From Town to Top, Growth Secret of South Carolina’s Top Beauty

From Town to Top,

Growth Secret of South Carolina’s Top Beauty

Top Beauty in Spartanburg, a small town in upstate South Carolina, is business owner Justin Han’s sixth store. From opening a small shop, Town Beauty, 15 years ago, where the sales increased tenfold in just two years, to opening a series of new stores, which made today’s Top Beauty, Mr. Han’s success hasn’t been driven by good location, but by a unique strategy befitting each store’s characteristics and business size. Mr. Han, who is also the president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce of Atlanta, Georgia, said that he would not hesitate to share his business secrets for the betterment of Korean American businesses.



1. Business secrets of Top Beauty

Display: Optimize space utilization
▶ A store full of products, the secret is D.I.Y.




My first impression upon entering the store was that there was a lot of stuff. “Here, we have almost as much stuff as a 30,000 sq ft store in a 13,500 sq ft store,” says Mr. Han. As if that weren’t enough, the store has more than $2 million worth merchandise in stock, with boxes of new arrivals waiting to be displayed on one side of the store. New products arrive every day. Mr. Han’s principle is clear. “The more stock we have, the better business we run!” Literally, the store alone generates $2.5-3 million in annual sales.

But how do you fit that many products into a limited space? The secret is in the shelving units. Top Beauty’s shelves are taller and longer than other stores. “Larger stores make their shelves low, like 4 feet, but we made ours 8 feet high, so we can shelf more products and utilize more space.”

Still, the store doesn’t look cramped thanks to the unobstructed shelves and bright lighting, which is also Han’s work. “Ordinary shelving units have dividers in the middle for support, but we replaced them in the back so that the shelves run in a continuous fashion. It took us two months to design and build them. We also wanted the store to be bright, so we installed new lights all by ourselves.”

How can all of this be done without professional help? The answer lies in Han’s lifelong struggle in the United States. “I came to the states in my 20s, in pursuit of the American dream. I lived in New York for about 15 years, and there’s nothing I haven’t done. I started as a waiter, then I worked in construction, electrical, plumbing, refrigeration, carpentry, painting, disinfecting … I’ve done almost everything you can think of, from laundry to nail salons to grocery stores. I’ve had enough experience to do a wide variety of jobs myself.”


Mr. Han shows the height of the shelves. A typical shelf in a beauty supply would hold two or three hair products while more than three.

The shelves are one continuous display with no partitions

Store lighting purchased and installed by himself


▶︎ Simple and clear section

The second impressive feature is that despite all the stuff, it’s efficiently organized and displayed. The secret is the sections organized by product line.

For hair, there are sections for human hair, bundle hair, multi hair, ponytails, children’s hairline, etc. and there were enough braids to fill two aisles from top to bottom on both sides.


Braids section

Human hair section

Bundle hair section


In addition to hair, the sections of chemicals, jewelry, cosmetics, etc. are labeled with aisle numbers, so customers could find the products they were looking for without staff assistance. Smaller eyelashes are usually scattered near the register and in end caps, but here they are organized in a “D” shaped section like a shop-in-shop. There are also sections for men, professional beauticians, and even a section for discounted products.


Eyelash section

Jewelry/Chemical section

Men’s section

Chemicals for Professionals

50% off section


▶︎ A dedicated wig department, complete with professional staff

Top Beauty’s biggest pride is its wig department, which is located in a dedicated area. When you enter the store and walk past the eyelash section, you’ll see a sign that says “Top Wig,” and once you step through the narrow passage, you’ll find yourself in a spacious “wig shop” like magic. A whopping 3,500 sq ft of the 13,500 sq ft store is devoted to wigs. Two wig specialists are always on the floor to help customers select, try on, and style their wigs. The wig sales are computerized and organized, and you can even see your purchase history at a glance by entering your customer code.


Entrance to the “wig shop”

Wig fitting area in the middle of the store

Human hair (left) and synthetic hair (right)

The wig stock area in the back of the store, with tons of products neatly organized

The wig sale section. The color coded label attached to the mannequins (yellow is $10, green is $20, pink is $25, etc.) makes it easy to shop. The discounted wig section alone sells over 170 pieces every two weeks.

Computerized product management. It’s constantly updated with which wigs from which companies are coming in, when, for how much, and how many have been sold by year/month and how many are in stock.




Customer care: “Give 5% of your profit back to your customers”

Top Beauty currently has over 7,000 registered customers. The company is also active on social media, with over 4,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 10,000 on Facebook across the stores.

Mr. Han’s principle for customer service is “Give back to the customer”, for which he gives 5% of the profit back to customers in appreciation for their business. This is reflected in the ‘free gift section’ located at the checkout counter. Customers can choose a gift based on the amount of money they spend, and the selection of small but diverse items gives customers something to look forward to after shopping.

Top Beauty also has a reputation for being an “always-something-happening” store. One of the most popular events is the quarterly raffle, where customers can win a variety of prizes, including TVs, game consoles, and massage chairs. The massage chair is especially popular and has already been given away four times in a year. In addition, there are many other events that aim to “give back to customers,” such as free hairstyling events every week, free braiding events for low-income customers, and charitable donations.


Free Gift section

Sweepstakes Winners


Thanks to these efforts, customers love Top Beauty. A few months ago, a shoplifting incident was posted on social media, and customers were quick to condemn the culprit, commenting. “Why would you steal from Top Beauty, it’s my favorite store!”


Security footage of the shoplifting incident on Top Beauty’s Facebook page with comments.


