“Beginning again as if I first joined Jigu”
Interview with CEO Hyunjoon Kim of New Jigu:
a new chapter in Long Island
As a retail store Harlem125, New Jigu Trading Corp. opened its first business in 1978, grew into a wig company Jigu Trading in 1983, and now continues its 40 years of success story in New York in its new home Long Island, NY. CEO Hyunjoon Kim succeeded the founder Chairman Jongchul Hong’s business philosophy and played a leadership role in the Korean wig industry. Sitting down with him, we are about to learn about New Jigu’s vision.
BY JUYOUNG SUNG
You must have started the new year in the company’s new home. Can you talk us through New Jigu’s new location?
The office is located in Port Washington in Long Island. The automated 60,000 sq.ft. single-story warehouse is located in Syosset. It is a meaningful move because we also incorporated Warehouse Management System software along with the updated hardware.
The Woodside building was where you began the millennium. The location was indeed great. What brought you to a new place?
Our office in Woodside, NY was meaningful to us because it was where New Jigu started and also the birthplace of the Harlem125 brand. But the outdated design caused inefficiency in inventory, order pickup, and loading among others. It’s like having an old engine in a good car. The location was great, but not so for a warehouse. We used the first and second floors of a 57,000 sq.ft. three-story building, but the facility was not suitable for modernization that was necessary to streamline pickup, setup, and packaging processes not to mention human resource management. We had many instances to say sorry to our customers who experienced delayed delivery of orders, and the new location solves this problem.
It sounds like the moving was planned all along.
Indeed, we had a plan even before the Covid-19 pandemic. We were looking for a suitable building but had to pause the search due to the pandemic. When we finally made the move, we asked ourselves if this was the right time. The logistics were difficult due to the holidays, and the economic downturn generated a lot of pressure for us. From real property purchase to moving expenses and building a system, it costs an arm and a leg. On the other hand, we felt it was a good time to move. If you upgrade the facility during off-season and wait, they should generate twice the expected output during the economic boom.
In business, staying put means going backward. I believe you can turn a crisis into an opportunity as long as you keep challenging yourself.
Do you have any change or expected change after the move?
The biggest change is customer service. We certainly had a complex and long process from order to delivery. We had insufficient and inefficient storage space. The new building design is focused on fast service. Previously, when a customer orders 10 items, an employee would check each item on the order sheet and pack the items manually, but now along with barcode scanners, our WMS integrates and facilitates every step of the order progress from pickup, packing, and shipping, reducing errors and increasing speed.
Of course, our employees have a better work environment. They used to carry items by hand, but the new automated system uses conveyor belts to reduce the labor significantly.
You are now ready for a leap. New Jigu once had the reputation of being a hit maker for its robust new product development, but it seems you guys have lost momentum.
During the pandemic, we had issues due to lock-downs across China and Indonesia. In old days, I used to make business trips abroad about six times a year, like every other month. I alternated with my team members, so we basically send people abroad every month. When we could not make visits to the manufacturers, it stalled our product development. Covid-19 related restrictions are now being lifted, and we have a new, better work environment. I say we are ready to roll again.
It is another beginning for your 40 years of history. It must have been years since you started at New Jigu. Indeed, the quick succession from the founder Chairman Jongchul Hong to CEO Hyunjoon Kim has made quite a buzz.
Jigu was founded in 1983, and I started working at the company in 1993. I learned business management directly from Mr. Chairman with succession in mind, and I became the CEO in 2006. It must be the first in our industry where the company control was handed from the first generation to the second generation. I have already spent 30 years at New Jigu, and managed the company for 17 years.
At the time, New Jigu was widely viewed as generating synergy between the experience of the first generation and the freshness of the second generation. What is behind the long lived success and the growth of New Jigu in the last forty years in your opinion?
Our company did not become big overnight. We grew gradually and continuously mostly thanks to our customers and employees. While there is no one secret to success, I believe that trust with customers is the key. We never broke our promise to a customer. This is a long lasting company philosophy passed down from Chairman Hong.
The first lesson of Mr. Chairman was “business is not to make profit but to incur loss.” He said, “Always do business with others with willingness to incur loss, and let people who you deal with make profit.” He explained that it might seem to cost you at first, but the good will returns to you doubled.
It’s been thirty years since my first day at New Jigu, but his words are still vivid in my memory. It keeps me to have a humble attitude and prioritize customers, employees, and suppliers, and I mean to keep it that way.
Another secret is continuous development of new products. Our leading brand Harlem125 is associated with a phrase: “Where style begins…” In other words, the trend starts with us. Like it says, we are making an effort to continuously develop new products to become a trend setting company.
If you have any plan for new product release, can you give our readers a sneak peek?
In celebration of our relocation, we plan for monthly new product releases in series.
The first in the series will be bulk products. A few years of the braiding hair boom has reduced the bulk hair market. But braiding hair is synthetic, prone to tangling at the hair tip. You can add human hair bulk products at the end to prevent tangling. For this reason, bulk products are trending on social media lately, but 100% human hair is expensive. Kima Classic line of products, which were greatly received by customers at the time of Jigu Trading, will make a great substitute. With a blend of human hair and synthetic hair, we will market various styles of bulk products including straight, yaky, and wave.
The second will be a drawstring. Facing the economic downturn, we are developing affordable drawstring products. We previously had success with GoGo Collection, featuring wigs with less than $20 retail price, and we will add drawstring products to the line to make low-priced wigs available at retail.
We will have a long discussion with manufacturers to raise the quality to meet the customers’ expectation while lowering price even though we have to cut down our margin. Please look forward to it.
It must be great news for beauty supply retail stores. Many business owners are already having a tough time due to recession and worrying about the future of the hair product industry. What is your take?
The future of the hair product industry is never dark. I know that beauty supply stores are having a hard time due to the sluggish economy and online retail. However, the hair market will not disappear. Please take it as a one step backward for two steps forward. You should spend this time to prepare for the good time to come.
What preparations are being made at New Jigu for the distant haul?
For now, we want to bring better products more quickly to the hands of our customers in this improved environment. In the past, the competition centered around new products and marketing, but due to online retail, the battle ground moved to logistics. We need to settle quickly here and provide satisfactory service to our customers. The industry is progressing fast, so we will continue to invest in modernizing and building our system. In response to the labor shortage, we are paying attention to the work environment and employment benefits. My second son, Assistant Manager Junghyun Kim who majored in marketing at college, is working at R&D department at the moment, and it may be considered as preparation for the third generation. This may be also one of the earliest in the industry in terms of succession planning.
Do you have any last words for BNB readers?
Many people supported us during the relocation. A lot of customers and suppliers showed kind understanding of shipment delays, and our employees worked overtime. I want to thank them for everything they’ve done.
New office and new warehouse will bring a whole new environment and experience for me too. And I want to have the fresh mind that I had in my 20s when I started working at Jigu Trading. I will dream big and work hard.
Opening a new era of Long Island on the 40th anniversary, we are planning customer appreciation events. Please look forward to our second start and root for New Jigu.
New Jigu Company History
In 1978, it opens beauty supply retail store on 125th Street in Harlem
In 1983, it founds a wholesale company Jigu Trading on Broadway in Manhattan
In 1999, HQ moves to a new location in Woodside, NY and changes to a new name New Jigu Trading
In 2006, management succession from the first generation Chairman Jongchul Hong to the second generation current CEO Hyunjoon Kim
In 2023, HQ moves to a new Long Island location
New office address and phone number: 10 Harbor Park Dr, #101, Port Washington, NY 11050 / ☎516-277-2779