Breaking Barriers: Why Black-Owned Beauty Supply Stores Are Important And On The Rise

Beauty for us, by us.

It was just another day for Princess Dempsey when she went shopping at her neighborhood beauty supply store. Who would have known, just two hours later, she’d walk out as the store’s new owner.

The Chicago-native and serial entrepreneur didn’t think twice about taking immediate steps to assume ownership of the store after she watched a Korean-American owner disrespect an elderly woman and her granddaughter in his store. Without hesitation, she bought his store and hair inventory, putting the previous owner out of business on the spot. Six months later, after careful planning, she opened Princess Delights Beauty Supply in the Chicago suburb Westchester, IL last month.

Come support Black-owned businesses at the 2018 ESSENCE Street Style Festival!

Dempsey is part of a growing number of African-Americans taking back ownership of the beauty supply business.   Despite African-American women spending more than $54 million in ethnic hair care and beauty products in 2017 alone according to a 2018 Nielsen study, beauty supply stores are part of a  multi-billion dollar industry that has historically locked African-Americans completely out for decades.

As the tides change, more African-Americans—both nationally and abroad—are getting into the haircare and beauty supply store industry, while also making sure that they are doing business with other Black beauty entrepreneurs in the process.

“Koreans used to control the market, now they are selling the stores back to us because their kids do not want to take on the store,” says Sam Ennon, President and CEO of The Black Owned Beauty Supply Association

Over the past 15 years, the organization has helped open 450 Black-owned beauty supply stores across the country.

“The second and third generation (of Korean Americans) went to college and go into other professions,” Ennon added. “We’re very pleased with the future of the Black haircare industry where it’s going because more entrepreneurs, more young people are getting into the business,” Ennon shared recently with CNBC.  

This new trend presents a unique, yet profitable, opportunity for the Black community and combats the continuous racial profiling many of us have experienced or witnessed shopping in most Asian-owned stores. Just this month, two black women were physically attacked by a store owner.

Despite being such a highly-visible staple in our community, there are still several unknowns within, and about, the industry. To answer some of the outstanding questions about breaking into the business, we reached out to several store owners who shared some of the gems they’ve learned on their entrepreneurial journeys in hopes of helping out the next generation of black beauty store bosses.  Keep reading below to hear what they had to say.

Have a plan for your money
“Make sure you have a business plan, and in that business plan, have a section for where your capital is going to come from–whether you save your money, go to a bank, or an investor.” – Stephanie Sarr, owner of Savanna Beauty in Madison, WI

Location is key
“Don’t go to an area that is already built up. Look for an area that is under gentrification where you can purchase that building for next to nothing and then grow with that particular community. If you open up a beauty supply shop and that rent is expensive, you are basically working to pay the rent and risk being priced out.” – Drew Paris, co-owner of Paris Hair & Beauty Supplies with his wife Donna Jarrett-Paris in Trenton, NJ

Don’t rush it
“Build slow; (carry) one main hair (brand), and as you grow, add more brands. Don’t just jump out there. Don’t take on too much inventory at once.” – Robert Horton, owner of Beauty’s Own Beauty Supply in Fort Washington, MD  

Embrace a wide audience
“Position your stores for it to look like an all-encompassing store. My ads feature entire families, children, teenagers. My products are a wide range, and that’s how you stay in business. You go into business for what your customer wants, not what you want.” –  Devin Robinson, owner Shelly’s Beauty Supply Store and Training Lab in Atlanta, GA

Master exceptional customer service
“Customer satisfaction is my number one goal. You come into the store and you’re going to be greeted and treated with the utmost respect. You build your inventory off of who is coming into your store. Build relationships, and watch your business grow.” – Renay Green, owner of Natalya’s Beauty Supply in Conyers, GA

Consider going online only
“People find out about us online and then go to our online home. Once I accepted that that is what people were doing, I shifted resources from having a physical space to our digital boutique. Being online has allowed us to focus our energy and resources better. The in-store customer shops differently than she does online, so we’ve edited our offerings accordingly and focused our marketing to have a purely digital focus.” – Desiree Verdejo, owner of Vivrant Beauty in New York, NY

Find a list of Black-owned beauty supply stores nationwide here.