Cedric ‘BIG CED’ Thornton – When you have two decades of experience working in artist development, branding, and imaging and have held positions at labels such as Sony/BMG, EMI/Capitol, Arista, MCA, among others, you should know how to market products and be successful at it. Marketing executive Sheila Coates knows this and has moved forward with her company, Be Your Own Brand (BYOB). When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it gave her another opportunity to work her business prowess when she decided to launch the BYOB Drinking Mask.
BLACK ENTERPRISE was able to speak to Coates about her latest business venture and how she has been able to cope with the business climate since the coronavirus disrupted our lives.
You started BYOB (Be Your Own Brand) after working many years in the music industry. What led to the extension of BYOB into the mask space?
In short… COVID-19. My company is BYOB Unlimited, so I can have “unlimited’ products/businesses under that umbrella. The mask speaks to my mission and branding process. Our mission is to help projects, products, and people speak volumes without saying a word! The mask was developed using my own 3-step branding process (define, be it, and look it). So, the mask had to have a different look. It has a grommet hole, waterproof flap in the back of the hole, antibacterial fabric, adjustable ear straps, and a nose bridge so your glasses don’t fog up!
Being an entrepreneur, you typically have to be ahead of the curve. What gave you the idea of the drinking masks?
Life is about pivoting, pushing, and praying! When COVID-19 hit, I had to remind myself of that. I wanted to stay top of mind with my clients so they would think of me for my virtual BYOB sessions. I didn’t want to send a newsletter. I decided to stay true to my brand and do a unique mask so my clients could have social distance happy hours. After thinking about it, I realized everybody needs a mask that allows them to take a drink without taking off their mask.
How do you think the mask holds up against others on the market?
Naturally, I rank it high. It’s comfortable whether you’re drinking or not. I think masks are like shoes, most of us have many pairs. One day, you might want something more colorful or one with a message. Regardless, you want a mask that gives you comfort and options.
What was the process for creating the prototype for the drinking mask?
I put my thoughts on paper, hired someone to draw the mask. My attorney said I needed to immediately file a patent application. I reached out to an old friend who’s been designing and producing great clothes for years. He helped me get to the final product and producing it. A couple of iterations, then the final mask. Once I had an approved sample, we were off and running.
You originally created these masks for your clients. How has the response been with your clients?
Pretty amazing. I think that if only your family and friends buy it is it sustainable? I want them to like/want it but so should the masses. Then you know it’s a valid product. The mask is a pretty simple concept to grasp. The world is requiring masks so for companies, it’s a great opportunity to brand your business and show concern for your employees, clients, and community. Giving someone a mask now means you care about them.
We’ve all been affected by the coronavirus and now the protesting of police brutality against Blacks, how have recent events altered the way you do business?
When COVID-19 hit, there was no travel, no large face-to-face gatherings, and companies shut down. I had to pivot and figure out how to take my in-person, interactive sessions virtual. I hired a team, conducted focus groups with friends to test it, and (most importantly) prove to myself that I could do it while still being entertaining and educational.
What advice would you give those who’d like to start and have a successful business?
Have patience (something I’m definitely working on ) but at the same time go for it. Everyone might not get your idea but don’t stop if you believe in it. No football team is made of all quarterbacks. You need a team with different players on your team to be successful. I’m blessed with a supportive team (amazing Black entrepreneurs) who help bring my ideas to life. After that… Keep pivoting, pushing, and praying!!