Next-gen leader who enjoys challenge and adventure
COO Connor Ji of Beauty Master
Starting in 2002 as a family business running a small retail store in Georgia, Beauty Master has become a company with 9 branches and 400 employees in just 20 years. At the core of the business were Chairman Park’s family members who provided their own expertise for his vision and goals. We interviewed Chairman Park’s eldest son-in-law, COO Connor Ji of Beauty Master, to find out the driving force of Beauty Master’s growth and the next-gen leader’s vision for the beauty supply industry.
Q. Please briefly introduce yourself.
Hello, I’m Connor Ji, a Chief Operating Officer of Beauty Master. I am primarily in charge of HR, running advertisements on the web, TV, and radio stations, and (design) planning. Including the interior and exterior design, I oversee the purchase of a commercial building as well as renovation of a new retail space as to the interior design, color design, lighting, layout, and so on.
Q. You are in charge of many things! How many COOs does Beauty Master have?
We have five COOs, each having their unique scope of duties. James, the second eldest son-in-law, is in charge of chemical and accessories MD and finance. My wife and her sister are in charge of hair products. Their brother Jason is in charge of the upcoming retail branch in Florida.
Q. This year you have expanded to the Florida market. We hear the new retail store is quite large.
Mr. Chairman made a big decision. We have prior experiences as well. In 2010, we opened a Morrow branch in the region with few small beauty supply stores. Still, we opened a 60,000 sq.ft. retail store in the middle of nowhere. At the time, the average beauty supply retail store was around 6,000 sq.ft. People thought that opening such a gigantic store was a crazy idea. In the first month after the grand opening, the sales revenue was about three thousand and something hundreds. Now, the monthly sales revenue exceeds almost a million dollars.
*Beauty Master in Orlando, FL, the 9th branch of Beauty Master, opened last April with 54,000 sq.ft. retail space.
Q. How do you manage the total of nine retail stores? I wonder if it differs from managing one or a few retail stores?
We have changed the concept of store management. For a franchise, there are individual owners who independently run each store. Although we manage every aspect of store opening, once the store manager is assigned to it, we only provide basic guidelines. But for the office workers and managers, store managers independently hire the entire staff. We make sure our staff feels that the store is theirs.
One more thing. We have put a lot of effort into building a company structure. In the past, it was a typical owner-managed business, but it hit the growth limit. Since 2016, we made titles of executive officers, managers, assistant managers, section leaders, and so on, having separate organizations for warehouse and retail, for the sake of work distribution. The fastest way to success was to allow them to run with little supervision.
Q. Having a company structure for a beauty supply is something we’ve never heard of. Did you have a model or a business to benchmark?
Not at all. We did not find a similar case in Georgia. We tried wholesales, but they differ in nature from retail. Fortunately, I had work experience at an animation studio and an airline warehouse, from which I transplanted the organizational structure to our business. It was full of experiments. We had ad-hoc meetings and tried different sections. One day, we had a working system established for Beauty Master.
Q. You’ve worked in a different industry.
I majored in animation and visual effect at SCAD in Atlanta. I worked at an in-house animation studio for Cartoon Network of TBS after graduation, and I planned to move on to Disney in Florida. Then, I met my wife through Jason’s introduction, who was a good friend of mine. After engagement, we wanted to move to Florida, but Mr. Chairman proposed a job position at his company revealing his big plans. I accepted the dubious proposal and joined the company in 2009. That’s already 13 years ago.
Q. It must’ve been hard in the beginning.
For the first two years, I struggled. I felt that it would not work for me. Mr. Chairman has a principle of treating every staff the same way. So, his family members also start with cleaning the restroom. James (the second eldest son-in-law) was a year ahead of me, and he started the same. Well, all “daughters” started as a manager in a comfy office, a stark contrast from cashier duties for “sons.” (laughter) If you put someone who knows nothing in a leadership role, who would follow them? For the first two or three years, it’s the experience of the bottom. I still feel very lucky about one thing. Our brother-in-law was so nice to us personally as well as at work. He is like our work mentor.
Q. What was it like to work with your father-in-law?
Of course, it would’ve been harder than working with my parents. Nonetheless, I had a much bigger advantage. Mr. Chairman is so open-minded. When he makes plans, he never says, “Do as I say because I’m the boss.” We had meetings, and he heard our opinions and came up with ideas. When we propose something new, he never says, “No”. He says, “Go ahead and try it” and supports us to the end. Even when the trial goes the wrong way and results in hundred thousands of dollars in loss, he did not take that as a waste. “Failure is okay because you gain experience.” Some products were failures at first but became successful at the end. He taught us ‘failure is the mother of success’ by experience.
Q. Considering the path you and your siblings took so far, it’s not correct to say you’re second generation. You did not inherit but made the success together.
Frankly, we can’t say we’re the second generation. The term second generation insinuates that you have inherited an established business. But two generations built the business together here. We are about the age of second generations but have taken the role of first generations. I think the term “next-gen” is quite correct.
Q. As a next-gen who encompasses both first and second generations, what would you emphasize for the second generation beauty supply owners?
Challenge! To succeed in this industry, you must take challenges consistently. The pitfall of the second generation is actually two: too risk-averse or too risk-tolerant. Young owners who want to stay comfortable tend to have grown up with everything supplied for them. They are too timid for a challenge. On the other hand, some might take risks without a thoughtful consideration. When we open a new branch, we do extensive research beforehand. From demographic data to visiting city halls to gather information, surveying the neighboring market, finding out how existing beauty supplies are doing, how many customers you can attract with ads, and so on. We do not rely on a hunch.
The point is that you should not be afraid of challenges but act with careful thought and data. Trends shift. You cannot give up catching up with trends. To catch up is to take challenges.
Q. Where do you gather information about trends?
Information is not to be received but to be found. It’s a battle of ideas. If you say, “it sells well in XX store. So should it do well in my store,” that’s just copying others. If we have an eye on a certain item like clothes, we simply give up a section and devote it to clothes. Challenge cannot be done while holding onto everything you already have. You have to give up something instead. If we get positive feedback on clothes, we move on to say, “okay, let’s fill half the store with clothes.”
Most beauty supplies focus on hair products and chemicals. Although we treat them as important as they should, we distribute the weight. We do not limit ourselves to traditional beauty supply items. When we find out mirrors sell well in a store, we bring all sorts of mirrors to the store. That’s our way of doing business.
Q. You must undergo changes all the time. How do you forecast the future of beauty supply?
I am positive about the future. To me, there are so many opportunities. People complain there is no new opportunity for growth, but we do not agree. It continuously evolves, and a new hit is made with a new item, followed by another. There is no predetermined limit. For customers, we used to deal with women exclusively. Nowadays, many men wear makeup. That’s an opportunity. For ethnicity, from Black to White, Latino, and Asian it’s endless. We have so many opportunities ahead.
Q. You said you thought it would not work for you at first. What’s your take now?
That’s ancient history. I’m in love with my work now. This field is filled with adventures, and you can’t possibly predict the future. Last year, Covid-19 decimated events. For us, we kept it steady. Last year and this year, all our staff got the Covid-19 shots and went on a corporate trip to Cancun. We held the annual scholarship event of $1,000 for 100 students. For now, we are running an event for the first anniversary of Beauty Master, Douglasville.
One Year Anniversary event page on Beauty Master website and scholarship information
Every month we have something new to promote, new items to sell, and new projects to run. Every employee is in the same spirit. That’s why it’s so fun. I will probably stay as a beauty supplier for a long time.