Fowlkes Takes Helm At Small Business Chamber

By Tom Wilemon

Position: Executive Director
Organization: Memphis Small Business Chamber
Basics: Fowlkes, who is the business development partner of AJW Clothier & Day Spa in Midtown, recently took the reins of the chamber.
“When you look at a small business, it is always there. Large corporations may cut jobs or move to different cities, etc., etc., but small business will always be there in your community.”
– Andre K. Fowlkes

Becoming the executive director of the Memphis Small Business Chamber is another facet of coming home for Andre K. Fowlkes.

Although he’s a native Memphian, he brings a big-city perspective and financial expertise to the job. He’s lived in New York and San Francisco where he worked for high-profile firms Fisher Investments and Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, respectively.

But don’t think he doesn’t understand what it’s like to run a small business. He is an owner of one.

Fowlkes is the business development partner of AJW Clothier & Day Spa in Midtown.

“When you look at a small business, it is always there,” he said. “Large corporations may cut jobs or move to different cities, etc., etc., but small business will always be there in your community. So it’s important to see the effect. It’s important to talk about their struggle.”

Fowlkes, the son of Shelby County Criminal Court Judge John T. Fowlkes and Michelle Fowlkes, moved back to Memphis more than a year ago and quickly became involved in community initiatives. The chairman-elect of the Memphis Small Business Chamber, he became executive director after Robert Staub, the organization’s founder and longtime leader, left the post to devote more time to personal business endeavors.

More to come

Staub will stay on the job during a transition period until the end of the month and also will continue serving on the board as a lifetime member.

“Mark LeBlanc, who is a nationally recognized small business (person) and speaker, and I have become great friends,” Staub said. “He and I have been talking about some initiatives. They all came together. If you think about it, it is as spokes on a wheel. We’re writing a small-business book. I will also be working through him and doing some small business one-on-one coaching, whether tele-coaching or in-person coaching.”

Staub is also teaching a continuing education course on small business at the University of Memphis. He will continue as a co-host with Nancy Crawford, the marketing director of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, on “The Small Biz Show,” a radio program that he owns and produces. The show airs on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on KWAM 990.

Fowlkes said he is excited to lead the Small Business Chamber’s goals to increase its community profile and grow membership.

“We’re rolling out four initiatives next month,” Fowlkes said. “One is our membership drive. Two, we’re creating some small-business assistance platforms, and we’re rolling out two of them in the areas of human capital and monetary capital. Three, we’re getting more involved in the community. We’re creating a mentoring program. We’re partnering with the Grizzlies Foundation and Youth Villages to do that.

“Also, we’re going to start raising funds throughout the city to let people know who we are and what we do so we can further grow our members and their businesses.”

Big goals

The chamber was founded four years ago. Its membership is about 150 people, and Fowlkes wants to add another 100 to 200 names to the list.

“The goal is lofty,” he said. “I’d rather come up short for a lofty goal than for a small goal. It’s also a matter of building relationships. That’s one thing we want to further enhance with the chamber – building relationships with other chambers, nonprofits and business entities. Get more attuned with what’s happening out there. That’s going to be the commonality and the theme that we want to do going forward.”

Fowlkes has a business degree from Iona College’s Hagan School of Business in New Rochelle, N.Y. He spent 11 years in the investment counseling field.

Fowlkes co-owns AJW Clothier & Day Spa with former professional football player Alfred J. Wooten. Fowlkes characterized the business as a “pampering emporium, which emphasizes image and relaxation for both men and women.”

The prolonged recession requires small firms to find new ways to grow business, he said.

“This is new waters for many businesses,” Fowlkes said. “Not only in our chamber, but across the city and county in that now people are having to think in new ways and be creative in creating business for themselves. A lot of our members have spoken to us. They are coming out of the construction or real estate phase where they always had business. Now, since things have dried up, they have to network. They have to pound the streets. They have to cultivate business. That’s what we’re helping them do.”