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Banking on KC – Thalia Cherry of CHERRY Co.

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us.

Kelly Scanlon:

With us on this episode is Thalia Cherry, the founder of sports clothing company, Cherry. Welcome to the show Thalia.

Thalia Cherry:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Kelly Scanlon:

So much has happened for you in the last couple of years. Before we get to that, talk to us a little bit about Cherry and what it does and what attracted you to this kind of an entrepreneur endeavor?

Thalia Cherry:

Wow, it kind of goes way back to probably the age of five. I was an avid athlete as well as my entire family. I am the youngest of eight children that all received athletic scholarships. Sports was just really the fabric of our family, our community, and really how it really helped to transform us to be the people that we are today. So it was really just a natural fit to create a brand around sports and the things that it contributes to society by utilizing the products that we do with our merchandising lines.

Kelly Scanlon:

Sure. I've got to ask you, what sport did you play?

Thalia Cherry:

I received scholarships in college for volleyball and softball. Most people can automatically guess because I'm so competitive that I was a catcher in softball.

Kelly Scanlon:

You sell sporting apparel. Talk to us about some of the different colleges that you license.

Thalia Cherry:

We were really excited to get into the collegiate markets. We currently hold 22 licenses of universities across the country. As close to us, is recently we were awarded the University of Kansas license, and then as far as Syracuse University, and we were awarded that agreement in contract in 2019. We're super excited for amazing opportunities with some of the more local schools through K State, KU and MU.

Kelly Scanlon:

You do carry lines other than the collegiate lines, correct?

Thalia Cherry:

That is correct. We actually have our own brands and we manufacture our own products. It's an array of different sporty kind of fashion clothes, clothes that people really feel good about in wearing, but also that have messaging that really kind of transcends the power of women and the elevation of women and the great things that women have contributed, in addition to a lot of designs around professional athletes that have really made an impact, particularly in the Kansas City market. So our offerings in relation to merchandise are an array of different styles, but the true pieces that anybody that loves sports and loves to be a part of sports or likes to cheer on sports, that is an association to our brand.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you talk about the messaging, especially for women, give us some examples of that.

Thalia Cherry:

Our most popular are there's two. One, the saying is, Don't Be A Lady Be A Legend.

Kelly Scanlon:

I love that.

Thalia Cherry:

It really just stems from really just finding your inner core, what makes you special to be the best that you can be. And then the second one that's a popular shirt as well, it's one of our best sellers is, Don't Let The Skirt Fool You. It's really more about confidence and just being strong as a woman.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've pivoted a bit since you started your company, which was about eight years ago, right?

Thalia Cherry:

Correct, yeah.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us a little bit about how you've built your company, why you've made some of the changes that you've made and how you've gotten where you are now.

Thalia Cherry:

Yeah, I think for all small businesses there's this process of where you're honing in on what makes you unique and different. I think when you initially start off, you're much more broad in your approach and then you really find out what makes you just authentically as a company, and just as a team what really inspired us that really we could share through what we created. For us, it's been really sporty fashion. We've honed in and really, really created that as our strong niche. It's been really powerfully successful for us. It's something we're really growing into different markets, as well as retail distribution. I know for us, we really started off more broad and more just sports in general, but I know that as we journeyed through these eight years, particularly within our fifth year, we really were able to really hone in stronger and target exactly our market.

Kelly Scanlon:

This clothing is available online through your website, and then you also have a store on the Plaza that you've opened. Tell us about that because that is a big deal.

Thalia Cherry:

Yeah, it's super, super exciting. On August the 7th, we had our grand opening officially at the Made in KC Store Marketplace on the Plaza. It was so powerful to have that opportunity. We are also the first African-American clothing retailer on the Plaza. Just to really create history, but also just have an incredible opportunity meant so much to our growth. We also have products available through e-commerce. And then recently we also extended to have more products at a couple retail outlets within the Kansas City market. One is the Made in KC Store that's in Lee's Summit, and then also we will have a special collection exclusive at the Halls store in Crown Center.

Kelly Scanlon:

In spite of COVID and some of the scaling back that a lot of retail shops have had to undergo, you're just full steam ahead.

Thalia Cherry:

Yeah, it's been incredible. We spent the first few months really just peeling back our why and our purpose as a company and what was really important. I think for us, it really just gave us this laser focus and know exactly how we wanted to target our energies within the markets that were really strong, and how do we expand into those markets even in a greater depth for growth. I think it's just important to acknowledge that during this really difficult time for a lot of businesses, particularly a lot of the colleagues and different businesses I've been in, different cohorts and won awards with, they've had to make some really difficult decisions. I'm very grateful for our success through this period in journey and climates, but I just do want to always really respect and acknowledge that I know it's been difficult for so many small businesses.

Kelly Scanlon:

Most definitely it has been, and I'm glad to hear that you are continuing to enjoy and build on the success that you've established.

