Star Power

Star Power

Synthia Saint James’ vibrant artwork is created to stimulate the eye with its bold shapes and brilliant colors. The works of the internationally renowned artist, whose creations include the U.S. Postal Service Kwanzaa stamp, also elicited a positive response from Pamela Dixon, whose company, Hocus Focus Baby Products, designs and manufactures blankets and bibs for small children.

“We thought that it would be an excellent idea to somehow incorporate Saint James’ work into our products,” says Dixon, who sought out Saint James to help with her Los Angeles-based business. Dixon was surprised to discover that Saint James had written and illustrated several children’s books. Saint James agreed to a partnership, and Dixon began to integrate Saint James’ artwork into her own firm’s lineup of children’s bedclothes and bedding. “I’d never seen an artist’s work on a blanket before, and I thought this might be a great market for us,” says Dixon, who founded her six-employee firm in 2002.

Dixon and Saint James began working together to create the Synthia Saint James Collection of blankets and bibs. Expecting sales of $150,000 this year, Dixon says forming the alliance was a snap, since both parties were interested in providing bold, high-quality products to their customers. A contract was drawn up spelling out each party’s responsibilities; following a review by an attorney, both signed it. Today, the line features five different images that appeal to a multicultural audience, says Saint James.

Joining forces with a celebrity or other high-profile individual to help promote products or services is an attractive choice for small business owners looking to break into new markets or dig deeper into their existing niches. “America is in a state right now where celebrity is, in fact, a very powerful currency,” says Gregory B. Fairchild, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. “Being famous for fame’s sake has value in today’s society.”

But fame can be fleeting, says Fairchild, who advises business owners to do their homework before collaborating with outside parties. Ask yourself whether the celebrity will add value to the product and to the business itself, he says. Consider why you’re choosing this person over anyone else, and look at the person’s reputation in his or her own industry.

“Also consider the payment arrangements — and whether they are amenable to your business,” says Fairchild, since most celebrities will likely want an equity arrangement. “Realize that this person will get equity in your company in exchange for using their name or likeness,” says Fairchild, “and that they’re not going to help you make payroll or pore over the financials on a Friday night.”

Dixon recommends that small business owners seek out collaborators who share their passion and vision and who are approachable and open to working with business owners. “If Synthia wasn’t sold on the idea of creating something for children,” says Dixon, “this wouldn’t have worked at all.”
august 2006 : BLACK ENTERPRISE : : Photograph by summer dilworth