Sunday, February 1, 2009

Black Hair is Not a Black Business

The Black Hair industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. This industry has created other revenue generating vessels such as, conferences, schools, distribution, competitions, marketing, and even research. With an industry that is so huge and driven by the black dollar, one would expect that this industry would be under the direct control of those that make it successful, the black race. However, it is not. Though blacks still control many of the hair salons and barbershops, there is still a major disparity in many of the other businesses within this industry. Plus, recent trends have begun to emerge in the marketplace that threatens the ownership of those two entities. There is a new business model for salons, Korean-Owned and Black-Operated. This new model is growing rapidly and becoming a success among the community. While customers can continue to receive services from a familiar black stylist, the dollar ultimately goes to the Korean community.

It’s absolutely not a bad thing that Koreans are becoming fierce competitors and business owners in this black industry, so standing on the sidelines boycotting these establishments or calling for them to discontinue is a way that further perpetuates the blacks’ “right to survivorship” thinking. Blacks should not expect to be able to merely sit on a golden egg that was handed to them and not expect others to want a piece of it. The golden egg must be protected and guarded like the lion guards its kill from the hyena. Since the system we live under a capitalist system, the way a person or group rises to great wealth and sustainability is through competitive edges. Is this true? The retail segment of the black hair business is another entity that works to cipher the dollar from black community and be sent elsewhere. After research of over 800 black served beauty supply stores, we uncovered an ownership base of less than 5%. Of these same stores during a 6-month evaluation we found more than 97% of black consumers.
Is this a huge snowballing problem that should be addressed? Do blacks have the resources and opportunities within their communities but are simply not harnessing these opportunities? The problem of a low number of retail stores does not begin there. It begins at the distribution level. There is still a significant amount of black manufacturers of products but once these products leave the black manufacturers, they are placed in the hands of Korean distributors then the problem begins. Once the Korean distributors get a hold of the products they do two things: 1. They selectively distribute the products to retailers and sometimes at different prices. 2. They study the black products and soon create prototypes and begin marketing these prototypes to their huge Korean retailer base. Lucky White, CEO of Kizure Products, has boasted this as being one of her major dilemmas in her business slowdown. She is not only being competed against by other equipment manufacturers, the distributors are acting as lobbyist for her competitor.

In an industry that resulted in billions due to pioneer, Madame C.J. Walker, a black woman born into poor conditions in the early 20th century, one would expect the blueprint to this industry to be studied and executed by blacks across America but sadly this has not been the case. Why? It is not as simple as setting up shop and waiting for high profits anymore. Retail storeowners are facing many competitive obstacles such as capital, a large selection of products, and pricing. In most cases, getting an account with a Korean distributor as a Black person means you face an uphill battle. First, the distributor must approve your location before agreeing to supply your store. If they agree, now payments must be made in cash upfront with no delayed terms of payment. This is perhaps the hugest obstacle a new black storeowner faces. Then, this is a rippling effect. If distributors are consuming the capital instantly, then there is less available for the new black owner to obtain an abundant variation of products. Lastly, the pricing advantage many Korean stores are able to provide for the black consumer keeps them coming back over and over again, showing very little regard to a black storeowner down the block. This pricing advantage is also a resource for the Koreans because of the relationship they have with the Korean distributors.

However, the nail has not yet been driven into the coffin of the black lockout of their stake in this industry. I am living proof. I emotionally entered into this industry when I was thrown out of a Korean-Owned beauty supply store while I was attempting to make a huge purchase for my salon. The owner felt uncomfortable with me browsing and being selective. His frustration grew to rage so he then threatened me with a golf club eventually throwing me out of his store. Like many black men, I didn’t know of the huge lockout that took place in this industry until I had already signed a $5,000 lease for a location. My uphill battle began as distributors wanted cash and many didn’t even return my phone calls. Little did many of them know my persistence is abnormal. I took daytrips on airlines to physically walk into locations in New York and Miami until I got what I wanted. My goal was to give our community options in shopping while receiving the respect they deserved. My one location turned into three in 18 short months. Trial and error was my ally. As I learned, I perfected. Here a few things that an aspiring owner can implement.

Communicate with other owners – Find other owners willing to communicate with you in your market and even throughout the country. They are more than willing to share valuable information with you and you should do the same.

Automate the Store – In this fast-paced era, do not rely on spreadsheets and manual inventory tracking. This can slowdown your customer fulfillment process and tie up valuable time that could be used elsewhere.

Be a competitive and creative owner – Do not do what the next guy is doing, do what he isn’t. Establish store niches.
Establish Non-Competitive Clauses – Secure your market share within your mall at the least. Do not leave the gate wide open.

Manage the Cash Effectively – From your gross, pre-allocate percentages for capital expenditures, marketing, taxes, procurement, payroll, etc and have different bank accounts for each one with the monies being deposited systematically. Do not rely on self to divvy up or disburse the funds as you receive revenue.

Form Alliances Outside the Black Hair Industry – I once went to a children’s theme park with my sons and discovered that a local pizza franchise provided the pizzas for the business at a discounted rate. These opportunities exist for beauty storeowners as well. I established plenty. One place is funeral homes.

Seek Consulting – Never think you know it all. I had two beauty storeowners that acted as my mentors for the first year. I compensated them for intense assistance but for quick advice they were glad to help. Expect nothing for free. Allocate funds for this too.
Location, Location, Location – Do not pick a convenient location for you, pick a convenient location for the customer. There are moneymaking opportunities even when there is an existing beauty store. Don’t be afraid of the competition. The way you operate may be the way the customers in that market prefer.

Though I have highlighted distribution as the component needed, it is not the way to launching strategic efforts, and neither is boycotting. Building up the amount of black-owned retail stores is the first step in a strategic plan like this. The demand must first be created if a black distribution plant is to be successful. The black hair business is a cash cow but in its current state the cow is jumping over the moon with the moneybag heading to other communities.

Devin Robinson is the author of Taking it Back: How to Become a Successful Black Beauty Supply Store Owner who resides in Atlanta, GA. Visit his website at

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