40th anniversary of Royal Imex that transformed the hair industry
People alongside Chairman Jhung Jin-Chul
Royal Imex is a lot of ‘firsts’ in the hair industry. ‘First’ means pioneering a new path and writing a new history. In the early 1980s, when synthetic fiber hair products were dominating the industry, Royal Imex, which appeared like a comet in the hair market and provided the basis for the “popularization of real human hair,” and has now reached its age of perplexity. The creativity and frontiership of Royal Imex, which has created numerous ‘firsts’ since its founding, cogwheeled perfectly with Chairman Jhung Jin-Chul’s warm personality and human-centered management style, thus allowing the company to grow rapidly. From the 1990s to the 2000s, it had a heyday of being number one in the industry. Through the vivid voices of the people who have been with Chairman Jin-cheol Jeong for forty challenging years, we will look back on the trajectory of Chairman Chung’s life, and re-examine the meaning of Royal Imex in the history of our beauty industry on its 40th anniversary.
“We’ve endured five or six years of hardship since business started.”
Since the 1960s, Chairman Jhung Jin-Chul, who came to the United States in 1978, had been running a wig company for US trade with his brother in Korea. Royal Imex was the cornerstone for making human hair wigs, which is expensive but profitable, into beauty supply’s flagship product.
In the early 80s, when Royal Imex was founded, synthetic hair wigs were more popular than human hair. Not only was human hair expensive at the time, but human hair wigs were said to be poorly disinfected and antibacterial treated, so the sales were low.
In the mid-1980s, after they had endured five to six years after the establishment, consumers began to look for human hair wigs instead of synthetic wigs. This is because worries about the hygiene of human hair products had decreased as technology developed. In addition, the rise in income level also raised consumers’ standards. The dedication and patience of chairman Chung, who imported and distributed human hair through a Korean wig factory in order to find a new way for the market, finally began to shine.
“We couldn’t sell MICRO YAKY because there weren’t enough”
As the human hair craze began to blow, the Royal Imex began an easy journey. But I wasn’t satisfied with it. We made ceaseless efforts to supply excellent products through endless research and development.
In the 1990s, the development of MICRO YAKY, which most closely resembled the hair of consumers, caused a blast in the market. In those days when there were many silky hair products, ‘MICRO YAKY’, which looks though and rich, became the pronoun of Yaky among African Americans.
What led to the explosive popularity of MICRO YAKY? Although many factors have contributed to its success, the excellence of quality itself was the greatest reason. Yun Young-cheol, who led the heyday of MICRO YAKY in the mid-1990s, conveys the excellence of the quality hidden behind MICRO YAKY as follows.
“Weaving hair lifts are made with two layers by backstitching, but the MICRO YAKY is made with one layer of strong hair and on layer of soft hair. Because soft hair and strong hair were added together, there was an effect of killing two birds with one stone from the perspective of consumers. In other words, it was possible to use the soft and the strong alternately.”
At first, it is said that there was a rejection reaction that the dense crimp of MICRO YAKY was too silky. However, soon after, the merits were known among hairdressers and began to gain popularity. MICRO YAKY later increased the color composition to about 150, and its popularity skyrocketed. Former Managing Director Yoon Young-cheol reminisced the sensational popularity of MICRO YAKY.
“People fell in love with the various colors of the MICRO YAKY, the soft touch, and the other texture hidden in the inner layer. At that time, there was even quarrels between salesmen trying to secure the product.”
The strategy to market high-quality human hair at an affordable price that could be used by general consumers was also on bull’s eye.
Starting pitcher ‘Zury’, finishing pitcher ‘Hollywood’!
Royal Imex launched ‘Hollywood’, a high-end human hair, targeting the high-income class, driving the momentum of MICRO YAKY’s success. Hollywood dominated the luxury human hair market.
At that time, along with Royal Imex’s MICRO YAKY ‘Zury’, Hollywood, the luxury hair brand, is evaluated to have changed the paradigm of the industry by dividing the human hair market. This diversification strategy of products suitable for various classes and ages provided the basis for the hair industry to establish a method of producing and supplying by precisely targeting the tastes of consumers, just like in contemporary times.
