“I want to be a ‘Proof of Hope’ for the Salespeople” Soo Lee, Director, The One

“I want to be a ‘Proof of Hope’ for the Salespeople”

Soo Lee, Director, The One

She got into sales at an age when most people are planning to retire. And after 15 years of relentlessly traveling for sales, her energy can overwhelm most salespeople. Director “Soo,” a veteran saleswoman at The One, who says she goes wherever her customers are, says she’s happy to be at work every day and shares her vision as the only female salesperson in the jewelry industry.


Director Soo Lee visited BNB for an interview.



Doing sales for a living

When asked how she got into sales in her 50s, she says it was because she was “blessed with having little.” Soo shares her story of how she went from being someone’s daughter, a wife and a mother for half her lifetime to experiencing failures and becoming a salesperson to make a living in a consistently cheerful voice.

“I called companies crossing off the lines on the job posting section in the newspapers trying to land a job, and a general merchandise company gave me an interview. It was a wholesaler in Philadelphia, where I was living at the time, and the owner watched me for a week and said, ‘why don’t you do what I’m recommending instead of organizing merchandise and taking cash registers?’ And then he gave me the keys to a cargo van and told me to drive to Baltimore. I’d never been to Baltimore before, let alone driving something other than a sedan, but I was like, ‘Okay!’ and I just went for it. My legs were actually shaking so badly that I couldn’t step on the gas, but I somehow made it.”

The combination of a boss who discovered a potential and a late-comer’s fearless attitude opened the door to sales. In fact, the company didn’t even have a sales team until then. “They gave me a few addresses in the navigation system to practice driving, and then they gave me a bag full of stuff and a list of stores and told me to try selling it. That was the beginning.”

It was a humble beginning, but she was confident. I was sure I could sell it all if I just got there. In fact, it’s what the younger generation calls “confidence based on nothing”. She was overconfident because she knew little about sales.

“I was like ‘it would be easy to sell something for 30% of the retail price’, but it turned out to be a hard sell. ‘it’s so cheap, why don’t they buy it?’ I couldn’t understand. I didn’t know that retail business owners are always buying them at 30% of the retail price. And they kept asking me to give a quarter off a piece, and I was thinking about dropping by a bank and getting some change to give them quarters. I didn’t realize at the time that if I gave a 25 cents discount per piece, it would cost me $25 for 100 pieces. That’s how little I knew about the sales at the time.”

But it was her customers who taught her and gave her courage. “I wasn’t really playing a game because I knew too little to start with, so my customers were rather supportive and informative to me. And I think they gave me orders because they felt sorry. I was there for three or four years, and there were a lot of people I really appreciated.”


Jewelry opened up the real sales world for me

She learned the basics of sales at a general merchandise company and moved to C&L. She is grateful to the company for introducing her to the jewelry specialty and allowing her to make mistakes and learn from them. Living in Philadelphia and traveling nine hours one-way to North Carolina, she never felt like she was struggling. For her, sales gave her a guaranteed income to live freely without anyone’s help. It was fun, and she enjoyed untethered freedom to travel to new places.

But after five years, she began to feel burned out. Part of it was the exhaustion that comes with doing the same thing over and over again, but there was a change in her mind about her clients.

“I think I might have reached a tipping point. After five years of working on the same products and the same tasks, I was exhausted, demoralized, and questioning whether I could continue to do this. Another change was that I’ve started to put myself in the shoes of my customers. I realized that customers are the people I see most often while on the road, so I started to feel like they’re my friends and family.”

Earlier in her career, she was more focused on selling a lot and didn’t think much about what happens to the goods she sold. When a customer says, “Soo, this stuff isn’t selling anymore,” it was easy to say back, “well, it’s selling everywhere else.” But feeling a connection with the customer made her question the way she had been doing business.

“I realized one day that I’m a very selfish person. I always say this sells well, but I never sold a single piece on the retail floor. In fact, what the customers are saying is what they are experiencing. So I started to care about what happens after the sale. Is this item getting sold out? Will it be too soon and place a burden on them if I come visit today? That’s when I started curating and paying attention to customer’s business so that the products they buy would sell well in their store, instead of just pushing the same list of goods to everyone. That’s when I started to feel better. When the goal of sales shifted from selling a lot to making my customers sell a lot, it gave me a purpose.

