New Business Owner’s Passion
A story of business venture and sales
Ms. Heo of Must Have Beauty & More
An aspired recording engineer came to Nashville in 2003 in pursuit of her dream, and today, 19 years later, she is a beauty supply business owner. She set her foot in the beauty supply industry because “the wigs made my heart beat.” This is the story of Songway Heo’s entrance to the beauty supply industry and entrepreneurship. She is now running her second shop in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. From store display to promotion, nothing goes untouched by her. Here comes her story of opening up stores and running them in her own ways.
Murfreesboro is about 34 miles southeast of downtown Nashville and sitting at a geological center of the State of Tennessee. Notably, it is home to Middle Tennessee State University, which is the biggest university in the state.
Must Have Beauty & More is a newly-opened beauty supply retail store that opened in the end of last July in Murfreesboro. After taking on the road while trying to memorize the unique name of this town, I eventually arrived at a shopping mall with substantial empty spaces. In the middle of the mall, the store stood without a proper signage, making me a bit worried. However, as soon as I entered the store, the well-organized display of hair products under bright lighting fixtures in a 2,200 sqft retail floor was quite impressive. There, Ms. Heo was waiting with an even brighter smile.
In charge of everything from permit to construction
This is the second run for Ms. Heo. For her first trial, she opened a beauty supply store in Spring Hill, TN, which was the only beauty supply in town. Nevertheless, she had to close it. An excessively high rent was the culprit, and she paid the price of taking too much risk. For her second shot, she did some research and found Murfreesboro. From her house in Alabama, she drives two hours to the store every morning.
Usually, it takes 3 months for receiving a permit and 5~6 months in construction before opening a beauty supply store. For Ms. Heo, it took three weeks for everything from permit to opening. The secret was simple. “You just do it yourself instead of waiting for someone!” Starting from opening a business account at the city hall, she visited departments in charge of electrical, fire safety, gas, and so on, submitting her own drawings and calling them up day after day.
The problem was construction. It had been vacant since a taekwondo school closed the door ten years ago, so a lot of repair had to be done. She removed old carpet and climbed ladders with drills in her hand to install heavy shelves. She said it was relatively easy this time. “I made all display units from scratch using saws for the last store. As the store did not have power, I had to bring the drills home to recharge and come back. It was cold December, and I did the construction work without heating. Well, it was my first store.”
How badly must she have felt when she closed the door of her first store? Nevertheless, the store left some tips and hacks for her.
Shelf units with casters
Gondola displays, commonly used in beauty supply stores, are heavy, so it is not only hard to install but also difficult to rearrange after an initial setup. On the other hand, you can simply unlock the caster wheels and move to rearrange shelving units with casters. It was pure luck that she got her hands on these. “I was on Facebook and found someone posted them for sale. I bought the full set, so they came with free delivery. At that time, Goody’s department store was closing its locations. They must have come from one of them. That saved me a lot of money for the shelving units.”
Transformation of cell phone accessory display
She got display units for weavings and extension products from a cell phone store. It was originally used to hang cell phone accessories, and she bought them without a second look after seeing the listing on an online flea market. From her experience, she believes everyone who opens a new store or plans to update display units should first look into online market places.
Display with full of character
After setting up the display units, she had a hard time procuring enough goods to fill them. Ms. Heo experienced the typical hardship of a small business. “Major distributors rarely respond to an application from a small business. For a newly opened business, payment term is not even on the table. They backed out after striking a deal quite a few times, and that was the worst. One day, someone told me to just go and buy from a local distributor. As long as you’re willing, you will get the merchandises from somewhere.”
With that kind of will, she started to fill her store. More than anyone, she has her eyes on diverse merchandises. However, she rigorously screens items for display, which is apparent from the retail floor of Must Have Beauty & More.
Tons of eyelashes
When you enter the store, you will find eyelashes that occupy an entire wall of a side. “We have way more eyelashes than an average small store. Our offering is more comparable to a typical 10,000 sqft store’s. “I love eyelashes myself. Once I got the hang of it, I couldn’t live without them. Like nails. Also, they are very disposable, meaning customers come back to buy more if satisfied. Although a low priced item, it creates a continuous stream of revenue.”
As it’s a smaller store, you would think it only carries popular and common kinds. Well, many unusual colors were noticeable. Ms. Heo says she orders items in all 5-6 colors even if it comes to ordering only one black item. “I know most customers prefer black, but there are people who want to be different. Like me (laughter). That’s why I want to have various colors in stock. I want to make my customers think that my store is a place you can find something unusual like a rare color.”
Keeping items on the front of display
An astounding discovery after touring the displaying shelves. Like participants in a military parade, all goods lined up in the very front. Even mannequins all faced the exact same direction. This actually was her inventory management hack. “If you find a hole, you know someone touched it. Then, even if I did not see the customer moving it, for some reasons like helping someone else or tending the register, I could tell things like a customer tried this out and purchased that in the end. Then, I start it over by arranging them back before another customer comes.”
Creating new items out of old items
You can see adorable kids’ hair accessories here and there. They are Ms. Heo’s own creation. In a form of a ribbon pin connected to a crotchet, they can been quickly and easily pinned on tied up hair for a braid look. “I wouldn’t say I’m developing products, but I try to sell old inventory by finding another use.”
Wigs made her heart beat
It was only a brief survey of her business, but you can see her passion for beauty supply that is clearly out of ordinary. Now, you wonder how she learned so much knowhow in a short time. Here unfolds a story worthy of a book about her past years.
