A 2nd Generation Executive Manager Who Dreamed of Becoming a Firefighter
Hair Zone. Inc. Executive Manager, Louis Choi
Hair Zone. Inc. Executive Manager, Louis Choi
In the 10 years that he has been with the company, he has made his way from the Warehouse to the Research and Development department. A young businessman with a humble heart who builds meaningful relationships and reaches out to those in need. Making products that make customers happy, his sincerity is felt in every product. Let us listen to the past, present, and future of a man who has overcome hardship and challenges as he worked his way up to inheriting the company his grandfather and parents have built.
What is your sentiment toward the business your grandfather and parents have built?
The beauty business is very unique and has a lot of great qualities our predecessors have built. Among those, I believe business relationships are the most important element. It is the responsibility of the next generation to maintain and uphold these relationships as it is the core of our business. Especially in today’s fast-paced society, businesses and its operations must be able to adapt and be flexible. A business is like a living organism, one that grows and changes to survive.
Do you have any special memories of your childhood?
When I was young, my parents kept business and family separate. There was no business talk around the house when they were home with my sisters and me. In middle school, I worked part time at Hair Zone on Saturdays doing data entry and cleaning chores but I had no idea the scale of the family business until I officially joined.
How did you come to officially join Hair Zone?
All my life, I knew that my family was running a business. I grew up thinking there would be a chance I would be involved in this business and chose to intentionally avoid it. Initially, I enrolled into college as a business major but changed it in the middle. Nothing interested me so I ended up changing my major back to business. Additionally, I knew how competitive it would be to find a job after graduating.
Around that time, I asked my father if I could return to New York. He responded by saying I should not return and find a job elsewhere. Therefore, I got my real estate license and started a small real estate out in LA. I was visiting home one year for Thanksgiving and my mother asked me how I would feel about coming back home to New York. At the time, I was very hesitant about the decision, but I have no regrets and I am very glad that I chose that path. It has already been 10 years since then
What type of jobs did you predominantly perform in the beginning?
When I first joined, my father wanted me to learn all aspects of the business. He made a training program that had me rotate around each department for 1-2 years. I started off in the warehouse and joined around peak season which was from January to March. This season was very busy with working overtime almost everyday and conducting a lot of manual labor, making me lose more than 15 pounds at the time. This experience was very humbling, and it was a great opportunity to start building relationships with my coworkers and learn about the products firsthand. After the warehouse, I worked at several other departments and eventually ended up in the Research and Development (R&D) department, which I still manage to this day.
Were there any changes to your lifestyle after joining the company?
I experienced a big culture shock when I first joined the company. I could not speak nor understand any Korean so that was a big learning curve for me. Since then, I make sure my attitude towards my job is to stay humble and not feel entitled. When I worked in the warehouse, I tried to be the fastest and most accurate packer. Even when I was cleaning the bathrooms, I wanted to be the best cleaner in the company. My parents taught me that I do not deserve the company just because I am their son. They motivated me to work hard and earn my position.
Was there a specific reason you starting braiding hair on your own?
After working for about three years in the Research and Development department, I thought that obtaining my cosmetology license would be helpful in many ways. To go to Vidal Sasson or even braiding seminars, a license was required. Therefore, I went to LA to attend seminars and to take various braiding classes. This was my first time braiding. Everyone seemed to be taking glances at me and wondering why an Asian man was sitting in the classroom. Most of the students were either African American or Hispanic females. I was the only male in the class.
After finally receiving my license, I was able to take more advanced courses and attend seminars in braiding. I have also had my own hair braided several times to both test out products and attend trade shows. The first time I had my hair braided, my scalp was in a lot of pain. Braiding can be painful, but I believe it depends on the skill level of the stylist. An experienced braider will be able to braid without inducing pain. The best way to understand and appreciate a product is to try it yourself.
You have been doing a lot of presentations at buyer conferences recently but how was your very first presentation?
I traveled around the country last year with our marketing team to give seminars on our new products. I am not a natural public speaker, so I was very nervous the first few times. I received a lot of support and helpful tips from experienced managers which made me more comfortable with presentations. I have realized the key to feeling more confident in giving presentations is lots and lots of practice.
How did you feel after you launched your first product?
My most memorable experience was launching Alexander Remi a few years ago. It was the first project I worked on directly from beginning to end. I remember I visited a beauty supply store in Maryland where a customer purchased the product, and had it installed at the salon in the store. She was really pleased with the finished look and gave me a big hug to show her appreciation. It was such a great feeling that I smiled for a week after that experience.
What was your role in the development of Ruwa?
The overall development of our Ruwa braid product was one of the greatest experiences in my short career. This project started accidentally during a visit to Japan and it took over two years to launch. It was the longest project I have ever worked on, but it gave me opportunities to travel to new places including Nigeria and Bangladesh. I got to create new relationships and make many precious memories. It was a great learning experience and helped us upgrade our development strategies for future products.
How do you predict the hair business will be like in 10 years? Will Hispanic customers be involved?
I believe the hair business will continue to grow over the next 10 years. They say that the beauty industry is one of the few “recession-proof” industries because even during periods of recession or economic downturn, people will still want to look good in order to feel good. It is our responsibility to stay innovative and create new products so the developing markets can continue to grow. Additionally, the Hispanic market already has a significant number of consumers for hair products, but I see even more potential for growth in the future.
Many beauty suppliers have been heavily influenced by the online market in recent years. Do you have any interest in creating an online business?
This is one of the biggest challenges that wholesale companies face. Not only does it impact our business, but it also impacts all retail commerce in general. We’ve been approached by Amazon multiple times about selling our products directly on their site, but our company chose not to for several reasons. I believe our company’s core competency is in product development and marketing. Our company does not operate on handling e-commerce so it would be like setting up a whole new company. Instead, we want to continue focusing on products and marketing to support beauty supply stores to the best of our ability.
Do you have anything you would like to say to your employees and retail store owners?
Everyone at Hair Zone is family to me. They have helped and encouraged me during the tough times and the good times. I feel blessed to work alongside a team that amazes me everyday and I could not be more thankful. I am also learning so much from countless beauty supply owners and managers. Seeing everyone work so diligently, even on the weekends and holidays, motivates me to keep developing better products and become a better company for your business. In addition, I would like to thank the customers for continuously instilling their support and trust in Hair Zone. Thank you to everyone who makes this possible.
Asked 2nd Generation Sunny Kim
BNB Magazine August 2019 ©bnbmag.com