Brown-Forman and MELANnaire Marketplace partner on virtual store for Black History Month

Brown-Forman Corp. (NYSE: BFB) has partnered with the founder of a pop-up marketplace for minority-owned businesses to create an online store in honor of Black History Month.

MELANnaire Marketplace founder Nachand Hyde-Trabue said she was approached by Blacks United in Leadership and Development (BUILD), a Brown-Forman employee resource group, about creating the virtual marketplace featuring items from 16 Black-owned vendors.

The store has been available to Brown-Forman’s more than 4,700 employees through an internal network since early February.

“What I'm trying to do with this online platform is to expand the brand for these entrepreneurs. It's so important for people to know that they have these amazing products and services available. A company like Brown-Forman, they may have somebody in Dubai, you know, they are all over the world,” Hyde-Trabue said.

Among the vendors in the shop are Lili’s Children’s Boutique, Ole E’s Rubs and Spices, Compton Headwear, Gye Nyame Books and More, Noted Boutique and Gimme Some Suga Signature Cotton Candy. Hyde-Trabue said these vendors also have items available on the MELANnaire Marketplace website.

LaWanda Page, global community relations specialist for Brown-Forman, said BUILD worked with MELANnaire Marketplace to create slides with vendor information and posted the links in the company intranet.

“We do an internal holiday bazaar each year and the idea came to create a bazaar during Black History Month featuring local, minority-owned businesses in our hometown," Page said. “[There are] products not seen in many stores, I found one vendor has a variety of spices and rubs I am eager to try, a mobile cotton candy bar. I mean who doesn't like cotton candy! "

Hyde-Trabue hopes to create similarly curated marketplaces for other corporations. The vendors in the Brown-Forman online store were charged only a $50 marketing fee.

Hyde-Trabue also owns the event space Manhattan on Broadway at 716 E. Broadway. She started the MELANnaire Marketplace in 2020 to provide Black entrepreneurs with an opportunity to expand their clientele, network and learn from one another.

More than 100 vendors have registered for the marketplace, although not everyone participates in all the MELANnaire Marketplace events.

In December, the MELANnaire Marketplace held retail events called the "Galleria Remix" at 416 W. Liberty street next to Fourth Street Live.

Hyde-Trabue said the idea of bringing retail back to Downtown Louisville went over so well that she signed a contract last year with property manager the Cordish Companies to use the space through 2023. However, now she intends to expand beyond the pop-up market place to create a minority business incubator in Downtown Louisville.

Hyde-Trabue said she is currently negotiating a long-term lease with Cordish for the nearly 30,000 square foot space. She said it will take more than $500,000 to renovate the property. Work is expected to begin once the lease is sign, and Hyde-Trabue hopes to open the incubator by the end of 2022.

“The incubator space is going have a coffee bar, private offices, and conference rooms in case you need to have a workshop or training session,” she explained. “It's gonna be an area where you could come up and maybe have some arts and culture, you know poetry, singing and music.”

According to the Jefferson County PVA, the Liberty Street building is owned by Eli Brown & Sons Inc.

MELANnaire Marketplace will continue to use the Liberty Street space for pop-up events. On Feb. 12 and 19, the company will present “Making Our Ancestors Proud,” a pop-up market featuring more than 50 businesses, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.