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Wednesday, Sep 22, 2021

Local Business Spotlight: Ocmulgee Traders

Macon natives and business owners Laura and Steve Bell were tired of hearing the words  “Macon” and “potential” being used in the same sentence.

“We heard that word ‘potential’ for so long when describing Macon,” Laura Bell said. “We were so tired of hearing that word, and we were like ‘let’s do something.’”

The entrepreneurial couple, who both own and manage a Macon-based advertising company called Smart Creative Media, wanted to bring a quaint, European-inspired grocery store to downtown Macon.

The perfect opportunity landed into the their laps when they heard about the Macon Mongul business contest. The competition dolled out $50,000 and provided free rent for a year in downtown Macon to help the winner launch the company.

The two channeled their creative business juices and pitched three ideas for the contest, including an incubator, an Irish pub and, lastly, an urban grocery store. The Irish pub and grocery store made it into the second round before being cut from the competition.

Despite losing the competition, the couple trudged forward on their idea of bringing a grocery store downtown.

Steve launched a Facebook page called “Bring a Trader Joes to Macon.” Within 24 hours, the page gained 1,000 likes.

Fortunately, the couple’s efforts caught the attention of College Hill Corridor, which needed to launch a grocery store downtown as a part of its economic revitalization plan.

For the past couple of months, College Hill tried to attract Trader Joes and Harris Teeter downtown to no avail.

“Most of these national stores have a specific business model that considers a variety of factors, including economic demographics,” Steve Bell said. “Macon sometimes does not fit these national business models, considering poor economic communities are very close to downtown.”

With some financial help from College Hill Corridor, on June 4, 2014, the couple opened the $400,000 multi-level urban grocery store and called it Ocmulgee Traders.

Initially, when the store first opened, “business was busier than expected,” Laura said. However, once the newness wore off, business is now “steady.”

The grocery store features rows of organic, fresh grocery items and is outfitted with a café that sells sandwiches and drinks.

Most the company’s best selling products are Georgia-based products such as Savannah Bee Company Honey, The Georgia Olive Oil and King of Pops. During the spring and summer, Ocmulgee Traders generated nearly $1,000 a week from popsicle sales alone.

The couple built their model entirely on community input. The couple will issue out surveys asking people what exactly they want and will then buy the items for their store.

Most of the business comes from residents who live in the Lofts.

“We’re the epicenter of all the Lofts downtown, and most of the data that I saw showed that 90 percent of the Lofts downtown are occupied – that’s huge.” Laura said.

The couple admits that managing a grocery store and ad agency actually has more similarities than differences. Although the couple says that they utilize creative marketing techniques when managing their grocery store.

As the company continues to expand and grow, the owners are considering being consultants to for additional stores in different cities or being bought out by a national grocer. Already, a couple of people have requested opening stores in different cities.



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