Meet Terrand, the inspiring leader behind the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab

Retail businesses need online sales in order to succeed in today’s competitive market. But smaller businesses, especially those owned by women and people of color, often lack the resources or technical know-how to really make a splash in e-commerce. FedEx and nonprofit  Accion Opportunity Fund teamed up to help change that through the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab, a philanthropic program aimed at bolstering the abilities of business owners in key e-commerce areas so their businesses can grow and thrive.

The Learning Lab would not be possible without implementing partner 37 Oaks, a social enterprise founded by Terrand Smith. Terrand and her team have brought a best-in-class learning experience to more than 300 FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab graduates so far. How does she do it? Read on to learn more.

What does 37 Oaks do to support underserved small business owners?

37 Oaks is a commerce development and learning laboratory that educates and prepares business owners for growth through e-commerce, wholesale, storefronts, and pop-up markets. Since 2016, we have guided underserved entrepreneurs into growth through our 37 Oaks University Courses, 1:1 and group coaching, content, business support services, and welcoming community around like-minded business owners.

What inspired you to start 37 Oaks?

For over a decade, I was a national buyer for some of the largest retailers in the US. In that role, I worked with national and local brands that wanted to get their products in the stores or on the e-commerce sites of those retailers. The larger brands had budgets, resources, departments, and experience to get the most out of these opportunities. The smaller brands were where the innovation started, but if they did not have the commerce, retail, and distribution acumen needed to be successful in these spaces, often this growth opportunity would do more harm to their business than help it. With all of my experience in retail, e-commerce, strategy, and operations, I knew I had a good foundation to help them take their product-based business to the next level.

What is the purpose of the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab collaboration between FedEx, Accion Opportunity Fund, and 37 Oaks?

This program offers a robust curriculum that strengthens the strategies and improves the operations of women and minority-owned businesses building an online presence. Business ownership can be a challenge for anyone. So, when you layer on unique challenges that disproportionately impact these communities, like access to industry-specific knowledge, resources, capital, coaches, mentors, and a community of like-minded business owners, it can make this process even more difficult. We need our small businesses to succeed, as they are the engines that power the neighborhoods where we live, work, and play. Their economic impact is profound.

Supporting small business owners toward growth is a process and requires a lot of resources. Many organizations do a lot on their own, but they can’t do it ALL by themselves. This is why the relationship between FedEx, Accion Opportunity Fund, and 37 Oaks is powerful. With the education, program infrastructure, experience, coaching, relationships, marketing support, sponsorship, capital infusion, shipping systems, (and more) that we each bring to the table, we deliver a program that adds value to hundreds of small business owners across the country.

Who is a good fit for this program?

The FedEx E-commerce Learning Lab is perfect for any owner of a product-based business that commits to growing and scaling through e-commerce. They tend to be in the early stages of growth and may not have an e-commerce site, or may have one that is considered “stale.” They feel stuck in making progress and need support in getting “unstuck.” The great thing about this program is that it has a national reach, and we have worked with businesses from California to Vermont to Florida and all in between. We also support a variety of categories such as health, beauty, food, beverages, pets, books, accessories, apparel, home decor, and more.

What topics do you cover in the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab?

This program’s curriculum is very robust. Between the 37 Oaks University courses, workshops, study hall sessions, and exercises, we cover topics such as understanding where you should sell online; defining your online shopper; writing effective shipping and return policies; conducting competitive analysis; writing effective product descriptions; driving site conversion; developing winning marketing strategies and campaigns, and more. If business owners need information on a topic that is not covered, our 1:1 coaching sessions fill in the gaps.

What makes this program different?

What makes this program different is its robust and holistic design to educate and prepare. We talked about all the education and coaching received, but another key part of the experience is the SOKONI e-commerce marketplace that allows participants to apply what they learned. We provide that extra layer of support to help them see what works for their business, and what doesn’t.

How does the SOKONI online marketplace help small businesses grow their business?

Small business owners in the FedEx E-commerce Learning Lab not only receive the education needed to strengthen their online strategies and grow their operations, but they also have access to a space to test the concepts and principles learned before making a longer-term investment.

By having their products on, participants are answering some of these questions: Do my marketing tactics drive traffic? Should I be on a marketplace, should I sell on my own site, or can I manage both? Am I packing my products effectively to reduce damages? Which promotional prices attract customers and drive sales? Are my product descriptions getting attention? Am I soliciting testimonials effectively?

Education is one step of the growth process, and application is another. SOKONI provides a safe and guided space for business owners to see what works for their e-commerce business so they can make smart decisions on what time and resources to invest in program after the program concludes.

Can you tell us a success story about one of the participants in the program?

Since we have been doing this program for a few years and have served hundreds of business owners across the country, we have many great stories to share. Each business that joins the program has specific goals and reasons for participating.

One beauty business was so effective in implementing what was taught on shipping and return policies, marketing campaigns, and writing effective product descriptions that their holiday business increased 40% over the prior year. We had another business that considered closing their e-commerce business when they joined the program. However, due to the clarity, ways to prioritize, and the business roadmap they received, they decided to keep pushing forward. We look at both situations as a great success.

What does 37 Oaks do to help small businesses during the holiday season?

Our coaching services and 37 Oaks University courses are a constant resource for small business owners during this critical time of year. Whether it is planning effective marketing campaigns; helping outline the best products offered; making last-minute holiday strategy changes; or determining the most effective promotional price point, we have the support to guide them through.

We are always looking for new ways to support our small business owners. This past year, we amplified our live shopping experiences by offering an upgraded Live Holiday Shopping event for businesses on site. This was a great opportunity for people to not only experience the products and hear the stories of the brands on the site, but also a way for business owners to get more comfortable with selling in a live shopping environment.

How can the general public support participants in the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab this holiday season?

Shop! Not only will they find amazing and unique products made by small business owners across the country, but small business owners learn from each purchase. It is truly shopping with a purpose.

What advice would you give to a small business owner who is trying to decide whether to/when to launch an online presence?

My first question would be: Do you want a hobby, or do you want to operate a profitable, sustainable, and scalable business? Either is fine, but thinking about how you want to play in this space can have a big impact on how or if you launch an online business.

I get asked this question so often that I wrote a book to help others figure it out. “Prepare to Shift: The Workbook” outlines 14 principles that any budding entrepreneur would need to consider when shifting from an idea into a full-fledged business, especially an online business. There are considerations and realities to this process that often we don't know. This book not only outlines them but provides exercises for each principle to help you work through the thought process.

FedEx, Accion Opportunity Fund, and 37 Oaks are all eager to continue collaborating in the spirit of empowering small business owners to excel online through the FedEx E-Commerce Learning Lab. Learn more about this innovative program and see how you can get involved at