Employee management: “Utilize each employee’s strengths”

When asked if it’s difficult to find employees in a small town, Mr. Han answered without hesitation. “In our stores, once they start, they don’t leave.” The manager next to him nods in agreement. “Yeah, I’ve been here for a while, but Ashley has been with us since the first store, so she’s been around for about 16 years.”


Top Beauty’s seasoned staff (Ashley, third from left, is the longest-serving employee)


Han’s approach to managing employees is simple and straightforward.

  1. Identify strengths: “Everyone has their own strengths,” he says, “so if you’ve got someone who’s strong, they are usually good at stocking, if you’ve got someone who’s energetic, they’re good at dealing with customers, they’ll also pick it up as they go along, and then you let them do what they are good at.”
  2. Keep your employees as stress-free as possible: “No matter how much you pay them and how easy you make their job, if they’re stressed out, they’re going to hate it. I make sure they prioritize what they want to do and I never nag them, and that’s how I keep them.”
  3. Motivate them: “We reward hard work. We give managers a percentage of sales, specialty section staff a percentage of what they sell, and general staff a raise. It makes them feel like they’re getting rewarded for what they do.”



2. Town Beauty: How a small shop became a big deal


Mr. Han’s first store, Town Beauty, has been in business since 2009


Mr. Han owns six retail stores in the area (Spartanburg and Greenville): Town Beauty, Beauty & Beauty (two locations), Beauty Town, Best Beauty, and Top Beauty. (He used different names so that it wouldn’t look like a monopoly.) His first store was only 10 minutes away, so I went to check it out. It wasn’t a great location, but the small retail space was the only option for Mr. Han, who left New York City empty handed, and it laid a valuable foundation for his achievements in the beauty industry.

“In 2009, I was working at a beauty supply store in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I heard there was a store for sale in South Carolina. It was in a remote, sketchy neighborhood, not attractive to most potential buyers. My family didn’t have the money at the time, so I ended up buying it on owner financing.”

He didn’t even have the money for a down payment. His sister in Korea sent him $50,000 after selling her home. (He later paid her back three times the amount.) Within two years, the rough start had turned into a so-called hit. “I went from selling less than $20,000 to $200,000, and that was only the beginning, in the following years, I opened a store every year.”


Secret #1: If you’re short on capital, use your muscles.

The first strategy was to “shuffling stock,” meaning you constantly rotate products. Since he didn’t have a lot of inventory, he cleaned up what was in the back and put it in the front to make it look like a new arrival.

The second was to take out individual pieces of a product and display them to fill empty space, rather than leaving an empty shelf. It’s a kind of optical illusion, where the lack of empty space makes it look like there’s a lot of stuff, and the constant rotation of products makes customers perceive the store as always having something new. According to Mr. Han, he did this “every single day”.


Secret #2. Impress customers.


Mr. Han carries an umbrella for a reason!


Mr. Han’s philosophy throughout his career in beauty supplies has been that customers are family. He doesn’t just talk about it, but puts it into action. When customers come in, he welcomes them with a hug, and if they bring their children, he cares for them at the cash register so they can shop freely. He still keeps lollipops near the register.

And for the first two years, whenever it rained, he was out in front of the store with an umbrella.

“Most of my customers don’t wear their own hair, so if they get wet or get caught in the rain, they’re in trouble, so I would stand in front of the store with an umbrella on rainy days, and when customers drive into the lot, I would go to their car. I would get wet, but my customers wouldn’t. I wasn’t doing it all for the money. I was doing it because I owe my livelihood to these people, so I sincerely treated them like family. After two years of doing that, they wouldn’t go anywhere else, and to them, we’re just a family store, and that’s how it’s been going on.”


3. Beauty supply is the greatest industry to pass on to the next generation

As for the future of beauty supply, Mr. Han is confident that it will be “one of the most enduring retail businesses”. “It’s indispensable for African Americans, and we carry more than 100,000 products at a time, which is something you can’t do with online stores. We can’t lose this market to late comers, or there won’t be a Korean business in the U.S. anymore.”

That’s why Mr. Han always emphasizes, “Raise the next generation, it’s the only way to survive.” The second generation is better equipped than the first generation in terms of language and social media communication, so the beauty industry of the future should be led by the second generation, backed by the first generation’s experience and capital.

Mr. Han’s retail stores are already mostly run by the next generation. At Top Beauty, Mr. Han’s nephew, Vice President Phillip Han, joined the company four years ago and is in charge of the operation. As a second-generation, he is fluent in English and proficient in social media, so his communication with customers is outstanding and his management style is progressive. When a large beauty supply store opened nearby at the end of last year, Top Beauty responded boldly: it extended its store hours, strengthened social media promotion, and responded to the other store’s grand opening sale with a $0.01 sale event. Unlike the first generation, who are mostly conservative and defensive rather than confrontational, the second generations are young and ambitious. “My goal is to expand to other regions. I won’t forget what my uncle always emphasizes: ‘Give back to the customers’.”


Vice President Philip Han (left) of Top Beauty



Mr. Han recently took on a new challenge. He expanded his beauty business into fashion, opening the first retail location as a U.S. distributor of Korean outdoor brand Kolping & BTR in Duluth, Georgia, late last year, and this year he took on the leadership role at the Korean American Chamber of Commerce of Atlanta. His next goal is to successfully organize the Global K Expo in Atlanta next May to help Korean SMEs enter the U.S. market while promoting the growth of Atlanta.

Mr. Han’s American dream, which didn’t quite take off until he was over 40, is still ongoing. It’s a dream that now extends beyond himself and to the next generation.

“In 10 or 20 years, I want to see the next generation that’s around me now, well established in the industry, and my biggest dream is to see them accomplish ten times as much as I did.”


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