BIRMINGHAM – The Alabama Retail Association, in cooperation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business, today recognized outstanding Alabama retailers representing 12 retail businesses with operations in 72 Alabama cities and 31 states as Retailers of the Year. The 12 winning Retailers of the Year were chosen from almost 50 nominees. The presentations were made at The Club in Birmingham during the 2013 Retail Day Luncheon. This marked the 14th presentation of the Retailer of the Year Awards since 1999.
Jen Barnett, chief operating officer and co-owner of Freshfully, an online and in-store local food market plus an in-store café in Birmingham’s Avondale community, earned the Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year Award. In two short years, the business that connects local farmers with local eaters has expanded from an online-only entity to add a brick-and-mortar presence along with a café that prepares locally produced food. “We believe strongly in the cause of local food and local farming, and are proud to provide Freshfully as the retail outlet for Alabama producers,” Barnett said in her Retailer of the Year entry.
Alabama’s Emerging Retailer of the Year Award is named in honor of the late Mickey Gee, a former Alabama Retail vice chairman and UAB professor. Gee, who worked in retail all his life as owner of The Pants Store, played a pivotal behind-the-scenes role in the development of the Retailer of the Year awards. The Gee Emerging Retailer of the Year Award goes to an innovative and effective Alabama retailer who has been in business for at least two years, but less than five years. According to the award criteria, the Gee award is only presented in years when the judges determine a candidate is worthy of the Gee name. The inaugural 2012 Gee Award went to David and Andrea Snyder of Urban Cookhouse.
The 2013 Retailer of the Year judges lauded Barnett and Freshfully as being among “a new era of retailers who are bringing back a community.” The judges also praised the business for helping people live healthier lives.
Freshfully began in 2011 after Barnett and her business partner, Sam Brasseale, won a business plan competition giving them $30,000 for office space and startup costs. Then, the pair won six months free storefront space in the Occupy Avondale competition and their venture went from strictly online to in-store too. With only three employees, they’ve grown from five to 150 vendors of such products as seasonal fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats, organic dairy, farm eggs and locally owned pantry staples. They’ve added a store café and instituted a Workplace Wellness program online that involves delivering fresh local produce to area companies.
Victor M. Brown, vice president of minority and small business development for the Birmingham Business Alliance, who nominated Barnett for the award, cited Freshfully’s “unique approach as an online retailer, as well as its impressive growth.” All of their marketing is social with 10 or more interactions daily with customers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. They even held an online beauty pageant for their customers’ chickens, receiving more than 60 entrants, and countless “likes” and “shares.”
Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown said, “Jen Barnett is a retailer of the year EVERY year to her customers, her employees and the Avondale and Birmingham communities.”
>> Full list of this year’s Retailers of the Year
>> Previous Retailers of the Year