IT Guy Turned to Sales Guy
Sean Park, Sales Manager at Golden State
Sean Park, Sales Manager at Golden State, who had come to America to study, has been working as a sales person for 5 years. For an ex-mobile phone developer in South Korea, choosing a sales career in America is somewhat unique. We encapsulated his journey from how he began studying abroad to how he became a salesperson as well as his future in the following interview.
Please introduce yourself briefly.
I’m Sean Park, a father of two children and a sales manager at Golden State. People call me Sean. I live in California and am in charge of sales in Western regions. I used to also make sales trips to the South and the Midwest, but I am playing a support role for all the regions other than the West.
How did you come to America and become a sales person?
It’s an ancient story now, but I was really tired of the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Friday, and Friday lifestyle and frequently working late while working as a mobile phone developer in South Korea. I started to doubt my future. It started as a short break from work. My wife and I planned a study abroad for a language acquisition in 2006. Soon I became interested in studying further, getting a master’s degree in the U.S, for which I went to business school for a graduate level study. Meanwhile, we had two sons who were born in the U.S.
At least for the education of our children, we wanted to settle in America. Right on time, I accidentally came across a job post for a sales associate which offered immigration visa sponsorship. I applied for the job without knowing much about what kind of goods I was supposed to sell. (laughter) In the beginning, even after receiving product education at the company, most retail store owners were much more knowledgeable than me. That’s how I started my job, learning from my customers and retail store owners. Thankfully, they might have preferred my eagerness to learn over shrewdness in sales.
IT industry and sales don’t get along, right?
Before coming to the U.S., I was working in mobile phone industry. While I was studying in the U.S., the technology moved on from feature phones to smart phones. My skills and knowledge became obsolete. Although I chose sales accidentally, I think this line of work surprisingly suits me well. I think I’m introvert, so to overcome my weakness, I remember I once volunteered at a retail store saying “I would like to try to sell on the retail floor myself” and made a passionate sales pitch to customers. They said I was surprisingly aggressive despite my look. (laughter) Because I lacked knowledge in products, I used to spread all products and color codes to make comparisons and studied product history of each company. When a retail store owner say “you know that product years ago …”, I would be able to tell him the name of the product right away.
How have you been during the shutdown?
Golden State doesn’t send sales associates to stores at this moment. I kept in touch with retail store owners via phone calls. Even if businesses are partially open, they wouldn’t be able to make sales without products. So, I make inquiry calls. Manufacturers also had a set-back in production, so sometimes retail store owners get frustrated for supply delay. Considering what’s going on, this can’t be completely avoided. However, we are making our best effort to maintain stock volume and to prevent backorders. While the situation varies in different states, some businesses closed their doors for almost four months since last March. The dwindling cash flow and necessary spending for new products are causing hardship.
What’s it like on the store floor after coronavirus? Any new trend?
I’ve seen limitation on how many customers can be inside the store at a time and requiring customers to wear a mask. Some customers do not wear mask, making them nervous. With respect to products, expensive human hair products and wigs that require physical fitting at the store are moving slowly, but braids and chemicals are selling comparably well. Golden State has been a human hair focused company, but we forecasted and adapted to the consumer trend which resulted in our strong synthetic hair lines developed in the past years. They are our great assets now.
What do you like most about sales?
I like the fact that I always encounter new products and new clients. Especially at our company, our sales associates rotate regions among ourselves, which results in having a new experience in a new region all the time. I think women’s beauty has to do with many things like diet and makeup, but I think hairstyle is the foremost. Especially, African American women show a big difference when they did their hair, so when they are satisfied with our products, it makes our day.
Business needs to make sales to make profit, so for every business, I think, sales is the foremost importance. Doctors sell medical services, and beauticians sell hairstyling services. Sales play an important role anywhere. You check reviews before going to a doctor’s office. For hair industry, the product quality is the measure. I have great confident in Golden State products.
Please share your sales know-how with us.
Even if you have great products, you can’t sell them out without a plan. Before you make a trip to a store, you need to do your homework to learn their prior purchase history, figuring out which new popular products you can recommend to them, and so on. When it comes to sales, people talk about “know-who”, but I bet my money on data. I would show their sales data and recommend a tailored set of products based on my sales prediction.
I receive varying responses from retail store owners to the data. “Mr. Park should work somewhere doing data analysis.” Some laughed. However, I think my recommendations based on accurate numbers are my weapon and a keeper. I want to say to anyone who’s interested in starting a beauty supply sales job that you should study the products and also know not only current products but also old products to earn the trust from retail store owners.
Is there anything you can brag about Golden State?
Especially, in the West, they say you can’t run a beauty supply without Golden State products. Many customers say “Golden State products are superior but expensive.” Nonetheless, once they purchase a Golden State, they become repeat customers. Our pride comes from the fact that we can be proud of product quality. Mutual respect and manners are utmost importance at Golden State, and all employees get along. Up until early March in 2020, we enjoyed occasional happy hours with drinks, but it’s regretful that we can’t do that anymore due to coronavirus.
What are the best selling products of Golden State?
Currently, Silky Braids, Twist, and the new Sport Braids are among the most popular. The new Sport Braids are braiding products with colors inspired by sport teams and college logos. For example, you would think of a mixture of purple, yellow, and gold colors for LA Lakers. With radiant highlights, those products boast a great color expression. In addition to sport team colors, college-inspired colors are appealing to many Americans, and a great range of colors, namely 33 colors, is available.
Are there any specific types of stores that outperform others?
I think bigger beauty supplies are outperforming. In old days, when you make a customer a regular, they would stick to your store for their entire lives. Younger generations rather look for convenience and great shopping experience. That doesn’t mean small stores have no chance. In California, the rent runs pretty high, so 1,000 sq. ft. stores are not uncommon.
In my opinion, “a well-lighted display to show hair colors well”, “shortening inventory turnover through clearance sales”, “a clean and hygienic place in coronavirus pandemic”, and “placing popular products on eye-level shelves” are the summary of key strategies.
A disappointing moment for me is when my customers decline to make purchase orders for products that I recommend based on my research on their sales record just because they don’t have space. You need to return the products moving slowly or promote them with discount, but never should leave them as is.
Do you have any hobbies in your American life?
When I first came to the U.S. to study English, I acquainted a few older and younger guys from whom I learned golf. My golf skills are rusty because I haven’t play much nowadays. (laughter) Since coronavirus outbreak, there’s not much thing I could do with my family, so we started going hiking. My state, California, is really great due to many mountains and beaches. Diverse culture makes our living at ease as well. When I say I’m from California on a business trip, many people express they are jealous. The cost of living is expensive as it is a good place to live. To raise two children well, I would need to work really hard. It’s a good motivation.
What’s the prospect for the hair industry?
Coronavirus is pushing hard for it, so the popularity of braids will likely continue to grow. Tariff issues with China, coronavirus outbreak, and many other issues are restraining the supply chain. Consequently, the supply network will become more diverse including many other countries. I wish I can manage this crisis together with everyone in the industry.