Customer Service King CEO SeoIn Hong: Text Me If You Need Anything!
ACE Beauty Mart in Roswell, Georgia
ACE Beauty Mart in Roswell, Georgia
Mr. Hong, who has worked in the beauty industry for over twenty years, runs three beauty supply stores of varying sizes in Atlanta. The third store of his is ACE Beauty Mart near a large grocery chain store Kroger, which makes it easy to find. Once you enter the store, the first impression is a tidy and organized space.
You can check a 360-degree view inside ACE Beauty Mart using the QR code below.
Working unpaid to lay a solid foundation to grow
Mr. Hong knew nothing about America when he immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. He wanted to try all businesses that were popular among Korean entrepreneurs, so he just knocked on doors of Korean businesses, applying for an unpaid position. He ended up working at eight or nine places learning whatever comes in front of him. Some business owners would give him some money for gas or so, but he usually would come home empty-handed for the beginning chapter of his American life.
“One day, there was a Korean person outside a building. I just initiated a conversation. I wondered if his company had a job opening for whatever position. He was from a hair company. That brought me to the hair industry.” In the beginning, he worked at warehouses mostly with African American coworkers. While making deliveries, he became close to people in the beauty supply industry, and he began to think about opening a beauty supply store. The area was already crowded with Korean businesses, so he started in a remote area. In his early days, he would make only $20 after a long day. Although it was never easy, he could grow his business thanks to lots of help and information from people around him.
A place customers enjoy spending time
In the beginning, I thought selling more is the way to go, but after years of business experience, I realized it’s better to sell those products customers actually need in a long run. Some store owners would pay no attention to white customers because they don’t generate sales; he warns that customers can sense that. His sales secret is treating everyone equally. Here’s what he thinks about the beauty supply business. It should be a place customers can casually visit to hang out and buy the stuff they need!
Beauty supply in bad economy; an idea to boost sales
“Although I don’t think you can apply this to all beauty supplies, I usually receive orders over the phone or text messages and have them ready for a pick-up for busy customers. Then, customers can simply drop by our store in their way to go grocery shopping and take their products home. It’s like a prescription pickup service. You need to take advantage of brick-and-mortar stores over online shopping; it’s a small effort retail owners can make. ACE Beauty is located in a small town where everyone knows each other and their children, which makes this service possible.
Employees on my side
The managers working at his stores have been working with him for 16 years and 10 years. His secret for keeping them so long? He never interferes with business operation for which a manager is in charge. People have different ideas and styles to run a store, so you would make things tough for everyone by micro-managing. He only sets the basic rules of business operation and respects each manager’s management decisions, and that must be the reason he could become the owner of three stores. An employee once quarreled with a customer, and Mr. Hong did not side with the customer. Rather, he backed the employee. He says he showed respect for the employee while asking his store manager to apologize to the customer. When the customer leaves the store and only then, he told the employee not to raise voices with a customer.
Also, although he might ask managers to discipline employees for making mistakes, he himself would make jokes and talk casually with employees. He believes that’s how you would make the manager’s job easier. If the business owner gets in the middle of the manager and an employee, the employee might talk directly to the owner next time, which would undermine the manager’s authority.
Running stores with different sizes and locations differently
He has three different managers for his three stores. In an area with a large African American population, he has an African American manager. This particular location is run by Korean managers who are spouses. Another location is run by a Korean manager at an age similar to his.
A large beauty supply store would target all customers within a 10-mile radius, but ACE Beauty Mart’s goal is to provide comfort of shopping for people living in the proximity. ACE Beauty Mart is located in an area with a large white population and right next to Kroger. A hair pin that is sold at $2 to $3 at other retails is sold at $0.99 here. No service beats price, they say. When people take a note of the pricing, they will come. Because we target white customers, hair chemicals take a large proportion of the inventory.
A customer who made me cry
“There was a customer who I still don’t forget. One day, an African American customer came to the store for a refund of a wig product purchased a week ago. It looked obviously heavily worn and deteriorated over uses. The customer started raising voice when I refused to give refund. We ended up arguing over the issue, and then another customer next in line asked the customer to step aside for other customers.” The second customer approached Mr. Hong and said, “what the customer is doing is reverse racial discrimination, and I heard everything; you can call me if you want a lawsuit.” Then, the second customer handed me a business card. The attorney at law was on Mr. Hong’s side. Generally speaking, racial discrimination is against black, but many Asians feel racially discriminated from time to time. Mr. Hong says people who worked at beauty supplies should know how it feels.
Despite being of the same ethnicity with the first customer, the attorney spoke up for Mr. Hong, which made him cry. That’s his story.
When procuring products, what do you rely on?
Being a relatively small store, he says it would be impracticable to procure all new releases. His managers gather information from beauticians before placing orders.
Nowadays, customers and beauticians are way ahead in trend and very knowledgeable, so I keep asking customers if they want anything not in the store. Beautician customers receive discounts. Beauticians should recommend the store for their clients, and the store should spread words for salons of the beauticians; he emphasized the symbiosis.
He always remembers to mention that “it’s a discounted price because of the beautician’s referral.” The discount is not for always. Without mentioning the special occasions, customers would consider the discounted prices as regular pricing. For special occasions like birthdays, a surprise discount is offered at the register for a happy shopping.
A Google review from a customer sent by a beautician.
A small generosity brings about a larger one.
When a customer walked in with a granddaughter, I let the kid choose a pin which I gave out for free. Next time, the customer brought her friend to the store. This thing could happen only because it’s a local business. A small gesture generated a loyal customer. These advantages over larger stores are making good profit possible. It’s important that you would appreciate people walking in and browsing without making purchases. You are the one who needs the customers, but not the other way around.
What’s behind the great Google reviews on ACE Beauty Mart.
“Customer service starts with ensuring peace of mind during shopping. I think shoplifting is a necessary evil of retail business. If you closely watch all customers, they can’t be comfortable at shopping. Theft occurs because the shopping environment is relaxed. So, I would let them take stuff unless it costs too much for the business. When I notice for the second time, I would warn them. They feel and take notice of how we respond.”
For display, he would minimize decoration and make it simple, so customers can find items easily.
4.4 rating in Google Review with praises everywhere
Beauty supplies are known to perform badly in Google Reviews. I entered the store address for navigation, and I was surprised with the Google review rating. Mr. Hong’s words were not empty; he was a real customer service king. Mostly the reviews talk about the kind staff, cleanness, variety of goods, great location, and etc.
Let’s take a look at their reviews.
For next generation beauty supply owners
He says the second generation beauty supply owners are doing their parents a big favor. It takes a lot of responsibilities for children who grew up in America to take over their parents’ business while giving up on pursuing what they want to do. He added that without children’s support, it’s no longer feasible to open a large retail store.
Mr. Hong let his children do what they wanted to do. His first daughter is married and gave birth to a child, and his son is practicing law. He taught his children that “you may pick up a penny on a street, but you can never take money inside one’s pocket without giving up something of yours.”
During the interview, his every word revealed his solid view of life, and the wisdom and kindness from his years of experience were highly educational.