Kelly Scanlon:

Talk to us a little bit about who your favorite athlete is to work with. I know you come in contact with so many, and many names that we're familiar with. Who's your favorite?

Thalia Cherry:

We've had this incredible opportunity to do a lot of collaborations with a lot of athletes, and particularly from players of the NFL. I'll name a couple, and then I'll tell who my favorite is. We've worked with Shane Ray. He's actually formerly from Kansas City, attended Bishop Miege and then went on to play with the Denver Broncos. Also Charles Harris. He attended Lincoln Prep Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, and then went on to play with the Miami Dolphins.

Thalia Cherry:

I would say our favorite is probably our hometown favorite, and that is Patrick Mahomes. He and I really collaborated two years ago on a particular sweatshirt that went viral. Little beknownst to us that that was going to happen. We definitely took it with a grain of salt and rolled with it. Patrick Mahomes, his team is so efficient and so responsive, it's really a pleasure actually to see because they're I'm sure vetting so many calls, so to have that opportunity was really special.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, and the responsiveness that you talk about with as much as they have going on, it's really great to hear that he's surrounded by people who they're good business people it sounds like.

Thalia Cherry:

Yes, most definitely. Yeah. In the industry we're working with a lot of professional athletes, it's actually rare their delivery of just being very strong in business and making sure that they really are highly responsive. So it's great to see.

Kelly Scanlon:

What business achievement would you say that you're most proud of?

Thalia Cherry:

It really starts from our very beginning year. In 2012, when we opened our doors and our business, it was really important that we establish the Cherry Foundation. I've been incredibly fortunate to have two parents invested heavily in community philanthropically. And so I knew that would be one of our pillars as a company. In the establishing the Cherry Foundation, 10% of our revenues go back to support specifically for education and sports and athletes. We've been able to partner with almost every nonprofit entity in the Kansas City market, as well outside where some of our larger contracts are in other states.

Thalia Cherry:

It's really been about how we've been able to tap into our passion, our why, and our purpose of why we do what we do with our business and to be able to do that philanthropically. For us, that's been the greatest achievement is really pointing back to really help support so many young people to really help to achieve their greatness.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned education. I know that you are a strong believer in mentorship. You attribute much of your success to the mentors that you've had, and now you are a mentor yourself. I read somewhere it's now in the dozens, the number of people that you've mentored. What do you hope to achieve with those that you mentor?

Thalia Cherry:

I think Kelly, for me personally, is that there was a village that surrounded me like no other. I always say, and I post this often that, "The village that I had that surrounds me, that supports me, that gives me guidance has been incredible for my entire life." I've always shared with others that if I could just do 10% of what was poured into me, how amazing that would be to do to our community of young people across different backgrounds and different territories, but to really just build and wrap around them.

Thalia Cherry:

For us, we established the Entrepreneurship KC this last summer specifically because I had read a really frightening report around entrepreneurs of color and their ability to sustain and also grow at a large scale in comparison to other nationalities and backgrounds. And so when I read the city that ranked Kansas City number 49th and St. Louis number 50th as the worst, as any entrepreneur that really wants to grow their business, you always think about solving problems no matter what the situation is. I really took that to heart to say, I was really fortunate to grow up with parents and grandparents that are entrepreneurs and so I had direct access to see what that looks like, but if you don't typically have that and you're a person of color, it's harder to imagine.

Thalia Cherry:

With the Entrepreneurship KC we connected 120 young people this summer to coaches that were specialized entrepreneurs in different sectors and industries, and the young people worked on teams to really solve some problems they felt were facing the Kansas City industry specific or just community-wide. Over the years as I've just grown as an individual, but also through business, I personally have mentored many young people. I think the beauty and value of connecting young people from different facets to really hone into their own skill sets and abilities and creating this amazing rich, diverse world of young people learning from each other, that's what we really saw this summer.

Thalia Cherry:

I gained and learned as well. You had young people that attended Wyandotte High School that were working on the same team with a student from Barstow and another young person that had went to Olathe East, and it was just so rich to see how they were solving the world's problems collectively and not even looking at their differences of where their backgrounds were. That to me is where this is really powerful and meaningful and why I mentor.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you're talking about your problem, these are local Kansas City high schoolers, but you bring in these coaches that you're talking about, these other entrepreneurs that you talk about to be part of the program. Some of those are from around the country; they're not just based in Kansas City. So they're getting great exposure. Plus you're exposing Kansas City to a lot of other people as well.

Thalia Cherry:

Yeah. It's students represented in 20 different school districts in the Kansas City market and region and territory. It was just so wonderful to see. But the beauty is that if you really connect, and I feel like that's one of our strengths as a business is leveraging partnerships and collaborations with businesses and entities across the nation, and so we were able to connect those students with businesses that were based out of Atlanta or based out of New York.

Thalia Cherry:

So COVID, one of the greatest things that I think has brought to the forefront is that virtual experiences for internships are just so elevated. So now you have a student that may attend an urban school district that may have an interest in a particular path or direction that can now be connected to somebody in New York that is owning a business that is specific to what that young person's interest is. To me there's just win-wins everywhere in relation to that.

