‘The Popeye of Texas’ – Dallas, Beauty R US Beauty Supply’s Mr. Paul Kang

글 Sunny Kim

“The store name represents how diverse our inventory. We always strive to provide the most satisfying shopping experience for our customers. “Mr. Paul Kang was one of the first retailers to carry premium Remi hair products in Texas. Just like how Popeye grows stronger when he eats spinach, Mr. Kang gains energy when he interacts with his customers. We had the pleasure of having an in-depth conversation about the common problems that the beauty supply stores face today and measures the retailers can take to address those issues.

Q What makes your store stand out?

We first opened our business in northern Dallas and had customers coming as far as 20 miles away. I have invested a lot of effort in promoting good quality hair and focused on delivering useful info to encourage customers to return for more. I always educate my employees to give proper product instruction to the customers, which resulted in no customer complaints. For instance, people would wonder why the hair would tangle. Later they realized that improper use of hair oil add weight to the hair, so the hair is more prone to become tangled. It ends up requiring shampoo and hair treatment or needs to be thrown out. That’s why properly instructing the staff is crucial.

Q Your store is known for well-trained employees. Any tip?

Having more African American staff always help to reduce the number of complaints received. Commissions on new arrivals or special promotion items are guaranteed to encourage the employees to sell the products with passion. Instructing the employees is indeed difficult, especially when they leave after the training has been completed. Expanding your business along with well-qualified staff is still important. 

All of our staff have their own login to access POS. If they are caught illicit activities with their account, all commissions are immediately taken away. If the price is input incorrectly and causes trouble, the employee is made responsible for it and is required to go through extra education. It would be unfair if they are held responsible without proper instruction, but if they have been trained they should know better.

For instance, it’s the employee’s responsibility to identify counterfeit money and refuse to accept it. This rule helps the workers stay more alert when dealing with money. Shoplifting can also occur within a split second, the moment clerk turns around to grab something after showing the wig to the customer. I don’t instruct them to chase down the shoplifters. Not all incidents are preventable but we have to at least try everything we can. Our staff is taught to let the customers check out higher-end products one at a time. Once they are done with an item, clerks would securely put them back to the display rack or keep them under the counter. Taking these small steps help prevent bigger cases in the future.

Q What makes your customers return for more?

“It’s my goal to distinguish our store and marketing strategies from the competitors”

Custom service is the key. A lot of our African American staff can culturally relate to the customers, so we rarely receive complaints. Any product-related inquiries can be easily answered by our team members. A lower price can be matched, but customer service of competing stores is difficult to model after. We try to cater the service to our own customers.

Q What are some of the best choices you made for your business?

When we first started the business there are only about 1,200 African American households living within 2 miles from the store. On average, there is about 5,000~6,000 target customers live within the vicinity. We started off with a lot of risks. We knew something had to be done and after pondering, we decided to invest in the advertisement, such as Reality TV show ads. Once our name was out there, the overall sales started to grow as well. We learned that “Don’t hesitate to put in a good chunk of investment to make every penny count “ Later we found out that radio ads are even more expensive. In the end, the local TV ads are effective since they can reach out to a broader range of customers.

Q Tell us more about the challenges you’ve faced

I once made a very big mistake. After learning that the braid item price is forecasted to dramatically increase, we blindly followed other stores who were purchasing a large bulk of braiding hair. We ended up buying about $150,000 worth of products and put them away in our storage. We sold about 75% of what we’ve purchased, but the hair of remaining stock became stiff as the chemical coated on top had worn off. The items were in no condition to be sold at its original price. We could’ve had return the items to the manufacturer to have the hairs processed once more, but it was not a realistic option at the moment.

Q Mistaken a man as a lady? Any help from the police?

On the first year since the store opened, a large-framed woman was caught on security camera ripping apart a packaged item. She paid for some but hid a several of them in her bag. I followed her out of the store and stopped her, demanding her to pay for what she had taken. She pushed me aside but I was eventually able to stop her from running away. The police arrived soon after and the officer, smiling, told me that the lady was actually a man.

We have also once spotted a customer walking around with a bag of chip and pretending to munch on the snack. In fact, the person was actually hiding items inside the bag. I walked up to the person and said, “The snack looks delicious, may I have some?”. She did not dare to steal anymore afterward. If you straightforwardly call out the misdemeanor and resolve the case, shoplifters often go searching for an easier target elsewhere.

What’s more important than the cost is addressing the root cause of the problem. Police officers often take petty shoplifting pretty lightly. They push off the investigation if other more urgent cases come up. Having the police involved in the case sometimes even feel like a waste of time. Preventive measures to minimize loss is more efficient. Getting help from the police doesn’t always go as you’ve wanted.

Q Please explain what you mean by caring less about things beyond your control

My mother was the type to overburden herself with worries. I grew up watching her stressed out all the time so I always wanted to have a more relaxed approach. I try to let go of things that are beyond my control. It’s easy to run into misfortunes when managing a business; you may be scammed. Some constructors are gone missing after receiving the payment in advance. My motto eventually became “If it’s out of your hand, don’t bother worrying about it.” You can’t expect only the good things will happen in life.

Q How were you first introduced to the industry?

I studied marketing in college and first started learning about the beauty industry while working at a large retail store for about 2 years. I learned that I really enjoy work in retail sales. It has been 21 years since I first opened my own store. As I had more opportunities to interact more closely with the customers, I’ve learned how the customer’s taste in products need to be taken into consideration when making suggestions to them and how it ultimately is connected to monthly sales.

Mr. Kang immigrated to the states when he was seven, so he is much more comfortable with English and Korean language. However, his Korean has significantly improved after a number of meetings with Korean-speaking professionals and from the help of his mother-in-law.

Q Is there a reason why you focus on physical wellness?

This goes back to when I used to work at the retail store. I was on my way to my friend’s wedding in California when I was bothered with stomach cramp and shortness of breath. I immediately went to the emergencies and found out that there was an internal bleeding and if it was prolonged, my life could’ve been in danger. Fortunately, I sought for help at the right time and was able to drain all the blood out.

I was also once diagnosed with a brain tumor and to undergo surgery. My hands were always swollen in the morning and I easily grew tired because of the tumor. I was able to get back to my normal life after surgery. Playing tennis routinely has been my main workout lately. Physical wellness has become my main concern ever since.

Beauty supply store has served as a mentor for Mr. Kang. He has learned invaluable lessons from managing the store. There is always to learn, from a whole new experience and mistakes that he accidentally made. Mr. Kang truly enjoys sharing and hearing different life stories with his customers. Like Popeye, Mr. Kang comes to the rescue to resolve any difficulties that his customer may face with a bright smile always on his face.