Running a business

Jilea and Jamie Hemmings are feeding the community

Name:Jilea and Jamie Hemmings

Location: Atlanta, GA

Business: Nourish + Bloom

What makes your small business unique from others?

The Nourish + Bloom Markets stand out as trailblazers in several aspects. Firstly, we hold the distinction of being the first 24/7 AI-powered grocery market in the USA, a significant achievement in harnessing technology for retail. Additionally, we take pride in being the first Black-owned AI grocery store in the world, which is a monumental step in promoting diversity and representation in the tech and food retail sectors.

But what truly sets Nourish + Bloom Market apart from other AI grocery stores is its mission focused on increasing access to better foods. This goal is not just about providing convenience through technology, but also ensuring that the community has access to nutritious and healthy food options. Ultimately, Nourish + Bloom Market differentiates itself by combining technological innovation with a strong commitment to community health, food accessibility, and social empowerment. 

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started?

We decided to start our own business because we wanted to create something meaningful that would also build generational wealth, especially in an area we are deeply passionate about—increasing food accessibility. This passion became a personal mission after our son was diagnosed with autism and we struggled to find healthy food options that were readily accessible for him.

We initially entered the food space by preparing healthy meals for kids, with an emphasis on nutrition and dietary needs, and these were sold in grocery stores. This experience was incredibly rewarding and taught me a lot about the food industry and the needs of the community.

As my journey progressed, I saw an opportunity to not just contribute to the market, but to innovate it. This led to the birth of a new concept—grocery stores of the future. These aren't just stores; they're a realization of a vision where technology meets necessity, convenience meets health, and where shopping is transformed into an experience that supports well-being and ease for everyone.

Starting this business was our full-circle moment. It represents a leap from crafting individual meals to creating a comprehensive shopping solution that uses AI to make healthy food more accessible while addressing the larger issue of food deserts. It's a deeply personal venture, one that stems from our experiences and the desire to ensure that no other parent has to face the same difficulties in finding healthy food options for their children.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year?

The biggest lesson we learned in my first year was that there is always a more cost-effective alternative—you just have to be willing to find it. Whether it was sourcing ingredients, packaging, or even the technology that powers our AI systems, we realized that initial quotes are not final and that every part of the supply chain can be optimized.

This lesson came through many trials and a constant drive to question every expense. It taught me the importance of negotiating and the value of research. By exploring different suppliers, experimenting with various materials, and being open to innovative solutions, we were able to significantly reduce costs without compromising on quality.

Understanding the cost structures and learning to work within them creatively has been key to maintaining affordability for our customers while also ensuring the sustainability of the business. It was a challenging but invaluable lesson that has informed every decision I've made since.

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Starting this business was our full-circle moment.

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner?

The most surprising thing about becoming a business owner was the extent to which we had to become a jack-of-all-trades. We knew we’d wear many hats, but the diversity and the depth of roles we had to assume were truly unexpected. From understanding the nuances of supply chain logistics to getting a grip on AI technology, every day presented a new learning curve.

Were there any things about running a business you didn’t know when you started? How did you teach yourself?

When we embarked on opening our first brick and mortar location, we quickly realized that we had much to learn about the construction business. The learning curve was steep, as we needed to familiarize ourselves with everything from building codes and permits to the day-to-day realities of overseeing a construction project.

Guidance from our mentors proved to be the most valuable. We reached out to seasoned professionals who had navigated the construction process before and could offer the kind of practical, real-world advice that we couldn't learn from online resources alone.

Teaching ourselves about the ins and outs of running a business has been a journey of collective learning, active questioning, and leaning on the generous support of mentors. It's been a collaborative effort, combining our self-taught knowledge with the rich, experience-based wisdom of others in the field.

What tools help you run your business?

We utilize a suite of tools to efficiently run our business. QuickBooks is essential for managing our finances, while ChatGPT and Bard aid in customer interaction and data handling. Microsoft Azure supports our computing and storage needs, and Google Docs facilitates our collaborative document editing.

For team communication, we rely on Slack, which integrates seamlessly with our other tools, and Monday.com is invaluable for project management. Additionally, we use Canva for creating visually appealing content for marketing and presentations.

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How does running your own business make you feel?

Running our own business makes us feel empowered and driven. We experience a profound sense of responsibility and pride in what we’ve created and the services we provide to the community. It's gratifying to see our vision come to life and to navigate the challenges and successes together. This journey continuously inspires us to innovate and improve, fostering a sense of accomplishment and purpose within our team.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

 Our advice for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own business is to be resilient and adaptable. Embrace the learning curve and be prepared to wear multiple hats, especially in the early stages. It's crucial to stay true to your vision but also be flexible enough to adjust to market demands and feedback.

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It’s essential to balance ambition with practical financial planning.