She majored in musical composition and came to the United States in 2003. It was to study record engineering in the music city Nashville. Her study in music did not last long. “I went to a country music session, and I was supposed to correct their accents. How am I, a foreigner, supposed to correct American dialects?”
Then, she thought of studying to become an accountant, which was supposed to promise a stable job. She studied during the day, worked at night at a restaurant at to make money for tuition, and continued to find herself at various workplaces after marriage, including an arts and crafts store, a laundry shop, a UPS unloading dock, and an accounting department of a grocery store. Then, she worked four years at a logistics department of an automotive company in Alabama.
One day, she dropped by a beauty supply store owned by a friend, which changed her life. “I was invited to come for a chit-chat, and I loved all the wigs looking at me. Surprisingly, hair products gave me a thrill. Ever since, I went to her store every weekend, working for free. Soon, I quit my job and started working at the store full-time.”
Although it was her friend’s, the business gave her a “hard training.” Just the two of them managed the 12,000 sqft store, and she was put in charge of ordering goods. You would guess that her earlier days were full of mistakes. In fact, she jumped into it without looking, so it was as if she was a blind when a customer asks for an item. It took about six months to get the hang of it. “I started to seeing products, customers, and their hairdos. They started to get registered in my brain. After a year and a half, I could make orders based on what was purchased by a regular customer, anticipating future sales.”
As an employee, she had a rule of her own making. She felt responsible for the products that she ordered, so when an item is ordered, she sold it on the same day. Like fighting a war, she worked 12-15 hours a day every day since 2019. For two years, Christmas was her only day-off. “I learned things that would have taken five years, or even ten years, for others in just two years. If you do not use the knowledge learned from the tough years immediately, wouldn’t it be wasteful? So, I thought do it now when I’m on top of the game.”
Then, she opened her own store. Although she failed on her first attempt, the experience she obtained was fruitful. She wants to share the fruit: Ms. Heo’s very personal sales strategy.
Sales Tip #1 “I wore them myself.”
Ms. Heo tries to wear all sort of products from wigs to eyelashes. That’s how you get to know them. As it happens, she often attends customers wearing the makeup and wig she tried that day. There are many fun episodes related to it. Many customers ask, “what happened to the other girl?”, and sometimes they complain about her to her, “I was here the other day, and the one wearing a red wig was not nice.” Then, I’d just sympathize with her and say “I will talk to her!” Sometimes I jokingly say, “she was a new girl but got fired because of her attitude.” (laughter)
Sales Tip #2 Start the day with social media
In a slow morning, she’s still busy with trying a new look on her and film the process which is edited and uploaded to social media. She runs Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Tiktok accounts, and customers have looked for a product that they saw on her video. Use the QR code below to see her video clips.
Sales Tip #3 From head to toe, total advice
“When a customer tries a wig, she starts wondering what clothes and makeup to wear with it. I tend to give them additional information such as matching eyelashes, eyeshadows, and lipsticks and what types of clothes go well with it. Then, they say, “I have that dress” or “I have that cosmetics product”, and they would later come and give a great feedback about that recommendation. In fact, I would never try to sell an item if it doesn’t look good on my customers. I would give a frank opinion about it. They can buy them if they like but I wouldn’t if I were them.”
Sales Tip #4 Most powerful weapon is communication
Ms. Heo emphasizes the relationship building with the customers. “When you are friends, you take care of each other. Even if you don’t speak English very well, you can speak freely to a friend, so the communication gets smoother. If you know a person, you will also get to know her friend, family, and neighbors.”
How to deal with younger customers Ms. Heo sends a friend request on Facebook whenever she learns of a customer’s name. In the previous store, she made 100 Facebook friends in a 6-month period. You can use the Facebook friend list as a cheat sheet when you forget a customer’s name. Just quickly search and call her name confidently.
How to deal with older customers Ask them about their family. One day, they will bring daughters and grandchildren to the store. Ms. Heo tries to be extra nice to the elderly. If you win a grandma, you will get multiple generations of customers in addition to reducing incidents of teenager shoplifting.
Sympathize through music Although she gave up on her musical career, music never left her life. Nowadays, she loves listening to worship songs. Customers enjoy them too. They would sing along and leave the store blessed. “I tell them come back to be blessed again.” Music can also be a great communication tool for a business.
Sales Tip #5 If you don’t have an item they look for, suggest a substitute.
Even a mega-sized store can’t carry all the items from all existing brands. It is unavoidable that some would come and ask for an item from the brand that you don’t carry.
She goes all the way to suggest an alternative. “We don’t have that, but this is pretty good. It’s a new product. Still, most customers would be less than excited about it. So, I lead them to buying it by giving a good deal, like 25% off, and when the customer likes it, they will convert to the brand I carry.”
Meaning of “Must Have Beauty & More”
In response to the last question, the story behind the store’s name, she showed a business logo that she designed herself. An Afro image surrounds the wording “Must Have”. She added Beauty & More because she wanted to offer beauty to anyone who’s interested in beauty, not just African American consumers. In addition, it aligns with the virtue of finding an inner beauty.
“A customer comes, and she has a bad bold spot. She is visibly saddened by that, and after finding a wig that looks great on her, her facial expression changes. That is as if I’m offering medicine for mind. I love when that happens. It is simply selling beauty products, but it aspires to be a business that brings out hidden beauty and confidence of a customer. So, beauty & more. We’re selling happiness. That’s what I keep in my mind when dealing with customers.”