After posting the documentary about the struggles black owned beauty supply stores are experiencing because of their Korean counterparts, I thought about the number of African American owned beauty supply stores that cater to black hair within my parameter, and after thinking about it, I realized the answer was zero. I normally purchase hair care products throughout Brooklyn and Harlem and every shop I go to is owned by Koreans. Once realizing I couldn’t find a black owned beauty supply store, I researched the issue and found the film by Aron Raven.
Because of Raven’s project I became very curious about the topic, almost obsessed, and went online in search of black owned beauty supply stores. Ultimately, I found BeeTee Beauty Supply Store in East Orange, New Jersey. I called the store and spoke to the owner, Tim. He was very gracious and openly filled me in on the politics regarding the beauty supply store business. After our conversation I had to feature him on Permed to Natural. There was no way I could keep all of that information to myself. I went to East Orange to meet Tim in person and to visit his store. BeeTee Beauty is a large space that is magnificently stocked with products for your every hair care need. I felt extremely proud when I entered his store.
Check out what Tim has to say about the beauty supply store business.
PTN: What inspired you to start your own beauty supply store?
BT: We came from families of entrepreneurs. Our families ran their own businesses from retail, corporations to professional practices. So naturally we gravitated towards owning our own business. Beauty supply was an attraction because despite what you do and who you are, you will always take care of your beauty needs.
PTN: How long has BeeTee Beauty Supply been in business and where are you located?
PTN: Your competition are the Koreans who also own beauty supply stores geared towards African American hair care. Have you lost customers to Korean owned beauty supply stores in your area?
BT: Well you loose some and you gain some! Koreans have always dominated the industry and our people have come to think that the beauty supply business is the domain of the Koreans only. I think that we as a people should support one another and together we can get our business back. Currently, the Koreans control the market, they have the financial stability, and they have locked down the supplies, the suppliers and the manufacturers, which pose entry barriers into the beauty supply business for the minority black person.
PTN: Have you noticed a change in the way business is done over the years? If so, please tell us about it.
BT: The market is dominated by the Koreans; if you don’t speak the Korean language, they wouldn’t sell to you, when they do sell; the price is higher than for their Korean counterpart. You are often compelled to pay cash, certified check or money order for everything you buy. No return, no terms. In New Jersey where we are located there is an organization called Korean Beauty Supply Association (KBSA). They have threatened to boycott any distributor that will sell to any non Korean beauty supply store. Consequently, these distributors become scared to sell to the non Koreans because of the threat of boycott from KBSA. Have you ever wondered why most stores owned by blacks or minorities are poorly stocked? It’s not because they don’t have the capital. No. Far from it! Majority of them have the money but they can’t find a supplier that is willing to take the wrath of the KBSA.
Secondly, if you do find a supplier or distributor willing to sell, they will suddenly either stop selling or demand their products back. Then follows the excuses; either the factory in China or Korea has gone on strike or they have burnt down or they are out of stock, and so on…. Or they give you the “proximity” excuse. The proximity excuse is usually used when Korean distributors don’t want to sell to you because you are not Korean. They tell you that you are too close to a customer of theirs and will violate their unwritten code by selling to you. They would say it promotes unhealthy competition. But it’s okay when the store is Korean owned. These stories are real! They actually happened to us and are still happening eight and a half years later.
In November 2002, a few months after our official grand opening in East Orange, New Jersey, our main distributor Jingu (Harlem21) hair company came back to our store and demanded to take their products back. They came with a refund money order (issued from a Korean bank in China Town, New York) and advised that they have been instructed by their CEO in China to refund us our money and return their products. They indicated that their company had received numerous calls and threats from KBSA that they were doing business with us. The KBSA had called their president in China and logged complaints. When Jingu came to our store to collect their products, they came in company with KBSA members to ensure that the products were actually retrieved. Another supplier in California, Jazz Wave, stopped selling to us three months later. Reason? Their factory burnt down and they are getting a lot of calls from the New Jersey chapter of KBSA to stop selling to us, they would eventually confess. Ben’s Beauty (in Philadelphia), Milky Way Hair Collections, Janet Hair Collections (Beauty Plus), Beverly Johnson Hair Collections, Outre, Motions Hair Collections, Sensationnel Hair, just to name a few, had one excuse after another.
PTN: All of the hair collections you just mentioned are Korean owned?
BT: Yes all of them are Korean owned including Beverly Johnson’s Hair Collection. Also Korean owned are Sally Beauty Supply stores.
PTN: How are Koreans able to obtain black hair care products to distribute? Can you go to the same place to purchase products for your store as well?
BT: Korean distributors go to the manufacturers, and some are black owned, to buy products by the trailer load. Manufacturers don’t normally sell to retail stores because the distributors are able to purchase a lot more items and that is how they make their money. There are a few black distributors I am able to purchase from but sometimes they buy products from the Korean distributors because they can not afford to purchase a large amount from the manufacturers.
PTN: Do black owned manufacturers know what the Koreans are doing to black owned beauty supply stores?
BT: I am sure they do.
PTN: How many black owned beauty supply stores are there in East Orange, New Jersey?
BT: I know of only three including mine. The fourth one was forced out of business by the Koreans due to lack of suppliers and products. So her customers dwindled and migrated to her Korean competition.
PTN: How many Korean owned beauty supply stores that cater to black hair are there in East Orange, New Jersey?
BT: At the top of my head I can count more than eight in the vicinity where I operate. I am sure there is a slew more of Korean owned black beauty supply shops in East Orange since East Orange accounts for over 75 percent of blacks in the Oranges.
PTN: How do you feel about those numbers?
BT: Discouraging and disproportionately balanced. It is unfair that black people are prevented from entering a market that caters to their needs. But then again, who says life is fair?
PTN: Do you purchase products from Koreans who distribute most of the black hair care supplies? If yes, is it hard working with them? If not, how to do stock your store?
BT: Yes, I do but it’s not easy at all. Cash up front no credit. There are a few willing to do business with us under the radar. These suppliers very frequently do not want our Korean counterparts to know that they are selling to us.
PTN: How do you think African Americans lost ownership of beauty supply stores for black hair? What can we do to gain back control? Do you think we are willing to do that?
BT: I don’t know but knowing what I know now, I think we sold out! We need to stop selling ourselves short, cheap and gain back our self esteem. I believe in my people and I still think that we can gain back control if we stick together and support those that dare to enter the market. We will gain back control when we start working together, start spending our money within our people and in our businesses and give black businesses a chance. Financial institutions in the black communities need to open up and lend money to grow the community.
PTN: What do you want Permed to Natural readers to take with them after reading your story?
BT: The beauty supply industry is like the mafia. No one tells you until you get there to find out that everything is locked down. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. The Koreans do not want black people in the business that caters to blacks, previously owned by blacks and used by blacks. Where black owned beauty supplies exist, the Koreans are bent at eliminating and wiping them out for good.
I want all your readers to ‘try and support black beauty supply stores out there’ wherever and whenever they can because they are the ones that will create the wealth in the black community and invest the money back in the black community. Ever wonder where your Korean beauty supply store owner lives? Certainly not in your community where they make their money!