Young’s Beauty 30-Something Owner Grows His Firm Dream in Summerville, SC

Young’s Beauty 30-Something Owner Grows His Firm Dream in Summerville, South Carolina

Summerville, SC is a small town with a population of 50,000. More than 72% of the residents are White while Black or African American residents are less than 20%. Nevertheless, the competition is fierce. Since Young’s Beauty opened its door, four beauty supplies have existed in the area. Among them, only two have survived now, and Young’s Beauty’s sole competitor is a big chain retail store that has deep roots in Summerville.

What is the secret of their survival? We hurried our trip in curiosity and arrived at Young’s Beauty in a somewhat bleak atmosphere with a rural scene behind. As opposed to the word Young in its name, we felt a bit surprised at the outdated look and the smaller than expected size. Then, we entered the store.

Young’s Beauty 내부. 11,000스퀘어피트의 공간이 내벽을 사이에 두고 기존 가게(오른쪽)와 새로 꾸민 가게(왼쪽)로 나뉘어져 있다

Inside, it was a different story. “Hello, how are you!” A loud and pleasant greeting gave us the impression of a lively store, and Mr. Dong ouk Kim, the store owner, and his four employees were working at a much larger space than it appeared. Under the rows of light fixtures, two retail spaces were joined to make a store.

Young’s Beauty originally opened its door in Charleston, and 15 years ago, it moved to Summerville into a larger space. Mr. Kim was an engineer working at a large company before he bought the business from his father in his 20s, taking the first step into the business world. In six years, the 6,000 sq.ft. store became 11,000 sq.ft. The space with the main entrance was the part he inherited from the purchase, and the internally connected extra retail space is the part he newly purchased during the expansion of his beauty supply. In the early days, he wanted to simply remove the wall between two spaces, but for the safety of the building, he is practicing the Korean saying, “learning new from knowing old.”

The old space has a cashier, luxury track hair and accessories while the new space wigs, clothes, crotchets, and chemicals. The old space still has the relic of the old display including the store plaque and banners on the wall with the tightly packed hair products and accessories, but the new space is showcasing Mr. Kim’s display strategy.

1. Wig display

Surrounding a wall, countless wigs are displayed, and there seems to be a principle. Wigs are divided into color-coded sections where attached orange, green, pink, and so on papers indicate the price range. The luxury wig section is where Mr. Kim spent the most time and money. “We’ve gathered the most expensive wigs made of human hair, and we made sure it shows the difference from the display. The difference starts from mannequins. Sometimes we use supplier sponsored displays, but here, everything is handpicked and paid in full. They are separated by dividers to look extra special.”

2. Braids and colorants in a wide range of colors

On the opposite side from the wigs, colorful braid hairs fill the entire space. Some colors are so bold that you cannot help but wonder if it really sells. “We have many braids for summer because it’s too hot for wigs. We try to have as many colors as possible. From neon to two-tone and solid as well as a mix of three colors are available. We actually know that some of them will not sell. At times, it is simply a reminder that ‘we even have this color’ to customers. If a customer grabs one of them and brings it home, that’s a success. Hair colors are the same. To stay up-to-date, we are staying tuned for bright colors for the hair color section.”

 

3. Adding new items per trend

A clothing section was added during the pandemic. Starting with men’s clothes, we added women’s last year. As the department stores closed during the pandemic, the clothing section made a positive impact on the store’s revenue. It is worth a try to adapt to a new business environment with new merchandise.

 

4. Whenever a customer calls

As the store is divided into two floors, customer service can be tricky. Young’s Beauty has a call button in every nook and section including gates with a sign “Press button for help.” You can peek at their customer service mindset.

However, do these small things really add up to the ultimate survival strategy? While we examine the ins-and-outs of the store, we could make an important observation. Every customer who exited the store had a big smile on their face.

 

5. The best strategy is “unconditional kindness”

“No customer leaves our store frowning,” says Mr. Kim with confidence.

“Even the most difficult customer will be made to laugh before they leave.” When a customer comes with a wig that has been worn, I authorize return whether or not they would be coming again. Customer service is our lifeline. We can’t beat the price of our competitor. The competitor is one of four or five locations in South Carolina alone, so they often sell items at cost and offer cash refunds. We simply can’t do that, so we make our best effort to have exchange as a viable option and offer great customer service.

 

6. Communication with customers is the key

When a customer enters the store, Mr. Kim starts with “how are you?” and keeps customer busy with complements like “your hair looks great today”, “I like your makeup”, and “I love your hair color” in his mid-low voice, to the extent that it wows you. Now the manager tends the cash register most of the time, but Mr. Kim used to be in the cashier everyday for 6-7 years and knows the customers so well.

“We used to have a White customer who had cancer. She always bought expensive wigs, but she stopped coming for years. I was concerned and even made calls, which she didn’t pick up. So, I assumed she passed away. Five years later, she came to buy her last wig because she beat cancer. I can’t forget the day.”

In addition to the in-person communication, he is very active online just like other young business owners.

