Blackmark-it provides deals for black-owned businesses in Chicagoland

By Hailey Kurth

Blackmark-it may appear to be just another coupon site, but there is one aspect that makes it a bit different: It only provides deals for black-owned businesses in the Chicago area.

Blackmark-it was started by three NIU alumni who met while attending NIU in the late ’90s and 2000. Natasha Williams, her husband Jamel Williams, and Delandon Mason, a current senior music education major, started creating the website during the summer of 2011. As of now, Blackmark-it is part-time work for each owner.

“The talk came up of maybe doing something similar [to Groupon], but having it geared toward a minority niche,” Mason said. “It just seemed like something that was very needed in the African-American community and it was something I wanted to be a part of; it just made sense.”

Mason said it’s not easy to juggle Blackmark-it, classes at NIU, being a husband and a father of three.

“It’s something that I believe in,” Mason said. “That kind of fuels me to keep going, even when I don’t feel like it.”

Mason said they already had some NIU students subscribe to the site and plan to do more with the NIU community in the near future.

“We’ve definitely discussed making some deals geared towards things that the college-student demographic would like,” Mason said.

Nieta Gates, N.J. Gates Events owner and NIU alumna, said her catering business will feature its first deal on Blackmark-it in March: a catered dinner for two. Gates said her business plan is to start small, as N.J. Gates Events and Blackmark-it are both starter businesses. Depending on the level of success of the first deal, Gates said they could get into more event-planning deals for larger groups of people.

Blackmark-it has around 50 businesses categorized in many different industries, from restaurants to beauticians, in the Chicago area, Williams said.

It will feature one business a week for the first month, then progressively add more deals a week until it’s a daily-deal site, Williams said.

“We try to capitalize on some of the different holidays and just overall events on the calendars,” Williams said on scheduling the deals. “We have a massage therapist that will be featured just before valentine’s day so people can maybe buy that as a gift.”

Williams said many small black businesses can’t take the hit of Groupon charges. Depending on the deal, Williams said Blackmark-it will take 20 to 40 percent of the deal sales. After Blackmark-it has a successful launch, they will look into representing other minority niche groups.

“We thought if we could come up with a model where we’re taking a smaller percent of the deal sales, perhaps we could make this more attainable for your average mom and pop shop that’s in the neighborhood,” Williams said.

Gates agrees with Blackmark-it about only including black businesses right now because it’s pricey for small black businesses to get exposure.

“With Blackmark-it, you get your product out there,” Gates said. “Not only is it free advertising, but you could also gain loyal customers and expand your customer base.”