Two former co-workers find a profitable niche with their new by forrests


									Urban beaUty SUpply
Two former co-workers find a profitable niche with their new multicultural salon store in Kansas.
by Mike Nave
Photography by Gregg Riess

Willie Tolon (left) and Robert Kearns, who is holding his son Daniel, are co-owners of the successful Urban Beauty Supply in Shawnee, Kansas.

obert Kearns’ and Willie Tolon’s Urban Beauty Supply in Shawnee, Kansas, is what every beauty store with a large multicultural customer base can be. It’s well stocked and clean, and the co-owners and their team provide a great shopping experience. In fact, Urban Beauty prides itself on customer service, something Kearns and Tolon perceived to be lacking in existing Kansas City-area beauty stores. Their employees spend time to really get to know customers. Located in a predominantly Caucasian suburb of Kansas City, Kansas, this store, which is in its first year of operation, proves that there’s a demand for multicultural products and hair-braiding services almost everywhere. Recently, Beauty Store Business talked with Kearns to discover his secrets to success.

November 2006 Beauty Store Business

Urban Beauty Supply prides itself on its vast product selection.

BSB: Tell us about your background and Urban Beauty Supply’s start. KEARNS: I was born and raised in Kansas City, Kansas. When I was in the ninth grade, my family moved to Johnson County (where the beauty store is). I graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a minor in psychology. For about seven years I worked in outside sales at Campbell’s Soup, Grote Industries and a small animal-health company, where I sold animal pharmaceuticals in a seven-state territory. In 2001 I went to work for Bunny’s Beauty Supply as the business administrator. I was responsible for payroll, accounts payable, human resources and other administrative duties.

What did you learn by working in other beauty stores? I learned the importance of excellent customer service and having staff members who are educated in the beauty business and speak English. I also learned the importance of keeping the store stocked—especially with the top-sellers. Tell us about Urban Beauty Supply. Our store is 2,225 square feet. We have two part-timers, two braiders, myself and Willie, who also manages the operation. We’re in a shopping center that includes Designer Shoe Warehouse, KG Men’s Store, Starbucks and three salons, including a Fantastic Sam’s. Our customer base is very diverse; it includes stylists as well as

“Our guest book is aN excelleNt marketing tool. We have custOmers sigN iN when they visit Our stOre.”
I eventually started buying some beauty products, and over time more vendor lines were assigned to me. I learned the products from my buying experience. I also started managing the largest Bunny’s store. In its prime, Bunny’s had three beauty supplies, one clothing store and one professional-only beauty store, Evelyn’s Beauty Supply. I also worked for a top multicultural beauty supply in Kansas City, Missouri. Both stores occupied 20,000 square feet of retail space. Urban Beauty Supply began as an idea that Willie, a Bunny’s co-worker, and I had. We became very good friends and dreamed of the day when we would open our own beauty store and show others how to do it the right way. November 2006 Beauty Store Business cosmetology and high school students. Urban Beauty Supply customers are of all races and from all over the world, including places like Ethiopia, Kenya, Gambia and Ghana as well as South America and Asia. Who is your primary customer? We don’t have one. We welcome everyone of any color. Our customers are mostly upscale women, but we also have men. I would say the income level of our customers ranges from low to high. What makes your operation unique? We’re an upscale beauty store. We decorated the store to reflect our uniqueness. We have two water fountains, a plasma TV and several prints on the wall, including those of John Coltrane, Dr. Martin Luther King

Urban Beauty Supply’s hair braiders offer a variety of styles, including microbraids, kinky twists and cornrows.

Jr., Malcolm X and the 1968 Olympics where two medalists are giving the black power sign. We have a Wall of Fame with pictures of local and national celebrities who have visited the store, and we have pictures of many of the customers who have had their hair braided in our beauty store. In addition, we sell The Call Newspaper, a local publication that’s usually distributed only in the city. We usually play CDs instead of the radio. Speaking of CDs, after

several requests from our customers Willie started making CDs of the music we play in the store. We now have five Urban Beauty Mix CDs that have been selling pretty well. Also, we’ve noticed that we get groups of women who enjoy the Urban Beauty experience so much that they tend to hang out for up to an hour talking, smelling the different incense oils we burn, listening to the music or watching the plasma television. Occasionally, we’ll play concert DVDs or music videos on the television.

From my past experience and from some form of positive reinforcement, shopping at other stores, I’ve learned if not a thank-you, from customers that CDs enhance the customers’ for opening a store like ours in this enjoyment as opposed to the radio. part of town. We play music the customers prefer instead of what the owners want How do you train, motivate and keep to hear. One store owner in the your sales staff members? city has the radio tuned to some I try to train the sales staff members religious station that he prefers, to reflect my work habits and motivate while another either has the radio tuned to the oldies station or turns it off altogether. I once worked at a store that always had the radio on the same station so even the employees would get tired of hearing the same songs six times a day. We also keep our store well lit. We have track lights as well as the regular fluorescents. The biggest difference between working at the other stores in the city and at Urban Beauty Supply is that every day we hear something positive— usually compliments from Lines that promote hair growth and healthy scalps, such as Dr. customers. We receive Miracle’s, are among Urban Beauty’s fastest-growing categories.  November 2006  

them by being motivated myself and setting a good example. I stress the importance of merchandising, which I learned at Campbell’s Soup. I treat staff members and customers the way I want to be treated. What types of merchandising strategies do you use in the store? We have five upright display cabinets to highlight special lines, and we have three other cases where we showcase other items. We have a three-tier merchandiser in the front of the store where we have new products and sale

cornrows and single braids; they even sew extensions or weaves into the hair. We promote the salon part of our business in our television commercials, as well as in our flyers and all other advertising. Television ads seem to work best for our store. What other types of advertising does Urban Beauty Supply do? We support our local high schools and the local branch of the NAACP. We’ve also used coupon books, print ads and radio, and we did a promotion with the local Costco store.

