“Good to be back. It’s my calling.”
Coming back to Beauty Empire after a break
By Jeehye Ra
When you run a beauty supply business that requires you to work longer hours, virtually all day long, family trips and recreational activities feel like a luxury. Business Owner Young Park of Beauty Empire was no different. About thirty years ago, she started working in the beauty supply industry, and later she opened her own store and ran the business for ten years straight, during which she did not have time to visit South Korea even once.
Like other first-generation immigrants, she tended the store with an “it can’t run without me” mindset and worked long and exhausting days every day. She did not look sideways even once, but she confronted a crisis with her husband’s health went south. She wandered around in search of a spiritual shelter and ended up taking a break, which became a two-year-long hiatus.
While taking a break from work, she found herself missing the workplace and people, and a thought that “I have more inside me” grew within her. Business Owner Young Park made a courageous decision to go back to the beauty supply industry. Let’s talk more about her come-back story after two years of hiatus.
The beginning of her life as an immigrant was with a beauty supply. It’s a calling, she believes.
Business Owner Young Park came to America for the first time in 1992. Her husband who had visited the United States on ship once before marriage kept missing America. She decided to immigrate to the U.S. with her husband who always said, “I want to go back to America one day.”
Among immigrants, there is a joke about the first day in America. The one who gives a ride to you decides what you will do for living in America. Business Owner Young Park could find work in the beauty industry thanks to her relative in Georgia.
After working at a beauty supply as a manager for five years, she bought a small 3,000 sq.ft. beauty supply store in Stone Mountain named it Beauty Town and ran it for 5 years. She moved her business to a location in Marietta and changed the name to Beauty Empire. It was her daughter who suggested having “empire” in her business name. She thought she found her calling there and kept it going for ten years.
The decision to take a break
Business Owner Young Park is one of the early members of the Women’s Club, and she lived as a retail business owner. She kept herself busy placing orders and greeting customers. “To be honest, I couldn’t find time to take a shower in many days. For a month, or even a week, I wanted to take a break. Free from an alarm or an employee, I wished to have a peaceful day for myself,” says Business Owner Young Park. She had to deal with workplace conflict between employees of different ethnicity and stay on the phone many nights. When her husband’s health got worse, she had even more things to do. She decided to take a break eventually. For the first time in 20 years, she went a family trip to South Korea and the Philippines.
Did she live too fiercely? Her long-sought peaceful and restful days felt a bit boring to her. She felt like she’s just killing time all day every day and thought she’s still too young. She missed her purpose-driven life. She looked for what she could do. She could have opened a bakery. She also shopped around retail space while contemplating opening a second location for Hanshinpocha restaurant her family ran. She ultimately settled with beauty supply, again. Employees who spent days with her, visits from sales associates that she always welcomed, and interacting with her customers all came back to her mind. She decided to open a new store, and about a year and a half ago, she opened a 7,000 sq.ft. beauty supply in Snellville, GA.
To people who filled in for my gap
Although it was only a two-year hiatus, the gap felt bigger than expected. She was out of touch in terms of trends and somehow running a business has become a bit scary after all. Members of the Women’s Club and sales associates came to help her. Women’s Club members came with advice for her new startup, and sales associates who developed a good relationship at her Marietta business recommended great products. Business Owner Park told them “Pick good ones for me”, and sales associates from SNG, Outre, and so on brought a great selection of merchandise that filled the store. Business Owner Young Park says, “I was so grateful. I felt that I did not live a wasteful life because of these great people. Probably I wanted to come back here because of these people.”
There were other people who came back for her business. A customer one day walked into her store, and she found a former employee of hers. She stopped by the store thinking it was Park’s business because of the store name, and now she’s a regular customer. Business Owner Park says, “when I was running the Marietta business, I had occasion to treat my employees with Korean sauna and food. I was only grateful that they kept the memories.”
Another person of merit is her niece. The one who worked at her previous business and joined again at the current business. Being straightforward but with a lot of empathy, she is like a daughter in many ways. Without saying a word, they know what other person needs, and the distribution of labor is so fluid. “If it were not for my niece, I wouldn’t be running this business today. She deserves the most thanks from me,” says Business Owner Park.
Introduction to her new business
The new Beauty Empire is located in a shopping center in Snellville. Pink-tinted signage can be seen from distance and catch people’s eye. In case of having customers passed by without noticing, she parked a vehicle with her store name on it at a parking lot across the street. She keeps the entrance always open for easy access, and a clothing booth takes place at the front window of the store.
Focusing on business fundamentals
When asked about business management philosophy, Business Owner Park said, “the most important things are the most basic things, I believe. Having a clean floor and providing good customer service. Everyone knows this, but these are the backbone of any business.” Due to Covid-19, customers have become more aware of hygiene, and having a clean store is more important than ever. Business Owner Park cleans the shelves and floor whenever she has time. Clean, free of dust, the retail store is her goal.
The layout is designed to enhance customers’ shopping experience. She put chemicals that go with colors side by side. For chemical display, she alternates tall and short items, so that customers can have a clear line of sight.
Diverse hair products, customers can touch and feel
She carries a wide variety of hair products. From braids, crochets, and clip-on of late popularity to senior wigs for which she also spared shelf space, and so on. Unlike other stores, she took a significant number of wigs out of the box so that customers can inspect the hair before purchase. Business Owner Young Park says, “I took them out fully expecting that they might go to the trash. Securing a product from damages cannot be more important than providing more satisfaction to customers.”
“Georgia customers? They are very trendy.”
It is a well-known fact that there is a regional difference for best sellers at a beauty supply. According to Business Owner Young Park, customers in Georgia tend to follow the trend closely. She had many instances where a customer brings a picture to find a matching product. In such cases, her niece takes up her sleeves and finds the closest item that can be found at the store, and if she notices an item that many customers look for, she will take a note and place an order right away. From accessories to clothes, she has a wide variety of merchandise. It is to respond quickly to customer demand that can shift anytime.
If you run a retail business, you cannot be free from shoplifting entirely. To reduce theft, Business Owner Young Park widened the cash register to have a wider view across the retail floor and have a security camera system that can zoom in for suspicious activities. Business Owner Young Park says, “there was a big decal that was supplied and installed by Hair Zone. I thought it was a just decal, but when a robber threw a rock to smash the door, it prevented the glass from shattering. I want to express my thanks to Hair Zone on this occasion.”
Business Owner Young Park thinks the beauty supply industry is “the last foothold of Korean business in America.” She really wishes that the Koreans within the industry endure and keep the market share, and at the least, she wants the Korean wholesale companies not lose their current dominant status.
Now she is the new chairman of the Women’s Club, and she expressed her will to keep it growing. When the Women’s Club was first founded, it provided a lot of opportunities for small business owners to procure products at a lower price through group purchases, which she wants to expand to provide the benefit of membership. There are different associations that assumed the role, but the Women’s Club would not give up on one of its founding purposes, so even if only a few want it, she will do everything she can to make it happen.