black and Latino communities in addition to mentorship, coaching, and technical assistance to minority entrepreneurs, including Crawford.

Chase is the event’s lone sponsor. Prior to 2021, Crawford put up the $400,000 to host the All Things Detroit event. Financial terms of the sponsorship have not yet been finalized.

“(Chase) is helping us reach the community. We work with their community managers to bring awareness to the event,” Crawford said. “We never had a sponsor before Chase. Everything we made off the event has been put right back into it.

Detroit Cocoa Bar will be a part of the event for a second straight year. Founder Deirdre Johnson, who in 2018 opened the business at 2200 Hunt St., Suite 406, said participating in the 2021 edition did wonders for her business.

“It’s something I always attended,” Johnson said, “but I knew that with us being a small business it’s something we needed to be a part of to increase our brand visibility and get noticed. It’s an exciting event. That was our big introduction to Detroit, I think. That was one of our first major events as well. The foot traffic and meeting people provided us with a lot of benefits.”

Johnson believes participating in the 2021 event led to Detroit Cocoa Bar sales doubling. The small business owner commends Crawford for her commitment to small businesses.

“What she’s doing is awesome. It’s something that we really need,” Johnson said. “When you’re starting out, or your business is new, you may struggle coming up with ways to market yourself. (Crawford) makes it easy. What she’s doing is sort of ensuring that all the small businesses she’s in contact with succeed.”

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