By Tate Luckey

As Louisville Male High School graduates and long-time friends, Robbie Dobbs and Savon Gray want to make a few things clear: it’s not “Black” Business Boxes. Yes, the box is colored, but no amount of melanin —or lack thereof — precludes you from purchasing one of their products.

And you aren’t purchasing Black “Business Boxes”. The individual products within each package aren’t from any generic big-box distributors and certainly aren’t meant solely for corporate higher-ups.

What your dollar buys is a “Black Business” Box. For their business partners, it’s a means to catch their breath; for consumers, it is a treasure chest of products from some of Louisville’s black-owned businesses.

Is it performative? Undoubtedly no; it is as simple as buying a box. Is it another aspect of “the grind”? They loathe the phrase.

It is an idea that is humble in creation, yet noble in cause.

Breaking down barriers

The available data in recent Nielsen studies shows that 43 million Black individuals in the United States have about $1.1 trillion in spending power. Forty-two percent of Black adults expect brands they purchase from to support social causes.

Dobbs and Gray have witnessed firsthand the barriers to growth exhibited by traditional venture capitalists: X company enters and wins Y competition to receive a funding grant or purchases a 12-week program for its employees to learn and network with Z firm. Gray explained that meeting with those that pony up six-figure checks for proposals scrawled hastily on paper napkins, the skeleton of concepts, grounded yet frustrated the two as they returned to the drawing board to reframe their pitch.

“You end up seeing a split in entrepreneurship…this corporate culture you have to break into,” Dobbs, a 2019 U of L graduate, said.

Despite comprising 24% of Louisville’s population, only 2.4% of businesses here are Black-owned. Add in the social and economic unrest during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that Dobbs observed downtown, the two had a realization. For small business owners facing stress from lack of time or financial insecurity, their road to success is filled with potholes. Black Business Boxes seeks to fill in those gaps.

“It sounds very big and complex, but if we start with black-owned businesses, then a black-owned business will get a profit. They’ll be able to hire someone, get a facility…” Gray said. “At the same time that we’re selling Black Business Boxes, we are marketing your products, getting [them] in the hands of people, and creating your customer base; almost a rewire of how Black Americans are shopping”

The two hand-assemble all boxes, purchasing goods via wholesale. For now, visiting their online store only offers a “Self Care” box, a $35 sample of body butter, lip scrub, and face masks. Like what you try? Go to the “Marketplace” tab and buy it individually. As they grow, they plan to make it subscription-based and offer seasonal items. New users can soon expect to take a preliminary survey, curating what comes in their monthly box. Interested vendors can fill out a form to send their products to be featured.

“This is a very bootstrap business,” Gray quipped. “I’m super passionate about this, but passion doesn’t move everybody. So my biggest issue is turning that passion into logic.”

There are a few kinks they still want to work out, like social media presence and focus on the details. While uncertain how the threads they’ve created will ultimately be tied up (think Bezos’s journey with Amazon), the two are confident it’s working.

For example, local community response has been positive and media coverage is growing. They’ve ventured into corporate gifting through event partnerships with GE, Republic Bank, and the mayor. Representatives from each school in the PAC-12 conference got a box during Black History Month.

The momentum they are gathering translates into excitement about a slew of potential ways their company can partner with all levels of consumers here in Louisville. The next step is to take this concept to more formal investors, building the structures and relationships for larger partnerships.

“It would take us from the ground to the moon, and then once we make a base on the moon, it’s intergalactic everything,” Dobbs said.

A major rebrand

With the help of The Ripple Studio, a semester-long paid branding internship, Black Business Boxes worked with Haley Hartley, a U of L graphic design graduate, to find their “cool-factor.” Boutique brand studio Brackish created and facilitated the program through Humana’s Health Equity Innovation Hub and U of L’s Hite Art Institute. Below are some of the concepts they plan to implement.

“[Haley] gave us a new font, logo, and color scheme. She did a really good job in creating a product that we love,” Dobbs explained. “After all, the box itself has to be cool, too.”

For their first experience with the entrepreneurial community at U of L, it was something to cherished. One day, they even hope to gift a box to U of L President Kim Schatzel.

Those curious for more on what they offer can click here. For more updates on product drops, you can follow them on Instagram, X, and Facebook.

File Photos // Tate Luckey, The Louisville Cardinal