Accelerators: This monthly series highlights local people of color who pursue their business dreams and pave the way for others. These are the stories of the entrepreneurs, pioneers and adventurers who are heading to the new Montgomery.
It’s 10pm, but Carmen Moore-Zeigler is wide awake, on the phone with a stressed-out businessman. If the cell rings, answer. It doesn’t matter what time of day.
“My father used to say, ‘Nothing comes to a dream, but a dream.’ And I had never seen anyone eat that. ‘
The 47-year-old fast-educated entrepreneur is the owner of the Moore-Zeigler Group, a consulting firm specializing in the growth of small minority businesses. It helps employers navigate unfamiliar territory, helping homeowners with everything from licenses and paperwork to bidding for government contracts.
The phrase, “my father used to say,” is often repeated.
Douglas Moore taught him everything he knows about business.
At the age of three, Moore-Zeigler and her father launched their first company: Carmen’s hair and hair care products, made in Birmingham. Like many early business owners, Moore tried his hand at a few different companies (used cars, restaurant equipment) before finding what stuck. His daughter watched him closely.
“I love my mom. What she did and how she gave to the community. … But as a kid, I never had the dream of being a schoolteacher. I emulated my dad. I’ve always wanted to have my own “Looking at it, it made me want to do what I’m doing today,” he said.
When his father founded the firm in the early 2000s, there was no doubt that he would take over. After her marriage, Moore changed her company nickname to include her husband’s last name as an incentive for both of them. He joined full-time in 2009. Six years later, they were discussing his retirement. It never came.
Moore unexpectedly suffered a heart attack in June 2016. Devastated but determined, her daughter took the reins.
Assuming the leadership of a consolidated family business has its advantages: no need to raise start-up funds, existing business infrastructure, and customer relationships developed over time. But it comes with a set of unique challenges.
Maintaining long-standing partnerships that have maintained a business over time is one of the most serious. Moore-Zeigler had to figure out how to take over the company, without throwing it to the ground.
His first year of exclusive ownership was exhausting. When her husband’s work took them south to Mobile in 2004, she managed accounts there and traveled when needed. Now, he often traveled more than five hours a day between his Fairhope home and Montgomery, where most of the company’s customers are located.
“I would see my son at school and then hit the road,” he said. “I had no choice. I was determined to keep my father’s business alive. “
His gender also turned out to be an obstacle. Her father had been scrupulous and so had she. But among men with a certain mind, quality only seemed to hinder their task.
“This business is run mainly by men. I’ve had some men tell me things they wouldn’t dare say to another man in their life. I couldn’t knock on doors. I had to open them, ”said Moore-Ziegler.
In 2017, she and her husband Henry Zeigler Jr. returned to the capital and joined forces. It offers computer consulting to schools, companies and municipalities. They have expanded their services to include social media marketing.
Right now, much of the Group’s work is focused on increasing the participation of minorities in the bidding process for government contracts. The city and county have set a 30% target. But there are some important obstacles.
Existing relationships have been forged for decades between white business owners and predominantly white administrative bodies that in the past have disenfranchised black entrepreneurs. These companies have had enough time and opportunities to demystify what can be a murky process. And the financial requirements for contractors who wish to do so are prohibitive for small minority businesses.
Moore-Zeigler said an important link for these entrepreneurs is the bond. A form of liability insurance that provides protection in the event that a contractor does not complete the work as required. Figures vary, but companies often have to be tied to 10% of the total contract. That could mean hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, depending on the contract.
“Capital is number one. To get money from banks, you must have a history of having been trading for years. You also have to have insured capital to give them to the business, ”Moore-Zeigler said. It refers to the financial collateral used to secure a borrower’s debt.
“But how can we secure capital if we have never been given the opportunity to borrow money to buy the printing machine we need or to buy the building we need for business?” she asked.
To counter this, Moore-Zeigler often connects small minority firms interested in bidding for government contracts with larger firms, where they can work as subcontractors tied to a lower financial threshold.
She is also honest with customers. Not all companies can get a city or county contract. His work is limited and he develops a lot at home. That’s why Moore-Zeigler works to connect black entrepreneurs with each other and with the community at large. It hosts networking events, where small business owners mingle with community stakeholders, bank representatives, and city officials.
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Since 2017, Moore-Zeigler has been collaborating with Big KD 94.1 radio station on a program that highlights local minority businesses every Thursday, sponsored by Montgomery businessman Alfred Seawright. In July, it will air on Wednesdays, promoting more businesses with the help of Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton Dean.
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The long journeys are over, the long hours are not. Moore-Zeigler does not complain about this.
“As I said, nothing comes to a dream but a dream. I saw my father work until 3-4 in the morning, when everyone was asleep. And my mother was right there with him. I watched as my parents gave their best. Who am I not? She said.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser journalist Safiya Charles at (334) 240-0121 or SCharles@gannett.com