The Joy of Living Together, The Store of Satisfying with Small Things!
Store ‘Hair & Beauty’ in Houston
About three and a half hours southeast of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, Texas(DFW), the hub of U.S. airports, comes another metropolis called Houston. Matt Yi(이름 확인), owner of Hair & Beauty, who had been busy working since early Saturday morning in a relaxed and quiet city of Houston, greeted BNB Magazine with a bright face.
President Yi, who was preparing for a busier business than usual due to Mother’s Day season, is a expert who had been running Beauty Supply for 23 years in the same place. As much as his long experience, Hair & Beauty had a deep story and a special business philosophy that no other retailers had said. Let’s dive into the owner’s heart-warming experience and his unwavering retail business philosophy of over 20 years.
My father, The First Generation of the Hair Industry
For Matt Yi, the hair industry was not unfamiliar to him. This is because Mr. Yi’s father started a beauty supply retail store since he was a high school student. Mr. Yi said that the fact that he had many siblings may have contributed to his father’s entry into the hair industry.
“I have two older sisters and one older brother, so I have relatively many siblings. There are four of us, and we’re all only one year apart from each other. When I entered high school, my oldest sister graduated from high school, so… Four of us went to college in about the same time, only 1~2 years apart. I don’t know exactly, but he probably started his business because of our college tuition. My oldest child turned 18 this year, and I could understand my father’s feelings a little bit. (Laughter) With my former salary from a normal company, I couldn’t have handled everything at once.” The hair industry which had seen over the shoulders of his father, became a great help later when Matt Yi ran a retail store as the owner. The shop that his father, who knew nothing of the hair industry, owned was not a beauty supply retail at first.
“My father originally started out as a small gift shop. You know, There’s a store that sells daily necessities and souvenirs. About a year or two after starting the store, my father’s acquaintance suggested selling hair products. My father, who didn’t know this industry, used a small space in the store to sell it as a test, thinking, ‘will this work out?’ but it did. It sold very well. That’s how he entered this market and expanded hair supplies, and the gift shop became the beauty supply retailer. Back then, not many people were doing this business. He was almost the first generation in the hair industry.”
Pioneering Early Years of Society, Coming Back to Huston because of Failure to Recognize Nephew
Although Mr. Yi was relatively familiar with the hair industry because his father ran a beauty supply, he tried to pioneer his life by walking a different path. While studying psychology at Texas Tech University in the city of Lubbock, about eight hours’ drive from Houston, he searched for his desired academical field. After college, he flew to Seattle at the recommendation of a high school classmate to get his first job there.
“At first, I got a job at a rental car company in Seattle Airport and took my first step into society. But alas, it was hard. To work in an organized group was harder than I thought. My boss ordered me around a lot, and there was so little that I could choose to do. By the time I felt constant boredom, I took a leave and came to my home in Houston.”Mr. Yi was shocked that he couldn’t recognize his nephew, whom he had not seen for many years, and realized what homesickness was. Then, he decided to come back home.
“I didn’t recognize my eldest nephew. It was a shock. I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve been away for so long that I don’t even recognize my family!’ It was my first time suffering from homesickness. I realized the importance of hometown because I failed to recognize my nephew. And it just so happened that I was so stressed from work, so I decided to come back.”
Grabbing a Golden Opportunity his Brother-in-Law Gave with Absolute Confidence
Returning to Houston, he immediately became a manager at Hair & Beauty. He had a vague memory of the hair industry when he was young, but he had no practical experience. It was his brother-in-law who trusted him. He was trusted enough to be invited to work at his brother-in-law’s second store at the time, the current store he owns.
“Gosh, my brother-in-law is like my savior. It wouldn’t have been easy for him to trust me and leave the store to me, even if I am family, but he handed me the right to run the store from the beginning. Apart from the money, I think the satisfaction I felt while working was huge. Unlike when I was at a rental car company where I was forced to do tasks by my boss, I could run the store the way I wanted to. I was happy with my store being built on the basis of my choices.”
To the question BNB asked, whether he was afraid to run the store with the right to decide on fields he had no experience in, Mr. Yi shook his head and said he was confident at the time. He says this confidence was the driving force behind the opportunity his brother-in-law gave him.
“This is my strength and also my weakness, but I am always confident. For example, if you give me the steering wheel of an aircraft because the captain of the plane I’m on right now was unconscious or something, I will be confident that I can grab the steering wheel and land it at the airport. The example was a bit extreme(laughter), but that’s how I am. My wife sometimes makes fun of me with this, but I think what there is in the world that I can’t do. Of course, I’ve been studying and working hard in this area, but when I first took over the store, I was confident that I would run it well and I think I’ve been doing well so far.”
‘NO Turf Wars’ as the Business Philosophy, Filling Half the Store with Wigs.
