A Female Leader with Warm Charisma and Humbleness
President Eunkyung Lee of Women’s Association of the National Federation of Beauty Suppliers
Female store owners in the beauty supply industry have made strides in the past decade. At the frontier, President Eunkyung Lee is currently serving as the President of Women’s Association of the National Federation of Beauty Suppliers (“WA-NFBS”). She became a well-seasoned veteran after 20 years of running a beauty supply store despite her late start of the business at her advanced age of 45. She expresses her hope to help others who are in need as her small dream has come true after a tough time she managed through with assistances from immigrants who were there before her. We will shed light on her leadership to feel her warm but tough heart and to know how President Eunkyung Lee leads the WA-NFBS.
Please briefly introduce yourself.
Hello. I’m Eunkyung Lee, a beauty supply store owner and the President of Women’s Association of the National Federation of Beauty Suppliers. I’ve been reading BNB Magazine to gather various resources and come across many interview articles covering beauty supply insiders. Now, I’m doing the interview myself, and I’m pretty excited. I was also worried that my interview might do more harm than good to the Women’s Association.
Please briefly explain what is the Women’s Association.
The Association is an organization affiliated to the NFBS, created to promote the professional education of female business owners, to exchange of industry insights, social networking, and so on.
Why was the Women’s Association created in addition to the NFBS and how they differ?
The Association started as a division of the Board of the Directors of the National Beauty Supply Dealers Association, which became the NFBS later. In 2010, at the Board and the General Meetings of the NFBS the creation of the Women’s Association of the NFBS was decided in order to encourage female participation and take advantage of independent promotion of causes, facing the increase of the number of female business owners and the limitations as a division of the Board among other issues.
What is your secret behind becoming the President of the Women’s Association?
One of the things I felt while living in America was that Koreans tend to be opinionated because they are smart. In that kind of atmosphere, making social connections would not be easy. For me, I put myself below others in making connections. A unilateral control does hardly bring many hands together. It is more important to listen to others carefully than expressing 100% of my opinion. I want to be a leader who supports others in the backstage than clinging to the title of the President.
Does the Association have a pending project?
We have planned many of our own projects from education to other areas in conjunction with the NFBS for the NFBS Trade Show, but they are canceled due to the COVID-19. For now, we have opened and expanded a group Kakao chatting room to promote exchange of information and networking, to disseminate information about beauty supply business, daily life hacks, information about EIDL and PPP loan and other coronavirus-related relief, and for fundraising for stores who suffered damages from the riots, and so on.
Many members of the Association must be working moms. How do they balance their work and life?
I think the answer is in the things that everyone knows but hard to act on.
First, there should be a lot of conversation within a family. Regardless of whether they are new to America or not, if your family talks a lot within, you are likely to solve domestic issues easily. On the other hand, a family without communication suffers from not knowing what other family members think.
Second, there should be consideration among family members. Children have stresses from the language barrier and school works while parents have worries over the livelihood and the anxiety of uncertain future. There are burdens that are tough to carry alone. You can encourage each other through close communication and be considerate to each other, which would build a better family. A person from a better family should be more active and progressive at workplace as well.
What are the requirements to become a member of the WA-NFBS?
If you are a woman and work in the beauty supply industry in the United States, you are welcomed to join.
Is there anything you would like to brag about the WA-NFBS?
Although we have been around for only about ten years, we are in close contact with each other due to the tight bond created through working in the same field and sharing common interests. There are many members who actively participate in the WA-NFBS’s missions and projects as if they would for their families. That is why we have a very active organization.
What are the hardship you experience running a retail store nowadays?
First, we have shortage of essential supplies. From hair care to skincare products, the supplies are running low. Especially, electronics, due to the shutdown of manufacturers, are often out of stock despite the high demand.
Second, we have customers not wearing masks. As coronavirus tests are inadequate, we do not know who carries the virus. Meanwhile, some of our customers, especially those younger customers, are not wearing masks despite the recent warnings of widespread of the virus, making us nervous.
What is the importance of women’s role in today’s beauty supply?
Currently, more than 80% of the beauty supply customers are probably women, and 10% of the rest may be males who are running errands for their female family members. Most of the products we carry are in fact for women or to be used by women for the family. The majority of the customers who visit our shop look for me instead of my husband. Let me briefly speak ill of my husband. (laughter) My husband hates being in the wig section. Especially, when he is helping senior customers, he is very much bothered. As you can see, women’s place in the beauty supply is pretty significant.
Why do you think now we have more female business owners than we had ten years ago?
I do not have a firsthand experience of the early days of the beauty supply business, but I heard it was mostly a small family business. Most of them were first generation immigrants, so many took it as a life-or-death venture. In doing so, Koreans established a firm footing in the industry. However, nowadays, many first generation immigrants have retired from the business, and one-and-a-half and second generation immigrants are incoming. Due to the characteristics of the beauty supply retail, smaller stores tend to be managed by women. When it is owned by a married couple, more and more stores are run by the wives.
Do you have any funny or tough experiences while running the business or the Association?
We opened our first store at a neighborhood which we learned later to be as dangerous as downtown.
A Monday morning, I was tending the store alone. A repeat customer who visited our shop to purchase t-shirts almost every day asked, “where’s your husband?” Unsuspectingly, I answered “he’s at home.” He pulled out a pistol all of sudden. I still get my hair stand on end whenever I think about that day. After the robber left, I was in shock and could not tell if I should call 911 or 119. The robber returned to the store for the surveillance tape, but I was already evacuated to a store next door. He noticed the beautician at the neighboring store calling the cops and ran away. If I remained at the store, nobody knows how it would have gone.
In the African American community, there was a widespread perception that Koreans give up easily or do not show if a criminal trial is delayed. Instead of the perception that Koreans do not speak English and are helpless, I wanted to show them that Koreans are smart and strong willed. I participated in every proceeding for the criminal trial of the robber, even if I had to close the shop, till the verdict was delivered after about a year. The robber was sentenced to 18 years in prison. My husband and I thought that we should provide the best service for the customers, but we should also defend fellow Koreans’ rights. So, we did our best to seek the justice.
What is the biggest hardship for a woman to run a store?
Being a small-to-mid sized retail store, we receive some discriminatory treatments from wholesales. For example, there is a big gap when I call the wholesale for a problem we experienced and when my husband does. I have received boxes of unpopular products for which I have not placed orders after I called the wholesale. There were many incidents that my husband came to help and settled the issue. It helps that my husband always kept me company even for things I can handle myself.
To your members and families, who is President Eunkyung Lee?
To the members, I am like their neighbor or a hardworking president with a heart of a sister. To the family, I am a mom who prepares delicious dishes always. (Laughter)
How do you forecast the future of beauty supply?
As long as the human race does not go extinct, the beauty industry will not decline. There is always consideration as to how well you adapt and go ahead of the pack. Although the impact of online retail will be felt, African American customers prefer buying products in person, so I think the potential is still big. It is what I am grateful about.
Can you give an advice to all female business owners in the beauty supply industry?
We can perceive as much as we work hard. We can grow as much as we perceive. Despite the tough situation of today, if you do not give up, you have not failed. It is not over till you give up. Our hard work will not let us down. I want all of us to taste the sweet fruit of our success.
Personally, I believe the Lord has given us the power to overcome all the hardship and struggle and prepared everything for my family to overcome hardship and have a blessed life. I wish the Lord’s blessing to BNB readers, WA-NFBS members, and everyone in the beauty supply industry.