By  on August 28, 2009

WASHINGTON — Strong partnerships, due diligence and clear business goals are crucial for minority-owned businesses to strengthen their ties with national retailers, Macy’s and Wal-Mart executives said Thursday.

“Be passionate, bring your passion to the table….Communicate that,” Adrienne White, senior manager, African-American market for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said during a conference here hosted by the Commerce Department’s Minority Business Development Agency.

Aubyn Thomas, senior vice president of marketing services, corporate services for Macy’s Inc., spoke about the retailer’s efforts to reach out to small minority- and women-owned companies through its supplier diversity program. Many small companies don’t know the scope and scale of what is required to do business with a national retailer like Macy’s, Thomas said, stressing it is essential a potential supplier do its homework.

Wal-Mart’s size is also challenging. The world’s largest retailer has been incorporating more minority- and women-owned businesses into its supply chain since 1994, White said. Potential partners must articulate how they fit into the company’s business model.

The executives said their respective firms are committed to diversifying the supplier base, and acknowledged there is still much work to be done.

“Minority businesses are key to helping us understand the minority customer and to provide the items she wants to buy,” Thomas said, citing the success of brands such as Carol’s Daughter beauty.

“A community will tell you what they want in a business that will help make that business successful,” NBA Hall of Fame player-turned-entrepreneur Magic Johnson said during his keynote address at the conference. Johnson owns movie theaters, Starbucks franchises, a private real estate fund and other businesses located in ethnically diverse urban areas.

The conference concludes tonight when a lifetime achievement award will be presented to fashion and music impresario Russell Simmons.

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