Imaged upload on Facebook by Young’s Beauty


Mr. Kim with his employees (from left, Cedrick, Victoria(the manager), Mr. Kim, Joyce and Smiley)

7. Employees learns from the owner

Total four African American employees are currently working at Young’s Beauty. They used to have a Korean manager, but it is not easy to find one in the remote area. Although the all-African American staffing is by accident, it not only works but also comes with benefits. Joyce had been with Young’s Beauty since the father Kim’s time, and she often jokes to Mr. Kim that she’s his Black mom. Manager/stylist Victoria loves to work. She works five days a week at the store and the rest at the shop. The common trait among the employees is found in vibrant and pleasant customer service. They have seen how Mr. Kim works.

 

8. Store management by the book

Staff members at Young’s Beauty do a special report. They have a checklist of to-dos, including restocking braids, organizing make-ups, and other daily tasks, and it took almost a year to have this written manual for employees. Thanks to the hard work, now it’s not necessary to teach A-Z for new employees. It saves the manager’s time, and employees can focus on customer service while letting the checklist to serve as a reminder. Mr. Kim’s work-life balance has improved so much because of it too.

In his eight years in business, Mr. Kim already has a firm management principle and experience-based skills. He acquired his father’s business when he was so young, and he made the business a firmly established one in the locality with respect to the size and competitiveness in his 30s. What vision does he have now?

 

 “I want to retire before 50.”

I was hoping to hear a passionate response, but the word “retire” from him resonated with the new and popular motto, “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” I have to admit that I first looked at him through a lens of traditional belief and value set, but through the interview, my attitude toward him changed and now I am rooting for him.

 

From salaried-worker to businessman

“I worked at Hyundai factory in Alabama with a mechanical engineering degree.” My parents have run a beauty supply store since my high school years. When they wanted to retire, I became a business owner.

He was only 28 at that time. How was he so decisive about quitting his engineering career? “I grew up watching my parents running a business, so there was little hesitation. I enjoyed working at a company, but I was not sure if I could make the senior management in 20 or 30 years. If that is not the case, I thought I should just start making money for myself. At the time, my mom was unwell. My dad was the only one working, so I did not have much choice.”

 

“We have a written agreement, and I am not missing a payment.”

Mr. Kim and his parents signed a business sale contract at their accountant’s office, by the book.

“The business was their pension fund. They could not save much because they supported me and my sister through college. Hence, we made a deal where I make monthly installments for the value of business. It was supposed to be paid in full in five years, but we had to adjust the terms because of the store expansion. It’s almost gone now.”

Thanks to their credit-worthy (?) son, his parents are fully enjoying their retirement life now.

 

Eight busy years of running business

In his early days in the beauty supply business, he would regret his choice at times such as when his friends blamed him for not attending their wedding and he worked on weekends and holidays. But his parents’ life made him keep going. “My parents lived a similar life for 20 years.” I only had that for years and was in a much better position with better language skills and everything. It wouldn’t make sense for me to give up.”

Just in a year after the ownership transfer, he expanded the footprint when the business next door shut down. It felt great to see his business grow, and it made him have achievements and goals. While working tirelessly 10 hours a day on weekends, he still managed (?) to get married.

Mr. Kim & his wife Mingi Sung

“I met my wife through my close friend who runs a jewelry business.” She lived in Atlanta at the time, so I would spend a day or two with her after work and get back to work right away. I did half a year and got exhausted. My wife said, ‘You can’t keep doing this. I would just marry you.’ That’s how we met and married in a year.”

Still in 30s, his life goal is changed

“For the first six years, I could not delegate because of lack of trust. I would just receive, unpack, and organize merchandise myself. In doing so, every inch of my body developed pain: my ankles, wrists, and so on. It’s hard to find a part that is okay. I don’t get good results on my wellness exam, and my therapist says I have work addiction. I was told to reduce work and have a life. I have to agree with that. After eight years of work-only life, I’ve changed a bit.”

Most of all, he feels sorry for his wife. “We did not have a proper honeymoon. My wife worked hard in the first two years until the business started running systematically. So, I want to work as hard as I can, retire as soon as I can, and enjoy my life. I wouldn’t make a fortune, but still my goal is to retire before 50. It’s not an easy thing to say at my age, but that keeps me going extra hard.”

The goal is something anyone could agree on. While respecting his parents’ values, he also envisions a life of a Millennial or Generation Z. We wish the best for Mr. Kim’s firm dream. Young’s Beauty at Summerville is running as vibrant and busy as it has ever been.

Still in 30s, his life goal is changed

“For the first six years, I could not delegate because of lack of trust. I would just receive, unpack, and organize merchandise myself. In doing so, every inch of my body developed pain: my ankles, wrists, and so on. It’s hard to find a part that is okay. I don’t get good results on my wellness exam, and my therapist says I have work addiction. I was told to reduce work and have a life. I have to agree with that. After eight years of work-only life, I’ve changed a bit.”

Most of all, he feels sorry for his wife. “We did not have a proper honeymoon. My wife worked hard in the first two years until the business started running systematically. So, I want to work as hard as I can, retire as soon as I can, and enjoy my life. I wouldn’t make a fortune, but still my goal is to retire before 50. It’s not an easy thing to say at my age, but that keeps me going extra hard.”

The goal is something anyone could agree on. While respecting his parents’ values, he also envisions a life of a Millennial or Generation Z. We wish the best for Mr. Kim’s firm dream. Young’s Beauty at Summerville is running as vibrant and busy as it has ever been.

 

소매점 탐방 BY BNB Magazine
BNB 매거진 2022년 8월호 ©bnbmag.com