It’s Definitely “NO” Until You Ask


After countless lattes and café-centric business meetings, are you the biggest customer of Starbucks, or might they be your biggest customer?

American Mug and Starbucks partnershipBeing a small business shouldn’t keep you from thinking big. You never want to rely on one customer to keep you in business, but even a small contract with a major corporation can be a catalyst for major growth. There are plenty of excuses for sticking with the status quo: things are too busy, your staff can’t take on another project, you can’t serve a big client with your current infrastructure. But that’s all they are: excuses. Savvy small business owners know that they have to leap at every available opportunity and then make some more opportunities for themselves.

One of the big keys to small business success is cash management know-how. Small businesses, especially in a troubled economy, can’t always qualify for the grants, loans or other funding opportunities that could help them expand, strengthen and improve their business. Landing a corporate contract, however, can make a huge difference in qualifying for financing or landing investors.

Starbucks Connection

Do you manufacture ceramics? If so, have you ever been to a Starbucks and imagined your products on the shelf? If so, why haven’t you pitched them? Starbucks, as part of their “Indivisible” line of retail merchandise, sells American-made items and gives a portion of the proceeds to an initiative called Create Jobs for USA. Starbucks is a great example for this because they are a high-profile, major corporation with retail stores all over the globe. And they want to sell ethically produced and sourced materials. They want to buy from American manufacturers. Their partnership with American Mug and Stein, a company based in Ohio, has basically saved the company from going out of business.

American Mug and Stein Revitalized

Once dubbed the Pottery Capitol of the World, East Liverpool, Ohio is now merely a shadow of what it once was. Nearly the entire town’s workforce worked in the ceramics industry. When the demand for quality, American-made ceramics waned, all of the pottery manufacturers but two closed down. With a high rate of unemployment and a higher rate of skilled workers biding time in unskilled professions, all signs pointed to desolation for the workers, the factories and the town as a whole.

Then, Starbucks came calling – by way of Ulrich Honighause, the owner of tableware company, Hausenware. American Mug and Stein owner, Clyde M. McClellan couldn’t believe his luck. He told the New York Times that he thought the call was a “crank.” It wasn’t. With an initial order of 20,000 mugs, McClellan was able to secure financing to increase production and hire more workers. The first run of mugs sold out and their partnership has continued.

Find Your Formula

This kind of story doesn’t happen for all small businesses, however worthy they might be. McClellan’s call from Honighause was like the mythical golden Wonka ticket — a fantastic tale, but not a good formula for finding success. But your business can take a cue from this tale. Identify who your market could be, what the benefits of a partnership would be and start making contacts. If you don’t try, you’ll never succeed.

In other words, it’s definitely “NO” until you ask.

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