By Caleb Jones
For the Birmingham Times
Building a business from the ground up can be strenuous. The dedication and sacrifice required are hard enough for most people to manage under normal circumstances, but 17-year-old Jaiden Smith is doing it during a pandemic—and doing it well.
The Ramsay High School senior is owner and founder of Quarantine Essentials Shop, an online shopping hub for sanitation products and personal protective equipment (PPE), including hand sanitizer, disinfectant sprays and wipes, and latex gloves.
“I’ve always wanted to have a business,” he said in a recent interview with the Birmingham Times. “I had a whole bunch of ideas … [that] I just wrote down but never actually [pursued]. So, I sat down with my mom, [Shatoya Brown], when the quarantine started [this year in March] and asked her, ‘What’s one thing you wish was easier?’ She was like, ‘I cannot find cleaning products—none.’ That’s where I got the idea, and I just went from there. I even made my own website: [www.quarantineessentialsshop.com].”
A sharp-minded teen with an eye for entrepreneurship, Smith saw a public need and sought a way to meet it. He grew the Quarantine Essentials Shop by selling products that routinely flew off the shelves in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. He understood that many were unable to get to the stores early enough in the day to beat the daily rush, when products like hand sanitizer and disinfectants sell out at record rates.
He started the business with a $1,000 investment from his mom, a 17th-birthday gift last May, and has since seen a return on his investment. Smith is glad he took the risk.
“This shop is important to me. It means a lot because it’s my first actual business. I finally got my own thing,” he said. “I’ve been working to build the business, including designing the website using [an online website builder]. … I’ve got my own business now, … and I’m happy with it. I’ve got room to improve—everyone does—but I’m proud of myself for making it happen and having it actually function and be successful. Not only that, but I touched my first thousand at 17.”
Smith was born in Demopolis, Alabama, where he lived until his mother moved to Birmingham; he was about 4 years old at the time. He and his mother, a psychologist with the Birmingham City Schools system and doctoral student at the University of Alabama, now live in Hoover, Alabama.
The high school senior has a mixed schedule, alternating between in-person and virtual sessions throughout the week: some days he attends classes and Zoom lectures during scheduled times; other days he views recorded lectures and completes assignments on his own schedule.
His day starts at 6 a.m. By 7 a.m., he hits the first of several stores, where he buys various cleaning supplies and PPE to resell on his website. By the end of the day, he usually has visited about six or seven stores.
“In the process, I’ve learned all the shipping schedules, all the routes, all the stores. I just know where to be, when and how to get there, how to get the stuff,” he said, adding that he is continually brainstorming ideas to grow his customer base.
Quarantine Essentials Shop is more than a business for Smith, who also does community service work.
“My mom always told me to help people,” he said. “I was not raised to be a mean, rude person. I was always taught to help people whenever possible.”
In addition to attending classes and running his business, Smith is a member of the Birmingham chapter of the Kappa Instructional Leadership League, a subset of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., National Service Initiative, which helps young men in high school find leadership opportunities and then gives them opportunities to contribute to their communities through service projects.
“We [participate in] breast cancer walks … around the city to raise awareness [about the disease] every year,” he said. “We also do Toys for Tots every year. We get toys, load them on a truck, and help people ship them off to kids. We also have fed the homeless in Linn Park, [downtown Birmingham].”
Smith was inspired to serve his community through the Kappa League by his uncle, Dr. Terrell E. Brown, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and the principal of Woodlawn High School.
“My middle name actually comes from him: Jaiden Terrell Smith. He was always a big role model to me. … I just kind of want to be like him. He influenced me to [get involved], … and once you start, you really can’t stop.”
On top of his entrepreneurial skills, Smith has a promising future in engineering and architecture. Alongside his regular studies, for which he has maintained honors status throughout high school, Smith is a member of the Ramsay High School Engineering Academy and wants to pursue a career in architecture.
“[Engineering Academy] has really helped me learn what I’m good at and molded me into a better engineering [student] in general. I’ve learned how to do isometric drawings, like 3D design,” he said, adding that the program has given him multiple outlets through which to use his skills.
“We went to this one design event where we had to design something to benefit our community, and we chose to do a greenhouse. I drew out the floor plan and the planters, … using the Autodesk Inventor [computer-aided design application] to 3D design it. We also have a 3D printer at our school, so we planned out small models of the planters, printed them, … and showed [our greenhouse design] at a presentation. There’s so much more, honestly, that they’ve done to put me into a position to really grow as an engineer and architect.”
Smith has also had the opportunity to attend architecture and engineering camps at Tuskegee University and Georgia Tech through GEAR UP Birmingham (GUB), a federally funded college readiness and awareness program.
Though his goal is to become an architect, Smith does not plan to abandon his entrepreneurial pursuits—he wants to combine his interests.
“I want to open my own architectural firm, where I can have the freedom to do what I want, [like] design neighborhoods and tiny houses. I also want to have rental properties and do interior design for all of those.
“There are so many nuances to buildings and so many different ways to use them to make money. I mean, you could have one building and flip it and sell it; you could flip a house and Airbnb it or rent it; you could build a building yourself and own the land. There are so many options.”
Smith is set to graduate from Ramsay High School in May, then he plans to go to college to pursue a double major in architecture and construction science and may pursue a graduate degree in entrepreneurship.
“I don’t want to be bound to making a set amount of money,” he said. “I want [success] to be based on how hard I work.”
For more on Quarantine Essentials Shop, visit quarantineessentialsshop.com.