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John Ham knows that teamwork can be as important as tenacity when building a small business. When he and his wife, Cynthia, couldn't find wallpaper that reflected their African-American heritage, they started a company to market culturally inspired wall borders. More than a decade later, The Cultural Companies creates a variety of multicultural products for several major retailers, and the Hams say they owe special thanks to Lowe's.

"Lowe's was our first national retail partner, and we've been doing business together since 2004. We're very loyal to Lowe's and thankful for the relationship," said John Ham, vice president of sales and marketing for the small, North Carolina-based company. "Lowe's has proven their commitment to our success."

The Cultural Companies impressed Lowe's in 2008 by presenting a collection of culturally inspired ornament designs, but the company didn't have the capacity to mass produce and distribute the holiday accessories. "We said, 'These are great designs. We need these,' " said Kelly Sherman, merchandising director for Lowe's. "So we partnered someone who has the ability to produce and ship with someone who has great designs, and got the best of both."

Lowe's paired The Cultural Companies with Mercuries Asia, one of Lowe's core seasonal suppliers. Together, they produced nine ornament designs that Lowe's carried in nearly 250 stores during the 2009 and 2010 holiday seasons.

For The Cultural Companies, the pairing allowed the four-employee company to focus on its strengths — designing and promoting home décor products. "Our relationship with Mercuries Asia has been great," Ham said. "Collectively, we have been able to provide exclusive designs to Lowe's that have resonated positively with the multicultural consumer."

The supplier partnership extended Lowe's four-year relationship with The Cultural Companies and developed the company's capacity to help Lowe's continue to meet the needs of a diverse and changing customer base. A proud supporter of minority- and women-owned businesses like The Cultural Companies, Lowe's is working with diverse suppliers to deliver high-quality and innovative products to the marketplace.

"Outside of select specialty stores, it's hard to find good multicultural holiday products that represent the African-American community," said Liv Hustvedt, vice president of merchandising for Mercuries Asia. "Often, it's just a simple design with a change in skin color that doesn't look authentic. The Cultural Companies is doing a real service. They have some beautiful designs that are authentic."

After forming a successful partnership, Ham said he's been contacted by other small businesses eager to work with Lowe's. His message to them is simple: "Lowe's will stick with you and try to make it work," he said. "We would not be where we are right now without Lowe's."

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