Coming to the aid of an African-American senior citizen being verbally abused by a Korean beauty supply store owner, entrepreneur Princess Dempsey was catapulted into the multi-billion dollar hair care industry.
“I was browsing around a beauty supply on the West Side of Chicago,” Dempsey said. “The store was located at Independence (Avenue) and Roosevelt Rd. The owner was so disrespectful to the senior African-American lady and no one was speaking up for her. He was saying things like ‘You guys never have any money when you come into my store.’ I spoke up for her and said, ‘God’s got it all!’ After a discussion with him, I got the money together and bought all of his merchandise on the spot. I called my staff and took the merchandise to an office of mine. We stacked all of that merchandise and it filled all the rooms. I bought him out. He’s gone from that location now.”
The lack of disrespect from Korean beauty supply store owners, who open their shops in primarily African-American communities, is a constant complaint from African-Americans who shop at those stores.
On that fateful day however, the Korean store owner’s rude words rang out within earshot of someone with the power to do something amazing in response to his disrespect of the senior citizen who patronized his store.
A seasoned entrepreneur, Dempsey has owned one of the few minority- and women-owned certified staffing firms in the country, Dempsey Staffing. She also owns a transportation company.
When asked why she thought Koreans open their beauty supply stores in African-American communities, Dempsey said, “Because we spend money and they know that. We are fashion gurus and it didn’t just start here in America, it started in Africa. We were the ones in this country to start designing nails. We start things and someone else takes it over. It’s time for us to do this. We’re not grasping how smart we are! Go out and become entrepreneurs.”
A Billion Dollar Industry
There is plenty of room and time for African-Americans to heed the mother of four’s advice especially if you’re considering hair care. Hair care is a billion-dollar industry thanks largely in part to Black women.
A 2018 Nielsen report shows that African Americans spent $54 million on ethnic hair and beauty products in 2017.
The problem has long been that despite their considerable contributions to the beauty industry, the beauty supply stores where Black women shop for hair extensions, wigs, and other beauty products are largely owned by Korean-Americans.
Korean-Americans run 70 percent of all beauty supply stores in the county due to their ties to Korea, where most of the hair has been imported and exported since the 1970s.
“Most of the hair manufacturing was done out of Korea back in the day,” Sam Hwang, vice president of the National Federation of Beauty Suppliers, said in a July 2018 WOSU Public Media report. “It was real human hair so it was really expensive, but many of the Korean women actually cut off their hair to sell for the hair industry to grow.”
By the 1970s, reportedly, most importers and exporters of hair were Korean. Some first-generation Korean-Americans went to work for and eventually owned beauty supply stores. Korean immigrants began selling wigs in stores, when products were previously sold door-to-door, according to the WOSU report.
“Otherwise, where were you going to go buy these beauty supply products if Koreans weren’t there?” Hwang questioned in the article.
The industry, however, is experiencing a quiet change, with two major shifts reportedly happening at the same time. One is that more Black women are opting for natural hair styles and Korean-Americans are leaving the industry.
The natural hair movement focuses on encouraging women of African ancestry to forgo chemically treated hair styles and embrace their natural hair texture. The movement includes advice, product reviews, hairstyle tutorials and the creation of Black-owned hair care products.
According to The Black Owned Beauty Supply Association, there are now about 3,000 Black-owned beauty supply stores in the country, several in the Chicago area.
African-Americans are finally capturing some of the wealth in the billion dollar hair care industry they helped create.
Black consumers overall are impacting brands, according to Nielsen. Throughout 2017, popular brands experienced the power of Black Twitter and the brand impact of socially conscious Black consumers.
Through social media, Black consumers brokered a seat at the table and are demanding that brands and marketers speak to them in ways that resonate culturally and experientially—if these brands want their business, the Nielsen report states. And with African Americans spending $1.2 trillion annually, brands have a lot to lose.
“When it comes to African-American consumer spending, there are millions, sometimes billions of dollars in revenue at stake,” said Andrew McCaskill, Senior Vice President, Global Communications and Multicultural Marketing, Nielsen. “With 43 percent of the 75 million Millennials in the U.S. identifying as African American, Hispanic or Asian, if a brand doesn’t have a multicultural strategy, it doesn’t have a growth strategy. The business case for multicultural outreach is clear. African-American consumers, and all diverse consumers, want to see themselves authentically represented in marketing, and they want brands to recognize their value to the bottom line.”
A wider scope of the Nielsen report shows Black consumers and consumers of color are making considerable contributions to the overall market—in some cases representing more than 50 percent of the overall spending in key product categories. For example, half of the total spent ($941 million) on dry grains and vegetables in the U.S. in 2017 came from consumers of color. Black consumers represented $147 million of the total spent in this category, which has recently made advances in product creation to meet the demands of diverse buyers.
“Our research shows that Black consumer choices have a ‘cool factor’ that has created a halo effect, influencing not just consumers of color but the mainstream as well,” said Cheryl Grace, Senior Vice President of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement, Nielsen. “These figures show that investment by multinational conglomerates in R&D to develop products and marketing that appeal to diverse consumers is, indeed, paying off handsomely.”
According to Nielsen, companies should take notice of even the subtle shifts in spending, because Black consumer brand loyalty is contingent upon a brand’s perception as authentic, culturally relevant, socially conscious and responsible.
The report shows further, 38 percent of African Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 and 41 percent of those aged 35 or older say they expect the brands they buy to support social causes, 4 percent and 15 percent more than their total population counterparts, respectively.
Additionally, Black consumers’ brand preferences are increasingly becoming mainstream choices, which illustrates that the investment in connecting with Black consumers can often yield sizeable general market returns.
Dempsey operates Princess Dempsey Delights Beauty Supply, 1907 S. Mannheim Rd. in Westchester. The Broadview resident said she opened her store in Westchester because it was easier to do business there as it was not political the way Chicago tends to be.
During the full-day grand opening celebration for the store on July 28, more than 30 people lined up before the store opened at 11 a.m. By noon, Dempsey said, she had sold around $1,000 worth of product.
“Business is amazing,” Dempsey said. “We sell out of our merchandise every weekend. The distributors, some of whom are Black, just want to know and see that you are serious. Some of them are from Africa, Singapore and Atlanta.”
As for other Korean-owned stores near her, Dempsey said they are staying open later than her 7 p.m. closing time.
“By buying out the store-owner who disrespected the Black senior citizen, I’m sending a message that you will not disrespect us! Enough is enough!”
Dempsey’s store is stocked with the standard beauty supply items, including hundreds of hair extension packs that line one wall. Shampoos, conditioners and other hair maintenance products are sold there as well. Dempsey Delights Beauty Supply is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is closed on Sunday. For more info, call (708) 938-5427.
You can also order her merchandise online at http://www.princess-delights.com.
“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, in a published article.
Over the past 15 years, the organization has helped open 450 Black-owned beauty supply stores across the country.
Advice from African-American beauty supply store owners to African-Americans thinking about opening a beauty supply store:
“… build slow and do not take on too much inventory at once.”– Robert Horton, owner of Beauty’s Own Beauty Supply in Fort Washington, MD
“Position your stores to look like an all-encompassing store. My ads feature entire families, children, and 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
“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