to all of the customers on our mailing list. After several requests from our customers, we plan to include a coupon on our next postcard. We also keep track of some of our customers’ birthdays, and we send them birthday cards. We keep plenty of our business cards and flyers on hand for customers too. Sometimes they’re so overwhelmed with the Urban Beauty Supply experience that they’ll ask us for extra business cards and flyers so they can distribute them to family members, friends or even at their respective churches. What are your goals for Urban Beauty Supply? One goal is to continue to grow this location. We’re building a solid foundation here because we know eventually more competition will come closer to us. We’re already looking at locations where we intend to open more stores. We’ve started advertising in those areas in order to grow our name recognition and expand our reach. Do you have a website? Not yet; is under construction at this time.

What types of businesses are Urban Beauty Supply’s major competition? Our major competitors are large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens. We also compete with Sally Beauty Supply and with most of the multicultural beauty supplies in the area. How do you compete with those stores? We compete with the retailers by staying competitive in the pricing of our beauty supplies. Price competition is our top marketing challenge. We survey competitors almost daily to record prices and to know what they’re carrying and promoting. We offer lower prices on almost everything we carry, including human hair for extensions and weaves, appliances and beauty tools. We offer discounts to stylists, students, senior citizens and frequent customers. The amount of the discount varies depending on the product category and how often and how much the customer purchases. What are the more important product categories in your store? Human hair is very important. We carry Beverly Johnson, Unique Wiiv by Fashion World, Janet Collection, Sister Tress by

“Our custOmers are of all races aNd from all over the WOrld.”
items. We have products on sale at all times of the year. Would you describe your salon operation? At this time both of our braiders are booth renters. They offer all types of styles, including microbraids, invisible and pixie braids, kinky twists and Senegalese twists, as well as What marketing initiatives have proven most successful for you? Urban Beauty Supply’s guest book is an excellent marketing tool. We have customers sign in when they visit our store. We’ve used the information they give us to create a mailing list, and we mail Christmas cards, Valentine’s Day cards and Easter postcards

November 2006 Beauty Store Business

Motown Tress, and Broadway by Roma Lee. We’re very appreciative of the companies that sell to us. Styling tools are also very important for our business. We sell Kizure irons and Belson and Andis products. All categories of beauty supplies are of equal importance to us. What are your fastest-growing product categories? They’re the lines that promote hair growth and healthy scalps, such as Dr. Miracle’s and Organic Root Stimulator. A growing category in human hair is Remy hair, which is the highest quality that’s available. We carry Remy Mink by Janet Collection and Bohyme Gold by Fashion World. What are your top-selling hair-, nailand skincare brands? Our top haircare sellers include Dr. Miracle’s, Organic Root Stimulator, Doo Gro and SoftSheenCarson. Our top-selling brands in hair goods are Beverly Johnson, Unique Wiiv by Fashion World, Sister Tress by Motown Tress, Janet Collection, and Broadway by Roma

Lee. Our top-seller in nail care is Kiss Products; our top-seller in skin care is Palmer’s. What are the big cosmetic brands in your store? Zuri by J. Strickland and Kiss by Ivy Enterprises are two cosmetic brands that we do well with. How do you source new and unusual beauty products? We search on the Internet to specialorder for our customers. We read Beauty Store Business and other publications to keep informed of new products, including Black Beauty, Hype Hair, Sophisticate’s Black Hair Styles and Care Guide, Essence, Ebony and Upscale. Willie and I have formed very good relationships with many company representatives, and we’ve received a lot of support from them. We’ve also received customer samples from Organic Root Stimulator, Dr. Miracle’s, Doo Gro, Profectiv, J. Strickland and even SoftSheen-Carson. The company reps, distributors and manufacturers reps, such as M&M Sales & Associates, help us stay informed about new products.

CO-OWNERS: Robert Kearns, Willie Tolon YEARS IN BUSINESS: One LOCATION: Shawnee, Kansas NO. OF EMPLOYEES: 4 STORE SIZE: 2,225 square feet SERVICES: Hair braiding, extensions, weaving LEADING LINES: Dr. Miracle’s, Organic Root Stimulator, SoftSheen-Carson, Doo Gro, Luster Products AVERAGE SALE PER CUSTOMER: $15
Who does your buying and how do you manage your inventory? Willie and I do all the buying. One way of getting products is buying from our competitors. Retailers will sometimes sell products below our distributors’ costs, and we take advantage of it. Sometimes our customers will request a product that really is a slow seller. Instead of buying a case from a distributor, we’ll purchase the product from one of the stores in the city. That saves the customer from having to make an unnecessary trip into the city. We manage our inventory by walking the floor daily, and in some cases we’ve created spreadsheets to help us maintain inventories and track special orders.

Urban beaUty SUpply

Do you plan to automate your inventory system? Not at this time. Eventually, when we grow to several locations, we’ll implement some type of POS or inventory control system. What trade shows do you attend? We’re in our first year of business, so we don’t have the time yet to attend the annual trade shows in search of new items. In our second year, you’ll definitely see Urban Beauty Supply representatives walking the floors at the major shows. That’s the fun part of the beauty business. What have you learned that changed the way you do business? I’ve learned that it’s better to specialize rather than try to sell everything— and to definitely not sell clothing and shoes. It’s best to focus on the basics of beauty. I’ve also learned that it’s critical to know who your customers are and what they want.
Contributing editor Mike Nave is president of  Professional Beauty Distributors and publisher  of “The Beauty Industry Report” newsletter.  November 2006  

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