A battlefield for me, a playground for guests?!
Jenny Suh, President of Jenny Beauty Supply
The Jenny Beauty Supply Super Center, which opened nine years ago in Dallas, Texas, boasts 55,000 square feet of stores. Who is the head of Jenny Beauty, which has secured four more branches including the Super Center? Although several managers participate in Jenny to expand the business, at the center of it all is Jenny Suh, the symbol and practical leader of the store. Jenny is the central executive of the five Jenny Beauties.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, BNB conducted a two-hour video call interview instead of a visiting interview to hear her sincere story.
Learning the beauty industry with only one employee
The first person to lead her into the beauty industry was her brother Suh Yoon-kyo. Suh Yoon-kyo, now a CPA worker in Dallas, started the beauty supply business at BIG-T bazaar in the early 1980s. He jumped into the industry when there were few beauty supplies run by Koreans in Dallas.
“My brother was one of the earliest members of the Dallas area beauty supply. After graduating from college and studying in Japan, I first came to America in 1989. I didn’t even know what beauty supply was when I started learning about it from him.”
She was at first perplexed by her brother’s Spartan style of training.
“My brother gave me a key to the store and had me commute to the store that was an hour away. The store had to be run only by one black employee and me. That period was six months. Isn’t this too much for a person who just arrived at America? I thought it was malicious. For real (laugh).”
However, she said the six months were a period of bone and flesh.
“When I was a kid, I was very mean to my brother, and I first thought that six months was a punishment for bullying him. However, my English and product knowledge improved rapidly during the six months when I was running a store almost alone. Three months later, my brother was surprised to hear my English fluency.”
Going to the beauty supply store as if it was a friend’s house
During the interview with Jenny Beauty Supply last summer, BNB overheard an impressive conversation.
When a customer visiting the store made a phone call and was asked,
“Where are you?”
The customer naturally answered, “I’m at Jenny’s now.”
Jenny beauty has established itself as a special place for guests, enough to use the store name as a common name. Behind it was Jenny Suh’s hard work.
President Jenny thinks of the workplace as a “battlefield”. This is because the process of making each business site successful is a survival that has to be fought fiercely and survive.
“To compete in a battle, one should have as many bullets as possible. I think the workplace is a battlefield and bullets are knowledge of business, so every time I grow each workplace, I study a lot about products and consumers.”
After experiencing the industry, she went further from grasping products and consumers, and ended up ‘diving’ into the sea of black community. She decided to go directly into their community.
Since she lived in Korea for about 25 years and came to the US for the first time, she was afraid at first like other Koreans, but the process of becoming a member of the community was much smoother than she thought. That was because her “sincerity” worked. She sincerely tried to reach out to them, and before long, racial or cultural differences became very small obstacles before her heart.
“Truth and sincerity works on the heavens. Why won’t it work on people?” Jenny said. “I treated customers like true friends, and they started to treat me sincerely as well.”
First, she stayed in the store and got acquainted with customers and shared professional knowledge to people who were having difficulty choosing products. Customers who were regulars became close friends and those friends invited her to community events, which helped her build new connections.
“In the early days of my business, I spent almost every weekend with my black friends. It is no exaggeration to say that 20 of the past 30 years have been spent with them. From bridal showers to weddings and birthday parties, I used to spend my time as part of the community.”
Through her efforts, the battlefield-workplace has become a “playground” for customers.
Black customers who came to think of Jenny as a friend began to recognize Jenny Beauty as a playground where they could go to play whenever they wanted to meet a friend, and from then on, President Jenny became a symbol of the store. Of the numerous customers who visit the five branches, only few do not know her.
Tina Mallet, a black woman who now works as her public relations manager, was also originally one of her guests.
Tina explained that she considers Jenny to be very special.
“I often met Jenny at the store as a guest, and after a lot of chatting with her, we became friends. As we went to many community events together, I came to think of Jenny as a very special person. It’s because I’ve never seen a beauty supply owner who understands black community culture so well. Jenny is very good at communicating with customers to the extent that I would like to show you how great she is if not for the pandemics. Customers who visit this place come here because Jenny works here. There’s no other reason. Jenny is the icon of the store.”
Before she knew it, CEO Jenny’s cell phone had the contact information of more than 2,000 precious friends. Among them, a number of friends grew to be leaders of the black community. The precious connections she has built up within the black community have become the biggest foundation for her to become a successful businesswoman.
“Sometimes my friends call first and tell me that there is a good store location opening. They provide information that only locals can know and actively help. Each and every one of these can be a strong support for a new store to succeed.”
Legacy of “failure” for future generations
Jenny Beauty has been doing business in the region for a long time, but she has no fear of changing. This is because she believes that managers should communicate with young employees with an open-minded attitude.
She accepts the ideas of employees as much as possible and tries to incorporate them into the business. This is because she thinks that the experience of young people attempting to do different things is valuable enough to be tried.
“No matter how much I have worked here for 30 years, times are changing rapidly. In line with that, since a few years ago, we have deliberately hired a lot of young people and put them into our workplaces. Once a week, I meet with all the managers, and I try to hear their ideas with little to no opinion there.”
“80 to 90% of the ideas aren’t feasible, but I give them a chance to try it out 100%. Isn’t it my role to create an environment where you can experiment with ideas freely? Even if it fails, I can cover for them. When will they try that if it isn’t now? I think this valuable experience will be a great asset for young people in the future.”
Her “Infinite Challenge” is not over yet
“Isn’t it good to have a dream? I don’t know anything else, but I think I have more passion than anyone else.”
Although she was at the end of a long interview, she didn’t show any sign of being tired and explained her dreams that she had not yet achieved.
“I have five dreams now, (laughs) too many. My dream I want to talk about now is to become a politician. I want to do politics for black people.”
The reason she dreams of politics is that she wants to take care of the black community that established politicians do not care for.
“It breaks my heart every time I see an underdeveloped black neighborhood still neglected from 30 years ago. I want to become a city council member and change everything. I’m not very strong, but I think it’s possible if everyone joins forces. It’s a must-have goal.”
She also described the saxophone, Chloe, which she plays these days, as another dream.
“Saxophone is more than a hobby, it is my life. Her name is Chloe (holds a picture on the screen), and I don’t think I can live without her. I’m aiming to get a grand prize at an amateur saxophone competition. I think it will happen within 5 years. It’s only been 4 years since I started, but I’ve been practicing as much as anyone else has done for 20 years.”
Service and donation along with music is her ultimate goal.
“My last dream is to share the joy with as many people as possible, holding a saxophone over the age of 60 and going to a shelter or nursing home regularly to perform,” she said.