Calling rockstar entrepreneurs: Local spirits company encourages supplier diversity

“Inequity is the one big issue holding this country back from the next wave of financial and economic prosperity,” says local entrepreneur and DJ, Andrea ‘Dre’ Wallace.

One space where this can be seen is within the diversity of vendors in retail and restaurant supply chains. Both locally and nationally, retailers, and restaurateurs have recently made a concerted effort to broaden their vendor base. Meijer, for example, recently announced its first-ever supplier diversity summit, which took place on Nov. 12.

Whether the rationale is focused on meeting customer demands, staying competitive in the marketplace, or seeking to foster innovation, businesses cannot deny the value of diversification within a supply chain.

“There are a lot of different reasons why it’s important, but the one that’s most simple for people to understand is money. The purchasing power of the multicultural market in the U.S. equals that of the size of a country with a GDP of approximately $4 to $5 trillion. The opportunity for growth is quite large,” says Wallace.

Adapting and seizing opportunities

Wallace is no stranger to business and entrepreneurship. “I’ve been a musician most of my life and working in tech for over a decade,” she says. One of her latest ventures is as co-partner in Motu Viget Spirits, along with Jonathan Jelks, Willie ‘Willie the Kid’ Jackson, and Jamiel Robinson.

With two spirits currently on the market, their Brut sparkling wine and Avani Supreme Vodka, as a minority-owned company, Motu Viget’s team brings a unique perspective to the industry.

“Our goal from the beginning was to create really high-quality products at an affordable and accessible price point. 100% of Motu Viget Spirits comes from Michigan-sourced products,” says Jonathan Jelks.

Their journey-to-date has not been without its challenges. After their launch in 2019, they could host in-person events to assist with building brand awareness. “This was crucial to a new startup like ours,” says Wallace. Then COVID-19 hit.

“Like everyone else, we had to pivot. We came up with a plan to switch our focus [to reach] current and potential customers virtually via digital engagement,” Wallace says.

“We had to remind the public that Motu Viget [was] available online and at your favorite retailer,” says Jelks. “The results weren’t instantaneous. It took time to develop a stronger online presence and we’re still working on it but, thus far, our intentionality has [paid] dividends.”

Despite the challenges, they are optimistic about what is to come. “We are currently in 260 locations overall, [including 55] Meijer stores,” says Jelks. In addition to their retail distribution, Motu Viget Spirits can also be found at “bars, restaurants, clubs, neighborhood wineries, and party stores,” he says.

“We are excited about Avani’s growth and working with our partners at Long Road Distillers to expand its reach. It has a distinct taste and vibe and has one of the most beautifully designed bottles courtesy of Motu Viget Spirits‘ founding partner Willie ‘Willie the Kid’ Jackson,” Jelks says.

Promoting growth through boldness

“Grand Rapids is really an awesome community to live in. It is evolving quickly due to the hard work of both the public and private sectors,” says Jelks. “The disparities that adversely affect the Black and Latinx communities from access to capital to minimalistic supplier diversity speaks to the [need for] systemic change. It’s time for the city to grow.”

Jonathan Jelks and Willie ‘Willie the Kid’ Jackson
One path to growth is through business ownership and development. “Business ownership and increased economic empowerment [are some] of the more prolific tools we have at our disposal to bring unity and create a better quality of life in our community and nationwide,” says Jelks.

When it comes to getting products to market, Wallace encourages fellow women and underrepresented business owners to do their research. “Know your market, know your competition, and know what makes you different [from] everyone else,” she says.

“My advice to fellow business owners, especially those entrepreneurs from historically marginalized populations, would be to develop a strong company culture. Establish your brand identity. Be confident, stick to your guns, but also be aware of when you need to be a sponge and absorb new information,” Jelks says. “Keep your mission in mind and respect the developmental process.” He also encourages business owners to utilize free support resources such as Start Garden, Northern Initiatives, and the Michigan Good Food Fund.

“There are so many rockstar entrepreneurs who are coming up the ranks from the Black and brown communities,” Jelks says. He wants to see retailers “be bold and take some chances.” For him, both representation and support are crucial. “Every small business is not going to be a major success story; however, the representation alone matters greatly to communities that have supported stores for years,” he says.Jamiel Robinson

“My biggest call to action for retailers would be to give [everyone] a fair shot,” says Wallace. “As long as any one group is losing, no one here is truly winning,” she says.

About Leandra Nisbet: Leandra Nisbet, Owner of Stingray Advisory Group LLC and Co-Owner of Brightwork Marine LLC, has over 15 years of experience in leadership, sales & marketing, and graphic design. She helps businesses grow and assists with: strategic planning, marketing concept development/implementation, risk management, and financial organization. She is actively involved in the community, sitting on several Boards and committees, and has been recognized as one of the 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Grand Rapids.

Contact Leandra Nisbet by email at [email protected]!

Photos courtesy of Jonathan Jelks. 
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