Community Commerce as a Business Model
Richelieu Dennis Archives
In 1987, as civil unrest erupted in his home country of Liberia, Richelieu Dennis was accepted to Babson College in Massachusetts, where he began his journey to becoming an entrepreneur.Dennis first ventured into the world of entrepreneurship in college, where to make ends meet, he began selling shea butter to his classmates. Shea butter has been a product used in Liberian communities for centuries to protect their skin and for other purposes.
Richelieu Dennis – black living knowledge
Dennis had always intended to return his education to Liberia and become a citrus farmer, but when the situation in Liberia worsened, the move to the US became permanent. In fact, Richelieu Dennis mother came to visit him for his graduation and was able to take the last flight out of Monrovia when rebel forces stormed the capital. And by the time his mother landed in New York, her house had been destroyed by massive bombings. Evolution of product offering beyond simple shea butter; soap and incense were added to his product offering and Richelieu set up a card table at Harlem’s 125th Street and Fifth Avenue where he began selling these products, all the while waiting for things to calm down in Liberia…little did they know about this conflict will last almost 20 years.
Richelieu Dennis – Investments
With so many people setting up card tables trying to sell products, Richelieu Dennis knew they needed to offer a difference. Beeps were the thing at the time, so he used a beeper to offer delivery to vendors and moved on to delivering to flea markets and country fairs, and later to health food stores.
It was this exposure to thrift stores and their daily personal interaction with customers that led Dennis to consider moving into retail. It was clear that the black community was not being adequately served at the retail store level. The products were limited, poorly placed on the sales floor, making it difficult to find…the black consumer had to visit multiple stores to be able to purchase the full range of beauty products she needed.