By Dwight Hobbes
A tried and true quip goes, “The three most important things in retail are location, location and location.” That said, there’s something else that has to run a close second in any business operation: research, research and research.
Know what you’re doing. Know your market. Have a solid product and a strong understanding of how to put that product on the market. Accordingly, you have to like founder-director Shatona Kilgore-Groves’ prospects with Webb Models & Talent Agency (www.wmtagency.com), especially if experience counts for anything — which, of course, it certainly does.
Webb Models & Talent Agency (WMT), a national agency located in the Twin Cities, was launched in January of this year, a bit too recently to predict good things for any enterprise one might think. Wrong.
Fledgling an endeavor though the agency is, it’s the handiwork of a seasoned veteran for whom things are already looking positive. “It’s coming along well,” Kilgore-Groves says of the venture. “We’ve had commercials, movies.”
How is it she is able to defy what would seem to be a law of nature, especially in this economy? She explains, “Financing is not an issue. It’s just like sports, entertainment. Even in tough times, there is industry growth. Consumers are going to purchase the product. We’re still going to the movies, still spending frivolously.”
Therefore, models still find plenty work, and WMT stands to become and remain a thriving concern. Even a sensibly cautious eye sees indication of continued success.
Specializing in women, men and children of color, Kilgore-Groves has quite sensibly carved out a niche with one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas. “Obviously, there’s a need. One thing I don’t understand: People [who] hire models and acting talent, they say [they] can’t find [minorities]. Instead of sending out emails to African Americans in the business, scrambling around at the last minute to find, for instance, Black babies, they can come to this agency.
“They want to have faces on their boxes of cereal, whatever,” she continues. “We’ll help them find what they’re looking for.”
WMT is a full-service agency that provides models, talent, and speakers who fill advertisers’ and casting directors’ needs from print to high fashion, including singing, voice-overs, acting and public speakers.
It is not, by the way, just for fresh-faced 20-somethings. “It’s never too late, because in this industry you can be 60 years old and be called for a commercial.” She adds, “It’s something people can do part-time or full-time, depending on what effort they put into it. In this business, what you put in definitely is what you get out.”
She’s referring to being willing to do the necessary groundwork. Forget the fable of getting discovered sitting on a stool in Schwab’s Drug Store. “It’s very rare that someone is going to find you on the street [and] make you a star. You need to work at it just like an athlete. You have to train, take classes.”
Pursuant to which there is a model boot camp component to the agency, directed by Kilgore-Groves’ friend and mentor, the highly successful model MsDenishia. MsDenishia (www.msdenishia.com), Denishia Jackson in civilian life, has done runway modeling for, among other prestigious names, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom’s and Tommy Hilfiger, as well as national ad campaigns for Target, Best Buy and Betty Crocker.
Those she has trained have gone on to work with Lionsgate Films, Paul Mitchell and Nabisco. Shatona Kilgore-Groves’ credits include work as a featured model in the Journeys calendar of inspiring African American women and on the runway at Prince’s nightspot Glam Slam.
If you’re interested in breaking in as a model or already work in the arts or entertainment and want to expand your audience, WMT’s criteria is, Kilgore-Groves states, “a burning desire, passion, yearning [to succeed]. This is not something that can be taught or given. When a potential talent has this passion, they will be the best at what they do, and that’s what we hope for, to have talent that strives to be the best. This is a very competitive business.”
Accordingly, it is not for half-steppers who want to dilly dally around with half-hearted commitment. Also, she says, “Professionalism, confidence, [and] a great work ethic” are essential. Realistically speaking, it’s a job where your looks are a tool, part of your skill set. However, they are not necessarily the end all and be all.
“We are looking for ‘real people’ as well. Many times our clients are looking for the person that looks like your next-door neighbor, your mother or your grandmother or your father or grandfather. Actors need to have the look that they can be trusted to sell products.”
Another thing: While social media outlets like Facebook are excellent for personal promotion, if you are going to work at WMT, you cannot go to the Internet and act the fool, thereby being a poor reflection on the agency. “They must show that they respect others and themselves,” Kilgore-Groves says of her models.
This business was by no means an idle undertaking. Kilgore-Groves came to it fully prepared. “[I have] over 20 years experience and training. Also, each job I had, although I didn’t know it at the time, prepared me for this role as an agency director. The business side for me is a natural thing. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 18, when I had an Avon business.”
Clearly, Kilgore-Groves has been a go-getter since day one. “My different [efforts] included starting a nonprofit, The Black Parent Group (www.theblackparentgroup.org), to starting a publishing company, Triple A Press Express Publishing (www.TripleAPressBooks.com). Not one of my businesses has failed. I simply have progressed.”
What’s the secret to her success? Aside from innate ability, she’s not scared to roll up her sleeves to do the grunt work. “I went to Neighborhood Development Center’s small business training through the Saint Paul Public Library [and] attended conferences for women business owners, including Women Venture. I also attend networking events twice a month through groups listed on Meetup.com and Eventbrite.
“I read religiously business magazines including Black Enterprise, Bloomberg, and Fast Company,” she continues. “I also have met with a business coach through the Small Business Association.”
On top of all this, Kilgore-Groves has a master’s in psychology from the University of Phoenix. Yet, in this purportedly improved day and age, she encounters throwbacks who have trouble taking her seriously because she’s a woman and because she is Black.
“That has been heartbreaking. I try not to take it personally. I know who I am and what I can do.” With the impact Webb Models & Talent Agency is in the process of making, more than a few others know it, too, or will know it soon enough.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.