Interview with CEO Jongwon Hong of Georgia Super Sunny Beauty
“I’ve never thought about finding another job.”
His family immigrated to the U.S. when he was a high school freshman, and just next year he started working at his father’s retail store part-time. Now, he is the CEO of Super Sunny Beauty with nine store locations to run. He is not just saying. He truly enjoyed the work and looks forward to the coming years. He is also preparing his business to be run by the next generation of his family. CEO Hong’s father Chairman Jaeho Hong was a first generation Korean immigrant, and he founded the family business with his hard work. What aspect of the beauty supply business did CEO Hong fall in love with for twenty years? We met him in person and heard his story.
Q. How long have you worked in the beauty supply industry? What led you to the industry?
When my father opened a shop for the first time in ’97, I was in high school. We came to the U.S. when I was a high school freshman. Next year, my father started the business. At that time, I wanted to help him out. So, I always ran to the retail store after school. It was my first part-time job. I did many things around the store from inventory to customer service. I experienced many aspects of the business. Everything was new and interesting. The store was about 1,200 sq.ft., but the small store taught me so many things.
Q. What was your father like as a businessman and a father?
I have tremendous respect for him. He is my business role model. He is always straightforward and passionate. He is a hustler. Since the grand opening, he opened the store every single day for about 5 years. Still, our stores are open all year with an exception of Christmas. It started with my father, and I also agree that “business should always be open to customers.” Of course, the staff would not love it, but it is our business philosophy. My father was always diligent. With lots of ideas, he gets things done once he starts. When he tackles a difficult task, he would simply get lost in time. He has so many things I could learn from. We have nine locations all in the outskirts of the Atlanta metropolitan area. The first gate to Atlanta and at the vicinity of the airport, which makes the eastern and western corners. We have many customers visiting from other regions. There is a geological advantage, but it was by chance. In fact, my father opted out of the populous area because he wanted to avoid taking business away from other retail stores. He always thought “you should not try to make all the money alone.” He was always like that.
Before even hearing the answers, it was obvious how Chairman Jaeho Hong was like a father. When the interview just started, the father and son were together. While showing the poem he wrote for his granddaughter who just became a year old, Chairman Hong said, “Now I can express what I feel because I have time, but when my son was young, I was too busy making a living. I have always felt sorry for not being there for him. Now, I try to make it up by being there for my granddaughter, such as spending off-days together at a shopping mall.” He kept a peak at his son’s face as he spoke out of regret. And his son kept shaking his head hearing those words in affectional denial.
Q. What were the good and bad moments working in the beauty supply industry?
I had a cancer patient customer once. She did not have any hair including eyebrows, and it made a great impression on me as she shopped for a wig and eyelashes. Just weeks ago, on Mother’s Day, we prepared an event where every customer got a rose flower for free. It was a small gift but made many people really happy. That is why we host similar events often. We also share ideas with wholesalers. I wish every customer finds happiness at our stores.
Q. As a second generation beauty supplier, what are the things you want to inherit from your father’s generation and those you do not?
The first generation really worked like a horse. At that time, many lacked English language skills. Nevertheless, with eagerness and diligence, they built this Korean American dominant business. I cannot thank them enough for what they have done. Thanks to the firm foundation laid out by the first generation, the second generation can move in smoothly. If there is a difference, the second generation is better at communicating and following trends because of better English skills. A better use of social media is their strength too. Beauty industry is by nature a trendy business. So, it is to the second generation’s advantage that they are quicker to pick up trends and apply to the business operation.
Q. How do you manage the store/staff?
As I run nine locations and the staff of sixty something employees, I get 50-60 calls everyday. Managers and other staff call me from time to time, and business partners try to reach me often. As a result, I keep a Kakaotalk group chat for every store. With non-Korean employees I use text messages a lot. When a store manager reaches out to me with items, issues, and so on, I try to be a problem solver, an efficient one. We often talk about the trends as well. I make a visit to a store every other day for communication opportunities. Along with the nine retail stores, we have a beauty salon as well. We hire a manager and rent booths to individuals. Pushing employees to the limit at a time of labor shortage like this? No way. When an employee says, “Sir, I’ve got things to discuss with you. Do you have time?”, and my heart sinks. (laughter) I also tell non-Korean employees that I will always be open to anything they want to talk about. My role is to scratch where it itches. I place people at posts where they can shine. Talkative and social people should interact with customers, and the opposite would do inventory. I never try to teach and force against their nature. Because we have stores in the outskirts, we are operating commuter vans for employees. It is a part of our effort to reduce the burden of long commutes.
Q. What kind of relationship do you have with wholesale sales associates?
I attend trade shows to learn about new products, and I think having a good relationship with sales associates is also very important. The information they obtain from the field is priceless. Who should have upper hands? I don’t think that way. It’s either both have good hands or no one. If they don’t bring good products, we can’t sell much. It is important to keep own segments intact and mutually beneficial. I heard some retail stores are ordering products from Chinese online markets to save cost. That is their choice, but I believe wholesalers and retailers should trust each other and play their roles in recommending and buying. How much money and time would manufacturers invest? You ought to think about their spending in research, package design, and manufacturing.
Q. What do you think of the beauty supply’s future?
Beauty industry is limitless. I am hopeful for a bright future. The market is growing, and the younger generations of the primary target audience, African American, are willing to buy $40-50 items compared to $10 in the past. I am optimistic about the future. It is the best business for Koreans. If you are good at what you are doing and work hard, there are opportunities. I was brought to this industry not by choice, but I am so happy that my parents chose this business. Compared to restaurant and grocery businesses, it is far better. I am against opening a retail store without preparation. Beauty supplies and liquor stores are beneficiaries of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some people just entered into the business seeing that. They would simply open a store and see what happens. However, you have to catch the trend and respond to the market. I believe going bigger is the only way to survive for beauty supplies of today. Smaller shops will be left behind.
Q. Where do you see in twenty years or thirty?
I’ll probably be doing the same. I want to stay in this business forever. I also have a dream to expand to other states. I also hope my children will work in the industry. One day, my daughter said her dream was to become a Walmart owner. She probably loved the store that had everything. When I said, “my store also has everything”, she laughed. I expose my kids to the business by bringing them to the store and let them have their hands on displaying eyelashes and manicures. I want to grow the business further and pass it down to the next generation, and I want to keep working as long as possible.
Q. Do you have any words for other second generation business owners?
I hope we can get together. The current generations, such as the 1.5 generation and second generation, could share information and make friends. We could stick together in dealing with tough issues. Koreans are responsible and meticulous. If we work together and bring our best to the business, we should further advance the beauty supply industry following the footsteps of the first generation.