Honor Roll - 06/02/05
By Shirley Hawkins
Our Weekly Staff Writer
After leaving the Merchant Marines in 1993, Charles Brister said that he had a tough time trying to find a black business in Los Angeles. “It was easy to find a Latino or an Asian business because their last names were Rodriguez or Suzuki,” recalls Brister. “You can’t really recognize a Black business by looking at the name, we had no name recognition.”
Not only that, but after the 1992 riots, Brister realized that the Black community was suffering from what he calls “economic anorexia.” “I saw that most of the problems in the Black community are related to economics,” said Brister.
Brister didn’t let that roadblock stop him. He founded 1-800-UNITE-US, a phone number that can connect consumers to nearly 10,000 black businesses across the country. Brister also offers a Web site, http://www.uniteus.com.
For each business listed on the Web site, Brister charges different rates up to $300. Clients who are seeking a Black business then call a live operator or voice mail to get connected to Black-owned businesses 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The entrepreneur, who said that the service receives nearly 150 calls a day, feels that spending money with other Black people is paramount. “As Black people, we spend over $2 billion a day in this country, more money than the whole country of Canada,” Brister pointed out. “What would happen if we spent only half of that money with each other? What would be the results? We would have many more successful businesses, and then we could provide more jobs, and then more families would stay together and then there would be less crime.”
Brister gets the word out about 1-800-UNITE-US by networking, communicating through fax and e-mail, and attending events. “I attend a lot of events,” he emphasized, laughing. “It works out pretty good. It gives you the chance to meet someone face to face and talk about what kind of products and services they provide.”
Brister said that 1-800-UNITE-US’ telephone service and database lists nearly 10,000 businesses. They include cleaners, construction companies, contractors, banks, auto repair shops, beauty supplies, nail salons, gas stations, gardeners, attorneys, dentists, physicians, and shoe stores.
Brister also does direct marketing where he publicizes businesses by mail. “It works out very well,” said Brister. “We target black consumers, and many business owners said that it helps to boost their clientele.”
“I remember the first call I ever received,” said Brister. “It was from a woman who wanted to purchase new carpet for her home, and she wanted to contact a Black carpet business. We referred her to a carpet layer, and he took care of the job. She called me back and said that she was very happy with the service,” said Brister.
Brister noted that 1-800-UNITE-US is a win-win situation for not only the consumer, but also for Black business owners as well. “Once they sign up with us, they’re pretty satisfied because they receive a lot of referrals,” he said. “I also talk to a lot of black consumers who realize how important it is to support a Black business.”
“When someone calls the number or goes to the Web site, they’ll see some of the businesses. They can also read a description of the business as well as get the name, address and phone number of the business.”
The entrepreneur said that he wanted to acknowledge the other “guiding lights” who adamantly support Black businesses, including Muhammad Nassardeen of Recycling Black Dollars and Earl “Skip” Cooper of the Black Business Association. “They have done a lot to support Black business in Los Angeles, and I tip my hat to them,” said Brister.
Brister added that it is paramount for African Americans to support each other. “The black dollar only turns over once in our community,” Brister pointed out. “It’s time to unite us. The better we treat each other and the more we spend with each other, the better off we’ll be. A stronger Black America will make for a stronger America.”