Phyllis Kimber Wilcox |
Black people spend millions of dollars each year on their hair and the products they use to keep it looking good.
While there are differing numbers, some push estimates of the amount spent on hair care products to over a billion dollars annually. Despite what appears to be a lucrative market, the Black hair care industry is a difficult business to establish and be successful in—especially for Black entrepreneurs.
U.S. Natural Hair Care Product Market Size, by End Use, 2016 to 2027
There are several reasons for this. Although there is a growing list of haircare products catering to people with curly hair, and when one considers wearing natural hair is a large and growing part of the Black hair care market, Forbes reports that wigs, weaves, and hair extensions have a stable and established share of the industry.
Despite this and other challenges, about 15 years ago, local entrepreneur, Marcus Jinks, saw his future in this market, made a decision to enter it and build a future for himself and his family. In 2006 he opened MK Beauty Supply at 1200 E Highland Avenue, Suite J, in San Bernardino.
Over the years, Jinks has experienced first hand the struggles of trying to establish a business in this market as a Black entrepreneur.
“In this business, in this community,” Jinks shared how hard it was in the beginning explaining his belief some Blacks were supporting Korean hair care product businesses and passing his business up. “But over a period of time,” he continued, “my daughter developed a relationship with a lot of the Black women in the community.”
Jink’s comments about the outsized presence of members of the Korean community in the hair care industry are rooted in a little known history. Some first generation Korean Americans looking to establish business opportunities for themselves and their own families, went into the business of supplying Black communities with hair care products, according to the book On My Own: Korean Businesses and Race Relations in America:by In-Jin Yoon.
The wig business here in the U. S. and the explosion of the wig business in South Korea in the 1960s is instrumental to understanding the Korean ownership of beauty supply stores. Korean Americans own more than seventy percent of the beauty supply stores nationwide.
Jinks credits his daughter’s personality, warmth and ability to connect with people through her kindness with helping the business survive. “She braids hair [and] after twelve years, she built the business. I give her most of the credit,” he stated proudly.
Jinks also acknowledges and credits his own hard work and perseverance in growing the business’s helping to grow their customer base–this included passing out flyers periodically to advertise.
Younger Customer Prefer Shopping Online
“But, it’s tough,” he continued, expressing concerns that as a Black-owned business he does not feel supported by young Blacks in the community. “[Y]oung people don’t support you,” he noted without further explanation, before adding, “But, by the grace of God, we’re still in business.”
Research shows there are reasons for this. While Jinks does have a limited online presence, you can find him on Yelp and through his daughter’s Facebook and Instagram accounts @mskay’slovelyhair, younger generations including Millennials, Gen Xers, and Zoomers gravitate towards shopping online with vendors who have an energetic online presence.
With people staying home more often during the pandemic, brick and mortar stores needed a web savvy presence to compete. This is even more necessary with giants like Amazon taking the lion’s share of the market and who can offer products at lower prices. Both people with higher incomes and younger people with fewer resources tend to do more shopping online.
Helping Small Businesses Build a Dynamic Online Presence
With the changing retail landscape, small businesses are in search of solutions to address the new challenges they face. One such solution is being offered in New York. “NYC Small Biz: Open + Online,” a public private partnership is designed to help small businesses create an online presence to help them compete in today’s e-commerce market. Many of the services provided are free with thirty percent of the businesses who have taken advantage of their services being Black owned. Such partnerships could be expanded or attempted here to help boost small business in the Inland Empire.
Surviving the Pandemic
Reflecting on how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted his business to date, Jinks shared. “We were closed in 2020, from April to May,” however, business has picked up.
Looking back on the coronavirus challenges of last year, Jinks commented about the failure of government support available to him during those difficult days.
At the outset of the pandemic, the PPP or the Paycheck Protection Program was flawed especially when it came to providing relief to minority business owners. Many of the initial loans went only to businesses that had a previous relationship with a bank and were only available to businesses with employees. Over ninety percent of Black businesses are sole proprietors.
This was a problem for many minority business owners who had no history with the institutions providing the loans. This problem was alleviated in the second round of funding which made sure that community lending institutions with a track record of providing loans to small businesses, were involved in the process.
Although Jinks was able to secure a government grant for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), he is still seeking additional fiscal support. As he explained, “I wanted to get a SBA (Small Business Administration) loan. Well, I applied for one,” he added before stating. “I’m still waiting to hear back.”
Challenges to Expanding the Business
Jinks is seeking the SBA loan to enlarge his business into an adjacent space to where he is currently located. His goal is to use the added space to expand his inventory to include wigs and hair extensions.
Even if he is able to expand his business, he will still face difficulties in securing inventory directly. The largest market share of beauty supply stores are held by Korean Americans, who built their share of the market decades ago by investing in the storefront model of supplying hair products, and who have established themselves as institutions.
The manufacture and import of wigs and hair products including synthetic hair remains dominated by Asian countries in general, including China and India with Peru becoming an increasing player in the world market (China being the largest).
All of these relationships are long standing and Black people have historically not been involved in this side of the business. However, with an increasing interest in natural hair, there are more Black people like Jinks, interested in establishing/expanding businesses selling these products, are having to build networks from scratch.
For Those Considering Jinks’ Business Model
When it comes to offering advice to aspiring Black entrepreneurs Jinks cautioned he would not give any Black person advice on opening up a beauty supply store because there is a lot of competition. “I’ve invested a lot of money,” he opined, noting he would probably encourage them to open a food business instead, declaring, “If you have good food you get all types of people coming to your business.”
Supporting the Community
In addition to his business, Jinks also has a nonprofit, MG and J. Before the pandemic, the organization provided food to the community and hot meals to the homeless. They also provided the homeless with hotel vouchers, the organization discontinued due to the pandemic.
Currently, Jinks and his partner, Ernie Vasquez, deliver food to the needy. Jinks said people are referred to him through a program called Step Up. Today, the nonprofit is continuing its good work of feeding and helping people in the community.
Phyllis Kimber-Wilcox is a reporter for Black Voice News. Her interests are the intersections of historic events with contemporary realities and their impacts on the persistent social, structural and economic barriers which continue to adversely affect and limit Black lives with an eye toward community-based solutions. Contact Phyllis with tips, comments. or concerns at email@example.com.