We also recommend building a strong network of mentors and advisors. Their experience and insights can be invaluable in navigating the complexities of starting and running a business. Additionally, focus on understanding your customers deeply – their needs, preferences, and feedback are key to your business's growth and evolution.

Lastly, we believe in the importance of financial prudence. Carefully manage your resources and be strategic about your investments. It's essential to balance ambition with practical financial planning. With passion, perseverance, and strategic planning, turning a vision into a successful business is absolutely achievable.

What is your best advice to other small business owners for hiring and retaining staff?

Our advice for hiring and retaining staff is to focus on cultural fit and shared values. It's essential to hire individuals who align with your business's ethos and to invest in their growth and development. For retention, create a supportive and inclusive environment, maintain open communication, and recognize achievements. Also, consider offering flexible working conditions. Ultimately, hiring the right people and fostering a positive work culture are key to building a dedicated team.

For Black History Month, we’re talking a lot about the importance of credit and recognition. What’s your advice to Black business owners trying to make sure they are seen and heard?

Our advice to Black business owners seeking visibility and recognition is to create something truly disruptive. Focus on developing a product or service that addresses a unique need or introduces an innovative solution, ensuring that your business stands out in the market. By doing something remarkable, it becomes much harder for your business to be overlooked.

We believe in the power of storytelling and authentic communication. Share your journey, the challenges you've faced, and how your business is making an impact. This not only helps in building a brand but also connects with customers and other stakeholders on a personal level.

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By doing something remarkable, it becomes much harder for your business to be overlooked.

Networking and community engagement are also crucial. Build relationships with other business owners, participate in local events, and seek opportunities for collaborations. Utilizing social media and digital marketing strategies effectively can amplify your voice and increase your visibility.

Lastly, we emphasize the importance of perseverance and resilience. The road might be challenging, but staying committed to your vision and continuously striving for excellence will eventually lead to the recognition and credit you deserve.

What challenges do you feel are unique to Black business owners?

As Black business owners, we uniquely face challenges in securing funding, which makes starting and growing our business more difficult. We also encounter a lack of representation and mentorship, which can lead to isolation and navigational difficulties in the business world. Additionally, overcoming stereotypes and biases is a constant challenge, often requiring us to exceed expectations to establish credibility. Building a strong network can also be more challenging due to systemic barriers. Despite these hurdles, we remain dedicated to overcoming these obstacles and fostering a more inclusive business environment.

What has been your proudest moment?

Our proudest moment has been successfully establishing the first Black-owned autonomous grocery store. This achievement not only represents a significant milestone in our entrepreneurial journey but also marks an important moment in history, breaking barriers in both the technology and retail sectors. It embodies our commitment to innovation, community service, and representation in an industry where diversity is crucial. The realization of this vision, against the odds and amidst various challenges, stands as a testament to our perseverance, creativity, and dedication to making a meaningful impact in the business world and beyond.

What are the next big plans you have for your business?

Our next big plans for the business involve expanding our impact on smart cities and combating food insecurity. We're excited to be opening three new micro markets in Atlanta, focusing on areas where access to fresh, healthy food options is limited. These markets will leverage cutting-edge technology to provide convenient and efficient shopping experiences while addressing the crucial issue of food deserts in urban areas. 

This expansion is more than just business growth; it's a step towards fulfilling our broader mission of making nutritious food accessible to more communities. By integrating our markets into the fabric of smart cities, we aim to be at the forefront of sustainable, tech-driven solutions to societal challenges. These new ventures represent our ongoing commitment to innovation, community service, and making a tangible difference in people's lives.

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going?

When we're having a tough day, what inspires us to keep going is our family. Their support, understanding, and belief in our vision play a crucial role in our perseverance. Seeing the impact our work has on their lives and the opportunities it creates for future generations gives us the strength to push through challenges. Our family is not just a source of personal comfort but also a reminder of why we started this journey and the values we want to uphold in our business. Their encouragement and the shared dreams we hold keep us motivated and focused on our goals, even on the hardest days.

How do you maintain a work/life balance as a small business owner?

Maintaining a work/life balance as small business owners is quite challenging, and we admit we don't always manage it perfectly. As startup founders, our time is often limited, but we make a conscious effort to make the most of the moments we have. We prioritize being fully present during personal time, scheduling breaks and relaxation just like business tasks. We also emphasize the importance of self-care to recharge and maintain our overall well-being. It's a continuous process of learning and adjusting for us.

What’s your “power song” and why? 

"Dedication" by Nipsey Hussle. This song resonates deeply with us because of its powerful message about perseverance, resilience, and the pursuit of one's goals despite the challenges. Nipsey's lyrics speak to the heart of entrepreneurship – the dedication, hard work, and commitment required to turn dreams into reality.

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