Kelly Scanlon:

Most definitely.

Kelly Scanlon:

Now this summer was the first cohort and you have more planned.

Thalia Cherry:

We do have more plans. It was very obviously well received. We're working with multiple school districts throughout the KC community, and so with those, we'll continue to offer Entrepreneurship KC throughout the entire year.

Kelly Scanlon:

I know it's really new, very recent, but what are the outcomes that you have seen so far? Have you done any followup with the students who were in that first cohort and any successes that you can talk about yet?

Thalia Cherry:

Yeah. There's an excellent highlight. The teams are basically given a certain period of time to really walk through the whole business model concept plan, and then really how they would attack whatever that problem they were addressing. The winning team, which is a team of eight students, they were awarded a prize, and our company underwrote the cost associated to this, they won a $5,000 cash prize to be split among the students. Their project, and the company name was called Unlimited, and what they found is that there are many students at the high schools that when they had learning disabilities, they didn't have necessarily the tools to advance and within their career path progression through their career. And so they're building and designing an app and a website that will lay out those tools. In addition to that, they are actually going to pitch to several investors to actually fund that company.

Thalia Cherry:

We're super excited to walk alongside them as they kind of venture into this new space and journey to really take that concept to life.

Kelly Scanlon:

Wow. So a new business as a result of this. That's just so amazing and in such a short time period.

Kelly Scanlon:

You had so many things happen over the last few months. One of those is Ebony Magazine named you a community crusader earlier this year. It's just great to see a Kansas City business owner like you be recognized nationally for their community work. Tell us a little bit about that award.

Thalia Cherry:

The direct correlation to Entrepreneurship KC is I had actually presented the concept to multiple funders across the country. There was a representative at Ebony that had been reading about our company and my background. What was so surprising is that when I had this amazing opportunity to attend the Super Bowl that the Kansas City Chiefs won, it was the day before the Super Bowl that I received the phone call from Ebony acknowledging and letting me know that I had won that award. Multiple people were nominated across the country, and then there is a committee that makes that final determination and decision. Super thrilled. I mean, to the point of when they called, I told them my husband wouldn't believe me when I called him to tell him, and that was factual. My husband just thought I made up that award.

Thalia Cherry:

It really was just almost a numb sensation because as an African-American Ebony is introduced to you at a very young age. To the point of that many Ebony magazines, my grandmother had kept certain ones and my parents had kept certain ones and we still had that within our family keepsakes. And so to know that a magazine that I once just saw these people on the cover for multiple years, that now I was featured as one of those individuals to receive that award was just ... I'm speechless. It's just so incredible. And then to receive it in partnership or alongside Patrick Mahomes and to be the first two in the Kansas City area to ever receive, it was just ... There's just no words. I'm just so thankful.

Kelly Scanlon:

Congratulations on that. It sounds like it's really well deserved. Thalia, where do you go from here?

Thalia Cherry:

I was recently asked that. Also this year we've had so many wins. We're top a 10 small business for the Kansas City Chamber. That was one of the questions that was presented. For us, it's just a continuous investment in community. It gives us life, but it's just in our DNA of who we are. The more that we're able to elevate our brand, the more we can contribute to community. And for that that is key and most important.

Thalia Cherry:

I think the other element ... The question posed was where do you see your business in the next five years? It's definitely continuing to grow all of the initiatives that we supported at an even higher level, in addition to really expanding our retail distribution so that my goal ultimately is really create a legacy business that I can then pass down to my children, into their children. We have several of those in Kansas City. We have the Halls, we have the Dunnes. I just think it would be really powerful for Cherry to be one of those names that can really create that lineage and that legacy.

Kelly Scanlon:

The way you're pushing ahead like you are and in building the community around you as you go, you're going to be fun to watch most definitely.

Kelly Scanlon:

Thank you, Thalia, for all that you do for the youth of Kansas City. Congratulations again on your business, the achievements, and just best of luck in the future.

Thalia Cherry:

Thank you so much.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Thalia Cherry for visiting with us this week to talk about how she has leveraged her love of sports into a sportswear company and foundation that elevates women and entrepreneurs. To date, the company has created more than 4,000 innovative designs, manufactured 173,000 articles of clothing, signed 21 collegiate licenses, sponsored over 100 community events, and earned three national and numerous local awards. And in spite of all those achievements what Thalia is most proud of is creating the Cherry Foundation and making philanthropy a central part of her business philosophy.

Joe Close:

As Thalia says, investing in community and helping young people realize their greatness is her passion, her why, her purpose.

Joe Close:

At Country Club Bank, we share Thalia's commitment to investing in community. It's a commitment the Thompson family has carried forward for generations here in Kansas City. It is heartening to see more and more businesses and individual Kansas Citians lifting up our community. Together we will continue to make Kansas City a better place to live, work and play.

Joe Close:

Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.