Princess Hill and Kelly Williams standing in front of their beauty supply store in Detroit, MI.

Princess Hill and Kelly Williams standing in front of their beauty supply store in Detroit, MI.

According to some estimates, the Black hair care industry is a billion dollar business. Large companies like P&G, L’Oréal, and Alberto-Culver have traditionally led the market, but as the natural hair movement has grown, Black female entrepreneurs have been the leading voices and creators in the arena. But there’s still one area where Black entrepreneurs have continued to be shut out: beauty supply stores.

Walk into any beauty supply store in a Black neighborhood and you’ll quickly notice Asian entrepreneurs dominate the market. Though African-Americans may be more familiar with the products (and are probably working the counters), the owners of most supply stores are not typically folks who use the merchandise. Economic activist Devin Robinson hopes to change this.

After being chased out of an Asian-owned beauty supply store a decade ago, Robinson founded the Beauty Supply Institute to teach other African-Americans how to open and operate a store. Since founding the institute, Robinson has helped business owners start over 70 stores, including three of his own, which resulted in $13 million in revenues for urban communities.

Recently, Robinson helped Detroit natives Kelly Williams and Princess Hill open a store in their hometown.  When asked why they thought more Black entrepreneurs weren’t entering the segment the pair chalked it up to being intimidated by the process.

“[Asian] communities teach their children from young how to become great merchants. We may know more of the products but they know more about the retail business. This is why we were pleased once we began working with Beauty Supply Institute. They focus so much on running the retail business and it made us extremely prepared to be successful and profitable.”

Despite the uphill battle many African-Americans looking to break into the beauty business face, Hill and Williams say they’re in it for the long-haul. With Robinson’s help, they’re already planning to open another store in Maryland.

“No black beauty business owner is immune to the industry disparities and lockouts. Kizure felt it and now we see Carol’s Daughter undergoing a bankruptcy restructuring. But this industry is constantly growing so I doubt these companies will close their doors for good. They are run by smart people and we should ensure we stand behind them as they re-emerge. We are in this business for the long-haul so you can expect to see us pop up more and more stores across the country.”

Pooling resources, cooperative economics, and learning the business from a season mentor can help many African-American entrepreneurs break into the beauty supply business, and hopefully keep more Black dollars circulating within our communities.

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