Two small business owners recently found success after a California Capital matchmaking event that connected them with large retailers at the Sacramento International Airport (SMF). While their stories showcase individual success, they also highlight the ways in which minority-owned small businesses can expand through unique avenues, and the growing breadth of airport-based concessionaire opportunities.
California Capital clients Truthful Kernel and Sugar Coated Cupcakes began talks with international retailers Marshall Retail Group and Travel + Well, respectively, last month. The opportunities each business pursued are part of the Sacramento International Airport’s broader efforts to connect local business owners with airport retailers—an outreach strategy that was reflected in a Small Business Working Group (SBWG) event in February. The virtual event, hosted by California Capital and the Black Small Business Association of California (BSBA), allowed small business owners to meet with representatives from the Sacramento County International Airport and learn about procurement opportunities with airport concessionaires.
“Through our concessionaires there are many opportunities for small businesses to sell their products,” explains Renata Romero, Airport Economic Development Specialist at the Sacramento International Airport. “We conduct outreach events to reach the small business communities and partner with local agencies to promote our available opportunities.”
Procurement an Avenue for Expansion
Selling at the Sacramento International Airport was of particular interest to LaQueanya Henry, who founded Sugar Coated Cupcakes with her daughter Mechiala and is focused on contracts with companies or government agencies as a way to expand beyond e-commerce.
“I have been looking for a storefront for us for a while, so I reached out to [Airport Economic Development Specialist] Andrew Durkee who suggested working with established vendors,” explains Ms. Henry. Mr. Durkee put Sugar Coated Cupcakes in contact with the owner of the Travel + Well kiosk, and once the relationship was established, business followed. “He really went above and beyond facilitating that connection.”
Similarly, Truthful Kernel co-founder Jon Jew recently expanded his capacity, and was looking for ways to reach more markets with his health-conscious popcorn snacks. Having worked with a California Capital Women’s Business Center business counselor as he built the foundations of his brand, Mr. Jew knew that California Capital would be a valuable resource for leveraging growth.
“California Capital put me in contact with Marshall Retail Group’s local sundries buyer, and everything clicked right away,” explains Mr. Jew. “We’re starting off by selling at their locations at Sacramento International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport. Who knows how far this will go?”
Facilitating the expansion of small businesses in localities across the country is a key element of Marshall Retail Group’s operations, says Renee Ellis, Local Sundries Buyer. “The Marshall Retail Group prides itself on being part of every community we are given the distinct honor to be part of. We firmly believe in promoting small business in the area and helping them to grow. We currently work with over 300 vendors across the US and in Canada and that list grows everyday,” explains Ms. Ellis, emphasizing that Marshall Retail Group also works with their vendors to expand beyond their community, as they have with Truthful Kernel.
In many ways, Truthful Kernel and Sugar Coated Cupcakes are examples of typical Sacramento entrepreneurs: ambitious, resourceful, and dedicated to the quality of their product, often leveraging the Sacramento region’s farm-to-fork culture to source local, fresh ingredients. And this homegrown ethos was a perfect fit for SMF.
“The Sacramento International Airport strives to highlight local businesses in our retail and food and beverage programs. We have been participating in local outreach events in efforts to become more visible to the local community,” explains Ms. Romero, whose team is also currently revamping their website to include resources and guides for businesses interested in selling at the airport.
Business Opportunities Through Partnerships
A valuable resource in building business connections are events such as the Small Business Working Group, which inform business owners of the opportunities available and put them in touch with the necessary decision-makers.
“Through these partnerships [with community-based organizations], small businesses become aware of the opportunities and gain insight into the process. With the assistance of the resources provided, small businesses are better prepared and equipped to compete for the available opportunities,” explains Ms. Romero, adding that while many businesses do not think of airports as a viable location for their operation, the traveling public are a dynamic population, and opportunities to sell a variety of products and services will evolve and increase as air travel begins to return to pre-pandemic levels. “From 2022 through 2026 we will be issuing Food & Beverage and Retail Requests for Proposals (RFPs) that will effectively open most of the airport concessionaire spaces to new concepts. Now is a great time for local companies to learn and prepare for doing business with the airport to ensure they are competitive in the upcoming RFP processes.”
With communities across the nation returning to air travel, the express commitment of large entities like the Sacramento International Airport to increase participation of small businesses—and particularly small businesses that hold Airport Concessionaire Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) certifications—will be crucial to elevating small business ecosystems across the nation. By working with organizations like California Capital to complete the ACDBE application and stay up-to-date on RFPs, taking advantage of these evolving opportunities can be a reality.