A Passionate and Humorous Humanist
Hair Plus Sales Manager Arex Chang
A man who used to work as a photographer for a certain big company in Korea immigrated to the U.S. and turned into a salesman for a hair company. After joining Hair Plus as a salesman, he was promoted to a manager of sales five and a half years later and is now responsible for not only sales but also training his subordinates. When taking photos of him before the interview, he carefully examines the exposure, sensitivity and shutter speed of the pictures. “I’m sorry I’m being too picky,” he said, but, “I can’t give up my love for photography.” Let’s meet Alex Chang, manager of Hair Plus, who is full of humor and energy.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m 49 and have lived in the states for 11 years. I majored in photography in college. After graduating university at 1998, I worked as a photographer at a PR office of a big company. My career lasted for 11 years until the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. After that, I quitted my life as a contract-based photographer and immigrated to USA and got a job at ‘Hair Plus’. It’s been 7 years in Hair Plus. With the help of the head of this company, I received my green card at my third year at Hair Plus, or 7 years since immigration. I was a photographer in Korea, but I’ve been working as a salesman ever since I set foot on America.
You’ve been a salesman in the US for more than 10 years! Does the job fit well with you?
Well, I first worked as a salesman at a hat retailer and sold hats to various beauty supply companies. At the time my company and I doubted if I could pull off this job because I knew nothing about the local American life. But I pulled it off. The job turned out to fit well. I think because life in USA was hard and lonely, I just enjoyed meeting people. Owners of beauty supply companies became my brothers and sisters. Meeting them and talking with them was comforting and healing. Back then I only had an Employment Visa and I got fired from my former job. If you don’t get a new job within a month, your status becomes illegal. Can you imagine the stress? If I was alone it wouldn’t be such a disaster, but I had kids and a wife, so it worried me. As I met sisters and brothers through sales, I shared my concerns and received a lot of consolation.
How and why did you enter ‘Hair Plus?’
After working at the hat retails company for a moment, I worked at a hair and wig retails company. But you know, if I were to work in the hair sales field, I wanted to work at a bigger company, so in March 2013, I entered Hair Plus as a rank-and-file. I’ve earned the title of Sales manager five and a half years later.
Wow, isn’t five and a half years really fast for a promotion like that?
Yes, it’s a fast promotion(laughs). Hair Plus had more product lines and a much more famous brand name than the company I used to work for, so it was easier for me. In particular, synthetic braids began to become very popular around 2013 and our parent company, Beauty Plus, and our company, Hair Plus, were relatively strong in that area. In short, I was very lucky.
There’s another thing I want to tell you. Hair Plus paid for the application cost for my permanent residency. Most of the other companies make the employee pay it all. But as soon as I joined the company, our President Lee Tae-moo asked the lawyer how much the cost is and paid for the formalities on the spot. I was so grateful that I seriously dedicated myself into work, and because of that my performance stood out, and I got my position of sales manager relatively faster.
What’s charm of being a salesman?
Every bit of effort goes right into your performance. All you must do is work hard yourself. Other jobs require team effort, so your performance can be underestimated. But that doesn’t happen in sales.
After you joined Hair Plus, did the sales record of your first assigned area increase?
No. The sales decreased the first three to four months. It’s a normal thing though, for sales to go down when the salesman is replaced in an area.
How did you make up for the decreased sales?
As I said, fortunately, due to synthetic hair, the company’s sales were booming. The oil crisis had begun, and other companies weren’t able to get their Synthetic braids products in time, but my company prepared for that in advance through an Indonesian factory, so our sales were great. I was able to sell wigs and human hair along with Synthetic hair. Also, I was able to make new clients.
What your sales philosophy?
I personally think salesmen should live by ‘The Three H.’ Three H stands for ‘Humanism’, ‘Hungry spirit’, and ‘Humor.’
‘The Three H’…so what do you mean by ‘Humanism?’
Well, there are tons of companies that sell hair products and every company sells similar items. Therefore, if all the products are similar and they’re all about the same price, which company will people order from? It depends on how well relationships and attachments are formed and how close companies are with the client. In order to form a relationship, it is important to ‘be considerate’, ‘remember’ them, and ‘compliment’ them.
