Women in Flint and Genesee County are propelling themselves to new heights. Their numbers are impressive: At 5,500 and growing, they are helping fuel Michigan’s ranking at the top of the nation for the growth of women-owned firms since 2014. The HUB Flint will highlight some of these achievers in the coming weeks. Meet Sheena Harrison.
Sheena Harrison knows how to shake things up. The founder of Fruits of Elegance and Drinks of Essence recently expanded, opening a mobile bartending and training facility, making Harrison’s one of four bartending schools licensed in Michigan.
Harrison’s uncommon knowledge, artistry and theatrical flair makes her a standout in the custom craft cocktail and bartending industry, where employment growth is outpacing other industries, according to the U.S. Labor Bureau, which projects 8 percent job growth over the next 10 years.
“I’ve always been creative,” Harrison says. “When I was a teenager, I made drinks for my family, whether punch, flavored teas or alcoholic beverages. I like creating something completely new, so when I see things, I envision how to connect them with other things. I really like the creative process and am blessed to have the skills to make the creations I envision.”
Fruits of Essence started small with custom packages filled with different fruits, chocolate-covered strawberries and pineapples, according to Harrison, who added sports team names, creative themes and messaging on her product line to keep things interesting. That allowed her to diversify her business and to attract a broader base of clientele. It also extended her product line to holidays and special events.
Today, Harrison offers fresh fruit arrangements, fresh fruit tables, chocolate-covered fruit, and slushies among Fruits of Essence offerings. She even offers snow cone and smoothie machines for special events.
As her business base continued to grow, Harrison saw the opportunity to add her Drinks of Essence, which provides bartending services for weddings, anniversaries, birthday parties and other events. When additional staff was required, Harrison quickly learned that trained bartenders were in short supply. That knowledge eventually led her to open her training facility, which also includes fun mixology classes for those just looking for instruction on how to make a better drink.
“I feel like there is nothing like us around, especially not in our area,” she says. “I wanted to bring something here to Flint that’s fun, exciting and a little bit different. There’s not a lot of mobile bartending companies around to cater to people with their events, open houses and weddings. I think we’re unique because we offer exquisite drinks. We also have drinks that ‘smoke.’ We like to ‘wow’ our guests! We have excellent customer service. So that makes us exquisite.”
In 2015, Harrison grossed about $2,000 for her business. This was a lot less than she had put into starting the company: “With business it takes more money usually to start the business than you actually make the first year.”
She promotes the two businesses on social media, door-to-door and at vendor activities.
“We walk around and give flyers and cards,” says Harrison. “Word of mouth has seemed to be a very effective way (to promote) as well. We’re working on a website soon.”
Currently the business has four employees, including Harrison. Their roles include executive secretary, CEO (Harrison), assistant CEO and another bartender.
“I definitely think it’s important to hire within our community,” she says. “That’s another reason why I opened the training facility, to train people to be able to get more jobs in our community. We will be hiring more people as we grow.”
Harrison says she is seeing more and more women becoming entrepreneurs and seeing more female heads of households than she ever has: “Michigan as a whole has been growing a lot lately. I know we did have the recession and things like that, but I think Michigan is coming back. I’m a die-hard Michigander. I look forward to the next few years because Flint is growing, Michigan is growing and I’m just excited to be on this road to growth.”
She notes positive role models can also inspire African American women.
“Michelle Obama is awesome,” Harrison says. “She’s so graceful, educated and I just love and respect her.”
Harrison has worked with a lot of women-owned businesses throughout the community and taken part in several vendor events for women-owned businesses. She says the vendor events she attends continue to grow.
“We all work together. We help each other and bounce ideas off each other and give advice to empower each other,” Harrison says. “I think in the next few years there will be a mega boom because everybody is just trying to gain their momentum and start their own business. Now is the time.”
Lead photo by Rynelle Walker/Studio 18
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Fruits of Elegance, Drinks of Essence and the Drinks of Essence Mobile Batending School call 810-867-2210 or visit their facebook page.
BYOB: Be Your Own Bartender classes post regularly. If you would like more information you can also email the school at firstname.lastname@example.org
This series on Flint and Genesee County entrepreneurs is sponsored by Metro Community Development, a community development financial institution and originator of BizBox, a 360 degree business program that includes training, development and financial support.
To learn more call 810-767-4622 or visit metrocommunitydevelopment.com