The impression BNB received when we first entered Hair & Beauty was that the interior was spacious and the proportion of wigs on display were much higher than other retailers. Nearly half of the store was packed with wig stands. When we asked him if he wasn’t a little far from the trend of beauty supplies that sell miscellaneous goods, chemicals, and braiding these days, he told us his philosophy.
“It’s a belief that I personally believe in, but I think people have their own size of ‘bowls,’ or have their own ‘means,’ from birth. I don’t know if I should say this, but this store sells hair. That’s why I think we need to focus on wigs. I agree that selling goods and chemicals is important, of course. Nevertheless, I think it’s right to focus on hair and do business out of that. This was partly influenced by mu brother-in-law running the stores without greediness, and partly just my belief. When I was first handed over the store, I didn’t have as many wigs as I do now, but as I gradually increased the proportion of wigs, it slowly filled half the store.”
Of course, he’s a businessman, so the reason why he sells wigs had some business secrets to make money behind it.
“Wig products often bring loyal customers. Customers are the most picky when it comes to wigs, looking for the right texture, fit, and how it looks when they put it on. So customers who are satisfied with a particular wig keep looking for the same item, while customers who are dissatisfied don’t even look at it twice. Doing business focused on wigs doesn’t mean sales go up significantly. However, it does have the effect of creating a lot of regulars. We have as many wigs on display as possible, so many customers come to our store to find certain wigs.
In addition to the wig display, traces of Mr.Yi’s philosophy were seen everywhere in the store. He said it might be his stubborn determination.
“It’s not that I don’t care about the other sections, but I spend relatively more time on wigs and hair. There are some miscellaneous goods that I don’t handle at all. It’s my stubbornness, I guess. (laughter) There’s another thing I am stubborn about. We don’t use POS systems. We do it all by hand, and I memorize it in my head to manage the stock. It’s for my comfort as well as my intention. I don’t really try things that I think it’s unnecessary because I can cover technical things with my long experience.”
The Life Philosophy of Humble Contentment, Dreaming of a Harmonious World
Mr. Yi recalls the first time the store was created and expresses his hope for the world to be harmonious and helpful to others. As we have seen from his business philosophy, his life philosophy is “anbunjijok,” a Korean term meaning ‘to keep one’s place with a comfortable mind and know how to be content.’ His idea is that if he’s happy now, he’s content with it.
“When I first came into business, my brother-in-law said to me, ‘A person can never live without other’s help.’ He said that even the most skilled men receive help from others. Our store was created in 1997, and at the time, his friends closed all their stores to came and helpe him decorate the store. They worked together, building new stands and hammering nails to the floor. When living in Houston and meeting people here and there, they say ‘we made this and that in your store,’ and I am reminded of how our retail store was built with the help of everyone. There’s a lot of difference between the atmosphere these days and the atmosphere back then, right? (Laughter) That was how it was at the time. Everyone used to help each other.”
He said he felt sorry to see people becoming increasingly competitive and stingy.
“That’s how it is these days. I think there are many aspects where we can create synergy by helping each other. Big store or little store, each have their own strengths, and should share those information and aspects, but it’s very unfortunate that it doesn’t work that way anymore. If anyone asks for my help, I’d be happy to. No matter how big the store is, it’s all in the neighborhood anyway. This industry can’t do the same business as McDonald’s or any other franchise.”
Because he is satisfied with his current happiness, he has no intention of expanding the store or creating another.
“I don’t know if I should say this but me and my brother-in-law both could’ve increase stores if we wanted to. The reason I didn’t do it was because I was satisfied and happy with my present. Like, I didn’t have to? I have everything I need here, and I didn’t want to make extra competition with other people.”
“Working with the Right People is like Dating the Right Person”
Hair & Beauty has many employees that have worked here for a long time. Tanya Jones, who works as a wig specialist at the store, has been working for 20 years, and Mike Govea, who helps with stock management and other store work, has been working for 15 years. Mr. Yi says that the secret to working long-term with employees is creating a ‘relaxed’ atmosphere.
“There’s nothing special. I do interviews and give them a probation period, well, just about the same as any store. But there is a certain chemistry you feel when working with them. It’s like dating. You know, you avoid dating people who you don’t have a chemistry with. (Laughter)Like dating, I think there are people who fit well with me, and some who don’t. I make them comfortable as possible, and observe the way they work with other employees. It’s a blessing for me to be able to work with such good people.”
“Twenty years ago, I came to the store as a customer and fell in love with Hair & Beauty. I’ve been working here since then. (Laughter) I think of this place as another house, and the staff and boss are family. I have four kids, and I gave birth to and raised them all while working here. I spent an important part of my life here. Mr. Yi is great. He is kind and treats us all equally. I don’t think there’s a more comfortable workplace than this.”
With 20 years of experience, she didn’t miss out on tips on the products that are popular these days.
“Oh, because of COVID, there are lots of people working from home, right? So many of them are trying new, bold styles. They keep looking for bolder colors and more unique wig styles. I am, too. (Laughter) Customers look for wigs inspired by my hair, and I recommend the things I’ve worn.”