In fact, after the popularization of high-end human hair through Hollywood, the ‘Remy’ hair product, which is now a pronoun for high-end human hair, spread to the market along with Hollywood.
Jeong-geun Min, CEO of OK Beauty Supply, who has been running a beauty supply in LA since the 1980s, vividly conveyed the legendary history of Royal Imex.
“After the moderately priced MICRO YAKY started the game and struck the wind at the beginning, the high-quality hair of Hollywood started the game in the second half and finished the game. We have laid the foundation for Remy Hair, the flagship mark of high-end human hair, to appear in the market. We cannot discuss the history of the hair industry without Royal Imex.”
On the other hand, along with the quality of the product being excellent, officials agree that the bold investment in marketing to promote the product played a big part in reaching the unprecedented hits of MICRO YAKY and Hollywood.
<Royal Imex’s first marketing case>
1. Installation of large outdoor billboards in Manhattan, New York
Jung-Hwan Ji, who has been in charge of sales and R&D for 15 years since joining in 1995, vividly remembers the another-level marketing cases of Chairman Jhung Jin-Chul.
“I suggested to the chairman that it would be good to do an outdoor advertisement in Manhattan, New York, and he allowed it without asking for details. It was a time when I never imagined that an advertisement of a Korean hair company would be on a billboard in the middle of Manhattan.”
2. Mainstream black beauty magazine cover advertisement
In addition, Jung-Hwan Ji recalled, “The long-term advertisement on the back cover of <Black Hair Magazine>, which was a magazine specializing in black hair, attracted great attention.”
“Up to that time, I couldn’t think that I could advertise a product in the black mainstream media, but the chairman boldly broke that stereotype.”
3. Held the Hollywood Show, a large beauty show
In the 2000s, Royal Imex was famous for hosting the “Hollywood Show,” a large-scale beauty show in Los Angeles for beauty school students who dream of becoming beauty experts. Each beauty school was asked to participate in the hair contest, and a scholarship was given to the winners.
How could such a big event be held? Former Managing Director Yoon Young-cheol said, “Because the chairman originally sponsored scholarships often, he was able to happily permit such event planning.”
4. First participation in Bronner Bros. Beauty show
It is now common for all hair companies to go to black beauty shows, but it was the Royal Imex that took the lead. They were the first Korean American company to participate in the famous black beauty show <Bronner Bros. Show>. Former Managing Director Yoon Young-cheol recalled the time like this.
“The Royal Adviser, Professor of Black Beauty School, suggested that we go to the Bronner bros show, a famous black beauty show in Atlanta. When we went to the show, thousands of African Americans participated, and the show was popular. Throughout the show, there were only me and two female staff members that were Asians. At first, people looked at us strangely, but soon they showed great interest in MICRO YAKY.”
“I’m too old to wear pitch-black wigs!” – the numbers of hair color Increase to 150
Among the things that Royal Imex has contributed to the development of the hair industry, one is the achievement of diversifying hair product colors from only 5~6(up until the 1990’s) to 150. Hundreds of standardized hair colors that are commonly used in the hair industry right has their starting point at Royal Imex.
Young-cheol Yoon, who joined the company in 1995 and worked on diversifying hair color to more than 150, tells the story behind the decision to increase hair color.
“After joining Royal Imex, I did a market research in retail, and a grandmother buying a black hair wig said something:”
“I’m too old to wear black wigs like this!”
“At the time, there were only five or six basic hair colors. Therefore, we thought we should make a variety different colors for each age group.”
Until then, black human hair was mass-produced with little diversity. It was a great adventure to create and market products of various colors. The factory side showed great difficulty as well.
In order to overcome this difficulty, Royal Imex chose a strategy to gradually increases the number of colors one by one while looking at the market reaction, rather than a quick method of suddenly increasing the number of colors by dozens of colors at once. Thus, they gradually expanded the market while securing the market sales.
