“I Feel Alive and Breathing Again Seeing Customers Coming Back After COVID-19 Lockdown.”
Beauty N Things, GA Store Owner Ms. Saima
Stonecrest Mall is located 20-minute south of Atlanta, GA. Beauty N Things is a beauty supply store on its first floor, and the store has been run for past four years by its owner Ms. Saima who had 20 years of experience as a beautician. We will share her success story as well as her plan for reopening of the business after the coronavirus lockdown.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am Saima (38) and the owner of Beauty N Things in Georgia. I was born in England as a Pakistani American and have run the store for four years now. When I was very young, my family immigrated to America for my father’s study. My father wanted good education for his children, so I grew up and was educated in the U.S. I speak Pakistani and Spanish along with English.
What brought you to the beauty industry?
The first place I ever worked at was a beauty supply. I started working when I was 15 years old. I was too young to understand what I was doing at that time. However, I gradually learned how the goods were procured and how the inventory was managed. It was fascinating to me, and I then worked as a beautician in West California for 20 years. I was employed at a barber shop and also at a hair salon.
After those years, I had discussed with my parents about opening a beauty supply store, which had been my long dream. That brought me to Georgia where my parents lived, and I opened Beauty N Things four years ago. My years of knowledge and experience in the beauty industry gave rise to this store. We did have another location in Decatur that has a lot of African American customers, but the entire shopping mall shut down. And now this is the only location we have.
What makes Beauty N Things special in your opinion?
Our makeup salon stands out among beauty supply stores. We offer makeup services for wedding, prom, graduation, and so on, provided by our own makeup artist. Eyebrow threading, waxing, and henna are also provided onsite. Another thing is that although we have smaller footage, we mainly carry brands that you often find in big beauty supply chains such as Ebin New York and LA Girl. We have a wall decorated with photos of customers who used our makeup services, and when they return to Beauty N Things for another occasion, it makes our day because we feel we did a good job.
Also, we try to make our customers who shop in the store as comfortable as possible. We have such an open space that allows us to step back and let them freely browse. Theft is already taken account of in our operating cost.
Did you have any difficulty running the business?
Fortunately, I have yet encountered one. I have great relationship with customers, and I think Korean vendors are much more open toward non-Korean store owners nowadays. For one, they respect me for my years of experience in the hair industry.
I do remember an African American employee to whom I suggested to do better in serving the customers for which I almost got hit. I actually ended up calling the police. The most difficult thing is to find a reliable employee who can run the store on my behalf.
How do you manage the employees and customers?
20 years of experience as a beautician does help in customer service as well as managing employees. I think my confidence comes from my experience. So, when I hire hands, I first want to see if they are confident. Very few employees are only for money. It is of utmost importance that they are doing what they like. That is the first step in earning the trust of a customer. If you know the value of your goods and services, I believe discount is not relevant. I prefer to make customers understand the value of our services and pay the full price rather than simply to sell a large quantity at a discount. This is the principle that I have held up since I started working as a beautician.
We consistently study the brands that we do not carry because we only carry a small number of hair brands. Even if customers are looking for something we do not have, we can suggest a satisfactory substitute. If there is not a satisfactory alternative, then we simply provide them of directions to big Korean beauty supply stores nearby. I believe every business benefits from being unselfish and helping each other.
This is our first interview with a store owner since the coronavirus outbreak. What did you make out of it?
We are inside a shopping mall, so from early March to mid-May, we had to entirely close the business with no option to partially run the business. That is two months of no business at all. I turned it into an opportunity to visit my friends and family members in California aside from catching a breath. Mostly I was concerned about closing the doors to customers, but they mostly understood. When we opened the store in mid-May and customers walked in, I felt alive. It felt really great. My skin and head felt like being revived. I realized once again what I loved and how they gave meanings to my life. I cannot imagine myself not running a beauty supply store anymore.
Did you apply for Payroll Protection Program (PPP) or emergency loans from SBA?
Yes, I secured both loans with little difficulty. Because I did not fire any employee, I will use the PPP as intended. I am not sure if I should use the SBA loan because we do have some savings in case of emergency. During the COVID-19 lockdown, some vendors demanded immediate payment while most of the vendors patiently waited for payment through this crisis. I am really grateful for their patience during a hard time for everyone. The shopping mall deferred rent payments in addition to waiving a month rent during the shutdown.
You said you are from California. What brought you here in Georgia?
My parents suggested it. They still live in Georgia. In opening my business, my parents helped me out financially. However, all business aspects were handled by myself. I think my parents saw a big picture where I stay put in Georgia. In fact, I like running a business in Georgia. Georgia has a high number of African Americans, lower cost of living, and generally more kind people. Nevertheless, I do miss California where I grew up. The access to the ocean, great weather, and a lot fun activities are relatively lacking here.
Are their aspects of Korean-run retail stores that you want to benchmark?
I think Korean retail owners are great at business management. Beauty supplies run heavily on African American customers, and Koreans know how to provide customer service they like. I think Koreans are very family oriented. Because I am also a family-oriented person, I always had respect for them. Also, I think African American customers are more open to Korean-run beauty supplies. I believe it is due to the long history. I have run the store for four years now, and the first two years were hard because of customers who did not believe in me. If you are not the ethnicity they are looking for and do not know about the products, you can’t possibly hope that customers would stay. I always emphasize in staff meetings that we should know the product.
What are the items that customers are looking for after the shutdown?
Still, many people are reluctant to go to hair salons, so wigs are selling well. We have lots of makeup and skincare products, so a lot of customers are also picking up those items after the reopening.
What are the advantages of being inside a shopping mall?
I think the exposure to the customers is a good thing. You don’t need to drive all the way for a beauty supply run, and you may simply drop by one in a shopping mall by chance and become a regular. Of course, the onsite security provides extra safety.
What is your plan for the future?
Because I know I love beauty for real, I am for a long haul. It might feel like the beauty is all about the appearance, but in fact, while you pay attention to your appearance, you can heal mentally as well. My role at Beauty N Things is to provide that experience to every customer. And my dream is to open a beauty salon in London, England where I was born. I love London for its more organized life style. That is my life philosophy as well. America is more layback, which is a tad bit loose for me.
Special thanks to Ms. Saima and her employees for sharing their busy time with us for the interview.