By Debra Davis
When COVID-19 closed many small businesses to local foot traffic, a Troy businesswoman turned the crisis into a challenge to help others survive and thrive.
“When the governor issued the mandate to shut down a lot of small businesses, people really started to focus on buying American-made products. Even more so, they started to focus on buying Alabama-made products,” said 44-year-old Angi Horn Stalnaker, owner of Virtus Solutions, a government relations and communications firm. “Many things we use every day are made by Alabama companies, but a lot of people maybe didn’t know about them.”
Stalnaker made it her mission to change that when she created Bama In A Box.
“Most people who own and operate small businesses have the knowledge and passion to be successful,” she said. “What many of them don’t have is a marketing budget to introduce their product to the people outside their immediate area.”
The idea of a subscription box featuring Alabama products was born.
Stalnaker sought to arm Alabama shoppers with the names of companies that make products they frequently use: food products, glasses, laundry detergent, shampoo, etc. The list is almost endless. Even the 10-by-10-inch box that holds the items shipped to customers around the world is made in Alabama. She said it’s easier to say what each box doesn’t contain than to list all the possibilities.
“A box won’t have fresh produce or anything that requires refrigeration,” Stalnaker said. “Each box contains something you can eat and something you can use. We’ve shipped bath bombs, barbecue sauce, potato chips, custom-roasted coffee, etched glasses, hair scrunchies, shampoo, pickles, pancake mix and popcorn — to name a few.”
Subscription boxes can be monthly, quarterly or a one-time purchase. No two boxes are ever the same, and Stalnaker, with the help of Virtus Solutions’ officer manager Laney Kelley, has identified enough distinctive products to keep them unique for seven years.
“When we first started, I was nervous about how the subscription service would be received,” Stalnaker said. “As we began to recruit businesses to participate, if I knew the owner, they were generally receptive. But some of the businesses I called that didn’t know me were skeptical. That’s changed now. Businesses want to be part of our box.”
Stalnaker buys the items in bulk, which also helps small businesses. Those who’ve participated in the program have found new followings far from their typical circle of shoppers.
“I think Bama In A Box has helped in two ways,” Stalnaker said. “We buy massive volumes from these small businesses. Our subscribers get to sample new things and decide if they want to purchase more. Each box has a description of the products included and information about how to buy more.”
Participating business owners have profited from the concept. Being featured in Bama In A Box has grown customer reach and increased sales during what could have been a disastrous time.
“When the pandemic hit, it was concerning to me as a small business owner,” said Amy Jinright of Troy, owner of Southern Scents and Sensations. “I thought I would use the time to increase my inventory, but instead I have been struggling to keep up with demand.”
Jinright creates custom bath products and hand-poured soaps. One of her bath bombs was in the first box and has generated new customers.
“I’ve had new customers from Hawaii, Alaska and Oregon since the first box went out,” Jinright said. “Of course, I’ve had lots of new sales in Alabama, too, but I was surprised to see just how far my products reached. Bama In A Box has been a blessing for me.”
Elizabeth Mize, who owns Honeysuckle Home in Tuscaloosa, shared a similar story. Her hand-etched glassware is part of the Bama In A Box subscription service.
“I’ve had very good feedback from people who received one of my glasses,” Mize said. “I’ve gotten several larger orders because people learned about my glassware through Bama In A Box.”
Since it launched in June, Bama In A Box has grown by leaps and bounds, and a line of specialty boxes is the next big step. The Alabama Grilling Kit, Bath In A Box, Breakfast In A Box, Bama Snack Pack, Alabama Hot Sauce Sampler and The Ultimate Alabama Gift Pack will be ready in time for Christmas.
Stalnaker emphasizes her sense of community by donating 10% of Bama In A Box profits to nonprofit organizations in Alabama. Like small businesses, those agencies suffered in the pandemic, she said.
“Each item in a box is somebody’s dream,” Stalnaker said. “A lot of people have great ideas about starting their own business, but the people with things featured in our boxes actually did it. The spirit behind Bama In A Box is that Alabama is made up of small towns and small businesses. If you can buy a product from someone in Alabama, you should.”
For prices and subscription options, visit BamaInABox.com.