Royal Imex launched new color products to suit customers’ various ages and tastes. Each time, the market’s reaction was hot. As customers respond well, retail sales naturally also increased.
However, as the colors continued to expand, new problems arised that need to be solved. When announcing a new product to the retail store, they couldn’t keep up the hassle of creating a new product catalog each time.
The idea that came up was to use a color copier. They decided to take a photo of a model wearing a new color MICRO YAKY, copy it with a color copier, and distribute 10 to 20 copies at retail stores. At the time, when color copiers were not common, they were very expensive, about 50,000 dollars per unit.
Former Managing Director Yun suggested to Chairman Chung that they should purchase and use the expensive color copier.
“Then I should. Buy it right away!”
Chairman Chung allowed it without hesitation.
“At that time, Chairman Chung was planning to replace a very much used car that was more than a decade old, but he was willing to sacrifice it for a color copier.”
The butterfly effect of cardboard packaging revolutionizes the overall hair industry!
Another pioneering achievement that Royal Imex has contributed to the development of the hair industry is the luxurious change of the hair product package. Until the mid-1990s, hair was sold in yellow poly bags, but Royal Imex introduced the current form of packaging with cardboard wrapping.
“I went to the beauty supply, and there were about 100 yellow polybags with hair in the box with dust piled up. When a customer wanted an item, store workers went through the pile and handed it over to the customer.” – from an interview with Former Executive Director Young-cheol Yoon
Change comes with pain, and there was a big backlash from beauty supply retailers for products that were initially packaged with cardboard. The reason was that because the store was not as big as it is now, it was impossible to display hair products with cardboard that take up a lot of space. Jeon Jung-hwan Ji, who was visiting the sales site at the time, remembers that time.
“Imagine how dissatisfied they must have been, in a cramped store, with only 50-60 items in a place that would have displayed 100 (without the carboard packaging).”
Time was on their side. Eventually, as time passed, customers began to repeatedly purchase well-packaged items. Eventually, other companies naturally followed.
The cardboard hair package became a butterfly effect and changed the entire hair industry. First, as the volume of products increased, all warehouses in hair factories and wholesalers grew. The beauty supply area also began to increase. Moreover, the print shop that prints cardboard also enjoyed a new boom. Not only the hair industry, but also related industries had a synergistic effect.
In the early 2000s, with the release of MICRO YAKY, the diversification of colors, and the high-end packaging, Royal Imex rose to the top of the hair industry.
“In the history of the hair industry, the cause of the growth of the human hair market are often cited as three driving forces,” said Young Lee, Managing Director of Royal Imex. “The first is the release of MICRO YAKY, the second is the Remy Hair boom, and the third is the popularization of lace wigs. The common factor of these three growths is that the unit price of the product has been increased as the quality was improved. As these high-end products were sold in large quantities, sales increased dramatically. In the history of the hair industry, the status of Royal Imex, which laid the foundation for the high-end and popularization of human hair, cannot be but huge.”
Our big brother with a warm heart!
As such, Royal IMEX’s achievements in upgrading the hair industry to the next level were based on Chairman Jin-cheol Jeong’s outstanding determination and warm humanity, and people around him agree.
Managing Director Lee Young, who is currently in charge of the company’s overall business with Chairman Chung, conveys the owner’s management philosophy as follows.
“He thoroughly practices the so-called “transfer of authority” that is possible only in large companies. In other words, each department is guaranteed the autonomous discretion over personnel and budgets because he trusts them.”
In the hair industry, there are many presidents that were Royal Imex workers. These are the people who set out to start a business wanting to follow the success story of Royal Imex. Currently, at least 15 hair company owners are known to have been from Royal Imex. The nickname “Royal Academy” or “Academy of the Hair Industry” contains truth. Chairman Chung took special care of the employees who started business after leaving the company. He spared all the tangible or intangible support he could. It was natural to confess that he was a big brother to junior managers.
“When I left the company, my wife was pregnant with a late baby, so he maintained my medical insurance until the birth. How many bosses keep health insurance for employees who have already left the company?”
