HOMEWOOD – “As a first generation business owner – building a business from the ground up is one of the hardest pursuits I’ve ever experienced,” said April McClung, owner and chief executive officer of Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes in Homewood. “The faith walk, mistakes, sweat and tears continue to transform me.”
McClung is Alabama’s 2021 Gold Alabama Retailer of the Year in the Annual Sales Less Than $1 Million category. Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes is one of 11 retail businesses honored this year as Retailers of the Year. The Alabama Retail Association presented the award today to McClung, who has been an Alabama Retail member since 2017.
“Receiving this award means others acknowledge and appreciate all the hard work that goes into what we do. It says to me, ‘Keep going!,'” McClung said in accepting the award.
Established in 2014, Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes offers a variety of flavors and sizes of pound cakes plus gourmet coffee from its local bakery as well as through its website, Amazon, Sam’s Club Road Shows and vendor events. Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes has been featured on QVC and has been included in Amazon’s Prime Day promotions.
To maintain sales when the pandemic hit, the business set up tents in neighborhoods, attended farmer markets and partnered with a local coffee company. “We better organized our online store, added necessary and useful information and enhanced our descriptions of each product,” McClung said. A consultant also helped make system improvements, including organizing labeling and batch coding and increasing a kiosk opportunity from just weekends to seven days a week without increasing labor costs. “For the first time in my business, I started getting a salary,” McClung said.
Sales through its online store and Amazon increased in 2020. “We saw a dramatic increase primarily due to the Aug. 19, 2020, Small Business Spotlight on QVC and HSN, which focused on Black-owned businesses. We now participate in a mentorship program sponsored by QVC,” McClung said. Although the pandemic meant the business couldn’t offer samples inside Sam’s Club locations, she said, “We pivoted and learned how to conduct an unmanned Road Show, which allowed us to scale while reducing labor costs.”
“Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes is an Alabama success story,” said Victor M. Brown, partner with the Birmingham Business Alliance, an organization that has worked closely with the retailer for several years and nominated it as a Retailer of the Year. “They are distributing a quality product that is in demand to markets across the nation, and the company is creating jobs in Alabama.”
Leigh Sloss-Corra, executive director of The Market at Pepper Place in Birmingham, where McClung is a vendor, also recommended her for the award. “April has risen above the rest, impressing me as she has so many others with her ability to tell a story, work hard and bake a consistently outstanding product,” she said.
As one of the Retailer of the Year judges noted, “By finding new channels, Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes increased sales 70% in 2020. They went very grassroots at farmers markets and even neighborhood to neighborhood. They basically went door to door, and they went big with QVC and Amazon Prime Day.”
The Alabama Retailer of the Year awards, started in 1999, honor retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities. This year’s winners were selected from 49 entries submitted from a pool of 80 nominees.
“April McClung is retailer of the year EVERY year to Emily’s Heirloom Pound Cakes customers, her 10 employees, the Homewood community and other markets across the country where her products are sold,” said Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown.
Photo by Brandon Robbins
The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, our 4,300 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living. Since 1943, we’ve worked to promote what’s best for the retail industry in Alabama. Whether voicing the retail view when public policy is made, educating members about issues that impact them, negotiating rates for benefits and services or communicating the retail story, the Alabama Retail Association and its members are better together.