You said it’s important to remember, to compliment, and to be considerate. So how do you do that?
For example, when I was still a newbie, I would record 70’s and 80’s songs in a CD and play it in my client’s car and they would like that. Or I would bring Korean newspapers from Atlanta for clients to read. If my clients were Christian, I would bring recordings of church preaches and say “Would you like to listen? There’s a lot of God’s words in this.” and take interest in them and bring a small gift of two. Then my clients would feel like I treat them in a different way. Or if their kid got into a prestigious university, I’d remember that and say something about it the next time we meet, like “Did your kid move well and adjusting well to school?” They like it when I ask them that. They also like it when I add, “You’re amazing. It isn’t easy to balance your job and raising kids, but you managed well to do both! You’ve really succeeded in your American life.” As a compliment. This way we can create bonds better.
What does the next H, Hungry spirit, mean?
In short, you must be hungry for sales orders. If you achieved your sales goal earlier than expected, don’t stop there. Keep looking for ways to sell more products along with the ones you’ve just sold. That way, you can work much longer. If you were fortunate enough to receive orders without much hassle, don’t go to your hotel to end the day, but keep looking for new potential clients or prepare your next sales order. If your day ends early, think of how you can, ‘find some other potential stores on my way to the hotel.’
The last H is ‘Humor’. Are you good at it?
I’m good at doing an impression of various people. I did impressions of teachers when I was still a student, professors at my university, my commander at the Korean army, CEOs, company presidents, other store owners, former salesmen etc. Once a client asked me about a former salesman, “What’s he doing these days?” I said, “He’s doing great,” and then I changed my voice and said, “Oh hey Khi-ho~~” and mimicked the voice of the former salesman. My client thought I was good at doing impressions and enjoyed it very much. That’s not all. Some aged clients like to tell stories of their pasts. Salesmen should be prepared to nod and agree enthusiastically. Empathy is crucial. That is why it’s important to consider their political views, their religions, and their background when empathizing.
You seem like a pleasant person, but everyone has their hard times. When were your darkest moments?
When I had to immigrate to America and bid farewell to my elderly parents at the airport without a promise of when we would be reunited. I was so heartbroken that I couldn’t even look back. I stole a glance and saw my mother crying. I couldn’t visit Korea for 7 years until I received my permanent residency. If they died, who would manage the funeral? I had nightmares about the thought of it. When I got my green card in 7 years and I went to see my parents in Korea, I cried. I’d like to express my gratitude to the Head of Hair Plus for helping me, materially and emotionally, get my green card. My gratitude is the reason why I stayed in the company even though I received job offers from other companies.
What’s your dream in the future?
My dreams of becoming a sales manager and getting a green card has been realized already. Now, I want to contribute more to the company and create more hit products. I also want to raise the future generation well and dedicate myself to the continuous development of the company. In order to do that I’ll teach my juniors not only about product sales, but also about ‘The Three H’ and other qualities and attitudes a salesman ought to have.
The five characteristics of successful retail stores, by sales manager Jang Ki-ho
- The absolute most important thing is the store’s LOCATION.
- Successful retail stores have something new. Sell unsold leftover products at a discounted price.
- Successful retail stores are great at special events. If a product is good in quality but not-so-good in popularity, they just go ahead and decrease the margins. Also, stores that are successful put up sale corners on both sides of the store.
- Successful retail stores are kind. They Crack jokes with customers, hug them, and show interest. Give children little presents. And they speak fluent English.
- Their floor is clean. Also, they don’t put so much stuff on the counters.
What is the most popular hair product these days?
There was a thing called ‘Fashion Twist’, but other companies tend to copy products that are popular, so these days it is hard to tell there is no huge trend. However, among our Hair Plus products, FEMI (‘Love Me’ in African) HD Meltdown Lace Closure are popular. Especially the one-pack solution with 613 colors, bronze color with closure, is in a roll. The ten-, twelve-, and fourteen-inch-long ones are popular.
Is there anything else you have left to say?
I hope sun would shine again on the first generation of beauty supply owners and small retailers who are having a hard time doing business these days.