There have always been many people next to Chairman Jhung. He conveys his heart to people. He is a person who is humble and has a good and gentle charisma.
“At one time, there was a malicious rumor that ‘the company was out for sale’. Those rumors usually start from inside or from people around them. He just laughed and went over it generously.”
“Chairman Jhung, whether the customer is big or small, comes out of the door and bow 90 degrees to say hello.”
“In one word, he is a warmhearted person.”
“He is thorough in his work, but he is generous to the people around him. His story of actively arranging loans to a bank where he is chairman of the board for a competitor in the industry is famous.”
Chung is economically successful, but he is an average, easygoing type of person who doesn’t keep his distance with his employees.
“I remember him boiling instant noodles in the office during lunch. Unless there is a special appointment outside, he enjoys sitting face to face with the staff at the staff dining room.”
Chairman Chung is famous for his wide circle of acquaintances. What’s his secret to managing people? Many people around him say that he is never insincere, and makes people feel the warm affection that comes from the heart.
“He has only seen my two sons only once, but he remembers each name and asks hello. You can’t remember those things just because you’re smart. At my son’s wedding, he even wrote a handwritten letter to congratulate.” – Hyung-yoon Park, CEO (Chicago Touch of Beauty Supply)
“At the time of the protest against the death of George Floyd, my store was looted, and he sent me a handwritten letter of condolence. Writing handwritten letters is not common these days.” – Youngjae Lee, CEO (Pennsylvania Hair Town Beauty Supply)
“In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, I asked about 10 beauty wholesalers to help the flood victims who had fled in Houston and Dallas. At that time, Royal Imex sent the most manpower and supplies. In addition, we do donation events to the black community at the end of the year or every holiday, and he always provides generous support.” Jenny Suh CEO (Dallas Jenny Beauty Supply)
Chairman Chung is a true manager and respected senior, and a pioneer who opened a new chapter in the hair industry.
Leading the World Federation of Overseas Korean Traders Associations (World-OKTA) and the World Korean Business Convention!
There are achievements that cannot be left out of the footsteps of Chairman Chung’s life. It is the establishment of the World Korean Business Convention and upgrading World-OKTA’s status as the President of the World Korean Trade Association.
Beauty Master Park Hyeong-kwon, who is currently the president of the Southeastern Korean Trade Association in the US and the World-OKTA Atlanta branch, said, “Chairman Chung was inaugurated as the 11th chairman of World-OKTA in 2000 and received a subsidy of 500 million won from the Korean government for the first time.” He also said, “It is Chairman Chung who prepared the opportunity to upgrade the status of World Octa, which was not famous then.”
In addition, Chairman Jhung promoted the “World Korean Business Convention”, a global network of Korean businessmen around the world, when he was the chairman of World-OKTA in 2000. He overcame numerous difficulties and finally conducted the 1st World Korean Business Convention in Seoul, 2002, where 968 compatriots from around the world gathered. This conference has great historical significance. Since then, the World Korean Business Convention has been held every year, and as of 2020, the 19th convention has been held, with about 4,000 participants from all over the world.
Tomorrow is a day to look forward to!
Royal Imex has a reputation for relentless efforts to pioneer new markets with unique products trend with the sense of mission leading the industry rather than complying with the market. But is it because I pursue originality too much? In the 2010s, some say, “The growth has been stagnating somewhat amid rapidly changing market trends and fierce price competition.”
However, the beauty supply industry diagnoses, “From 3-4 years ago, various styles are released to suit the trend and products with price competitiveness are quickly released, so the old glory is gradually recovering.” David Kim, director of Jenny Beauty, a large beauty supply in Dallas, said, “Recently, the shoulder-length Fashion Twist products from Zury are good.” He also said, “There is still a high awareness of Hollywood and Zury among customers, so if they continue to strive for this trend, we expect the future of Royal Imex to be bright.” As he said, many people who admire the character of Chairman Chung are hoping for a splendid return of Royal Imex’s living history and glorious legend.