VOL. 131 | NO. 195 | Thursday, September 29, 2016
MEMShop Launches ‘Class’ of Three New Businesses
By Andy Meek
Rebecca Thomason will be busy for the next few weeks getting her newly leased South Main space ready to house her business Southern Creed, which makes products inspired by life in the South.
Rebecca Thomason dresses a window display in her MEMShop Southern Creed, which will specialize in selling Southern-inspired patterns of her own design.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Getting to this point – finding a spot and negotiating a lease, among other things – is a testament to the benefits of the MEMShop program she’s participating in. Owned and managed by the nonprofit Communities Unlimited, the program creates partnerships to activate vacant and underused storefronts to help build local businesses, like Thomason’s.
Hers is one of three businesses in the program’s newest “class.” The others, which haven’t yet locked in their retail locations, are an all-natural skincare company called Naturelle Skincare and a custom framing and photography venture called Inclined Christian Design.
Thomason’s venture, meanwhile, is as much a product of her appreciating what she sees as a renewed sense of optimism and civic pride in the city. That made Thomason, a Memphis native, want to move back here last year after being away for years.
“I think Memphis is really growing right now, and I see a buy-in to the city I hadn’t seen before,” said Thomason, who left Memphis for college and graduate school. “I was gone for 16 years, and when I came back the city was just in a totally different place than it was when I left in 2000 – in a good way.”
The program she’s participating in that’s helping take Southern Creed to the next level is an incubator that gives participants benefits like a pre-negotiated lease for the retail space as well as rental assistance. They also get managerial training, marketing services and other resources meant to help small businesses succeed.
They typically launch three MEMShops at a time.
“They’ll have a collective grand opening event once all three have their leases secured,” said Cynthia Norwood, a managing director with Communities Unlimited.
About the kinds of businesses her nonprofit looks for as viable candidates for the program, Norwood said:
“Ideally, we want to see they have some sort of customer base or they make a really good argument for having a sustainable business model. Because they have to provide us with something similar to a business plan, but not as in-depth. Things like financial projections where they estimate their income and expenses. We look at prior business experience, if they have it. We want to know how they plan to engage with the community.”
To get to where she is now, Thomason, trained and educated as a graphic designer, one day in 2013 drew an image of snowballs with watercolor additions. She started thinking about more – about adding fabric, ribbon and other touches.
After that, she thought about how large the South looms as an inspiration for her. Playing around with patterns that included images like bacon, cotton and catfish, she realized she had a hobby that could become a business.
“I make patterns that are based on the South,” Thomason said, “so things like cotton, okra, catfish. And I make them either into fabrics or make them into pillows. I’ve done ties, bowties, pocket squares; baby blankets; just different things my patterns will go on. I did a pink Cadillac design I’m having made into dog collars and leashes, and I’m really excited about it. I’ve got a donut pattern made into baby blankets because of the local love for Gibson’s.
“A friend was like, you should open a store, that way you can actually sell your stuff direct. I called a few places, and then I heard about MEMShop.”