Chauncey Holloman has a strange project in the works: She’s writing a self-help book. It’s not that the genre itself is strange, but rather that the author seems oddly placed to be writing it. It takes no small amount of audacity to hold oneself up as a paragon of success, and motivational prose is usually reserved to those who can claim decades of hardened life experience. It is rarely the stuff of a small, enthusiastic African-American college freshman who hasn’t yet achieved her 20th birthday.
Holloman has a little more business savvy and experience than your typical 19-year-old, though — enough, at least, to know that business savvy in itself can be a commodity. Considering the ambition of Harlem Lyrics, the greeting card company she founded in 2003 that sells over 70 different cards across 13 states, it’s not really a surprise that Holloman would want to dip a toe into an industry that banks $580 million in book revenue each year. But her goals don’t stop with birthday well-wishes and tracts for would-be teen entrepreneurs. She has plans for a clothing line, she is looking to develop the characters that appear on her cards into a television show and she hopes to eventually bring an Egyptian-themed animation idea to, as she puts it, “silver screen movies.”
Holloman has set some lofty goals, but Harlem Lyrics has had enough success to convince her she can reach them. The venture began when she saw an opening in the market while shopping for a friend’s birthday.
“Hallmark cards are geared more toward adults,” she says. “They have dull, plain colors on the front, and the only alternative to that style would be the exact opposite, which is the children’s cards, which is what a lot of teen-agers have been forced to do: either buy children’s cards and make it like a joke, or print their own.” So she decided to print her own.
With the encouragement of her mother, who introduced her to the concept of a business plan, and lots of entrepreneurial spirit, Holloman geared up to attend a Georgia trade show. To raise money, she did something that a lot of teen-agers do: She tapped her mom, who contributed her tax rebate to the cause. But she also did something a bit more creative. She rented the Palace Club in Little Rock and threw a kickoff party for Harlem Lyrics. The money she raised funded her first eight cards.
Although she lacks a steady drawing hand (“That is not my talent, and I am smart enough to know that,” she says), Holloman is full of ideas for what she wants her product to represent. Four characters, each with a distinct personality, form the girl group that is the backbone of Harlem Lyrics. Holloman found inspiration for the project in her own family: Each of the girls is based on one of her younger sisters.
“I knew that I wanted this to be a family-based thing,” she says. “I was really looking for ways that I could connect these characters with me so I wouldn’t get bored down the line.”
Drawn by Damien Ford, a local artist, and with text written by Holloman, Harlem Lyrics cards soon appeared in Kroger stores. Yet, although she was attending conferences and trade shows, she doesn’t owe that success to a by-the-book strategy.
“It’s a good thing for me being so young and new in this industry, because apparently you’re supposed to go to the store in your community and pitch to them, and then go to the regional store and then go to the national headquarters,” Holloman says. “I called the headquarters first.”