But there was a limit to changing the way her company has been doing business for years overnight. That’s when a startup jewelry company called The One reached out to her.

Director Soo is answering questions at the BNB office.


The One gave a hope

It was 2020 when she joined The One. When on-the-road sellers told her they were starting a company during the pandemic, when all businesses were struggling, she had high expectations. “How cool and amazing it is to start a business during such a difficult time. So when they asked me if I’d like to join them, I said thank you very much!”

A fresh start at a new company. She already had a decade of experience and a customer-first sales mindset. And she got a great group of people to take on the journey together.

“What’s great about The One is that they value the relationship with their customers above all things. Everyone who joined The One, including the owners, has experience in the beauty industry. Because we know this industry inside out, we can provide quality service to our customers and create a win-win situation. And because our sales team doesn’t change faces as often as other companies, we can focus more on localized services.”

This has allowed The One to establish a strong presence in the jewelry industry in just three years. Director Soo also credits a wide variety of quality jewelry tailored to customer needs.

“In this day and age, the only thing you can sell is the quality of your product. Even the same looking piece of jewelry can have subtle differences when it’s made by The One. We pay attention to the smallest details to cater to the customers’ tastes. Starting from the design of the products to the labels that are attached to their jewelry, we strive to make a difference.”

When I asked her about new releases from The One, she gave a strong presentation on the spot.

I want to bring your attention to the new Moment bracelets and necklaces. It’s a great summer outfit accent, and it’s so classy that you can throw it on effortlessly like when you are wearing a solid white t-shirt. The bracelets come in 12 variations of gold and silver and the necklaces in 12 variations of gold, and each come with different accents to stand out with their own appeal, and the exquisite finish and design make it a great-value-for-money jewelry.”


Moment Bracelets and Necklaces by The One



A salesperson before a woman

There’s an old saying that sums up Director Soo’s approach to sales. The saying goes, “a trader goes ten miles for a penny.”She’ll go wherever a new customer calls.

“I do business somewhat wild in a way. It’s not about planning ahead and making routes more efficient. I’m really grateful that someone called me, and if I have a new customer in a new turf, I might sow a seed in that area for all other sales reps to grow business there.”

I wondered if she might have had her own struggles as a saleswoman in the traditionally male-dominant part of the beauty supply industry, and she gave an answer that I didn’t expect.

I’m just a salesperson, and I don’t think about whether I’m a woman or a man. If that’s what you’re concerned about, how can you have this job? I would get a job traditionally for a woman. I actually received a lot more praise and encouragement as the only saleswoman in the jewelry industry. Beauty supply managers who are women often tell me they envy me. They ask me, ‘Do you think I can do what you do?’ And I say, ‘Why not?!'”

Director Soo wants to be a testament to hope for people who are afraid that they’re too old or don’t know what to do next and said, “People like me, who don’t have much, can do something like this and not be a burden to anyone.” Her dream was already more than half realized.

At Duke Gardens in North Carolina. She loves flowers and enjoys stargazing.


No retirement plan!

It was the company’s understanding that allowed her to work past the hurdle of age let alone her gender. Although she has the title of director, she is referred to as “Boss Soo” within the company.

“My age has never been an issue at work. They say, ‘Boss Soo, feel free to work as long as you want to.’ That’s what gives me strength and courage.”

When I asked her if she could see herself retiring at the company, she answered confidently. “I don’t think about retirement at all (laughs). I don’t mean that I’m going to do it until I become a burden. I mean that I want to work like I’m on fire and healthy till the end. I’ve been able to stay healthy because of my work. If I were better off, I wouldn’t be working. So that lack of wealth, which is considered a downside, became a blessing in disguise for me. I wake up in the morning excited and happy to be able to work at this age. So I want to be a part of The One as cheerful and strong as one can be, and as long as I can.”


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