COVID-19 forced many states to shut down their economies, and OTC stores were not immune to that order. In fact, many suffered during this time. And as if in a perfect storm, protests erupted all across the nation in opposition to police brutality. Some of those peaceful protests turned violent, with countless beauty supply stores incurring damages from looters.
It became imperative for stores to open quickly to regain their clientele and recover financially. However, some may notice fewer customers coming in, as many discovered they could order quite a few of their products from online. Others may choose to visit big-box retailers for their needs since many of those stores were deemed essential and remained open.
To remain competitive, OTC stores not only have to get back in the game, but they also have to change some of their methods to keep the customer base they had. The political and economic climates are forcing every business to take a hard look at itself to see where it can stand to improve and evolve. For OTC stores, the areas in greatest need of improvement may have less to do with merchandise and everything to do with how their customers are treated.
In light of the recent developments with the Black Lives Matter movement, many shoppers are choosing to “Buy Black,” only supporting Black businesses, and that includes beauty supply stores. Suppose you’re not a Black-owned OTC store; that doesn’t mean that you’re destined to fail. But it may be time to listen to your customers’ concerns to ensure they feel comfortable spending their dollars at your store, too.
A recent query, conducted by Hype Hair magazine, revealed that many beauty professionals and regular shoppers weren’t thrilled to shop at non-Black beauty supply stores. Cultural differences have played a major part in these frustrations. After reviewing the feedback, we compiled a list of 7 Do’s and Don’ts for Asian-owned OTC stores to consider. We hope you can utilize these tips to better serve your customers and grow your business.
- DON’T Criminalize Your Customers. Shoppers want to be greeted when they enter a store. But many readers said Asian store employees rarely spoke to them when they entered and instead, monitored all of their movements. One reader wrote, “. . . the minute we walk in their store, we’re treated like criminals. We’re watched on the security screens. We’re followed around like we’re going to steal something . . .”
Sure, shrinkage is a real thing and having a loss prevention plan in place is critical. But it’s important that you remember that not every Black shopper steals. Don’t let the actions of a few shape your view of the entire community. Enforcing rules built around such a negative stereotype is off-putting to a consumer base that spends $1.2 trillion on hair and beauty products.
- DO Hand Your Shoppers Their Change. Placing change on the counter to give to the customer may seem sensible, but many shoppers take great offense to this action. This gives the impression that you don’t want to do business with them. One reader wrote, “If I need hair care products, it’s either go to Sally’s or to the Asian store where they follow you around the store and don’t hand you your change. They put it on the counter in case you might touch them with my Black hand. My money is green, though!” Most stores are doing away with operating with cash, but if your store isn’t one of them, this is a faux pas you can easily avoid.
- DON’T Make It Difficult to Use A Debit or Credit Card. Most credit card processing systems charge a fee for use, so some stores stray away from using these machines or require a high purchase minimum to use their cards. Since many are choosing to use their cards only, in an effort to avoid excessive germ exposure, look for other ways to recoup those fees without penalizing your shoppers.
- DO Have a Positive and Polite Attitude. One reader admitted that her biggest issue with Asian-owned OTC stores was the attitude of the staff. “I feel an arrogance. They know we have limited options in regards to having access to supplies we need. Some can (be) pleasant and helpful. Others, annoyed and unapologetic.”
It’s important to remember that in business, you need your customers to remain open. Your products are specifically made for the Black consumer. Alienating them, at a time when they are finding more shopping options, is a dangerous game. Retailers like Ulta and Sephora, are adding more affordable products for Black hair care. Target and Walmart already carry plenty of staples. And whatever these stores don’t have can be found on Amazon and shipped to a customer’s home in less than two days in many instances. Don’t give your shoppers away to the competition. Be polite, kind, and remember that customer service is king.
- DO Keep Your Inventory Tidy and Up-to-Date. There should be no products on your shelves that are discontinued or expired. Not only is this a bad practice, but you’re risking harming your customers with chemicals or wet products that may no longer be good for their hair. One reader said, “Many of their products have been on the shelf so long, they have dust on the lid.”
Willingly keeping and merchandising expired products can be seen as a lack of respect for your shoppers’ health and well-being. It also shows a lack of quality control in your store. Take pride in your business, and be sure to rotate your inventory, dust your shelves and ensure your store is clean.
- DON’T Speak About Customers in Your Native Language. It is common for people who speak English as a second language to speak in their first language with friends and family. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, a chief complaint amongst Black customers was feeling as if they were being spoken about while shopping. Sure, that could be a misconception. Just because you’re speaking in your language to another coworker doesn’t mean you’re talking about the customers. But perspective is everything. Having secretive conversations always put those nearby in an uncomfortable position. This can be deemed as offensive in many cultures, not just those in the Black community.
- DO Hire People From the Community. There’s no doubt that there are cultural differences between the shopper and OTC retailer. And maybe you’re not up to speed on all of the latest product information, trends or social media influencers. But, hiring someone from the community you serve guarantees that someone on your staff does. Seeing a familiar face sets customers at ease and makes them feel there’s a knowledgeable person on staff who understands their needs.
With so many shoppers leaving the traditional beauty supply store or looking for Black-owned stores instead, this is an ideal time to pivot and keep your business viable. Your competition is already changing gears to get a bigger slice of the Black spending pie. Don’t be left with the crumbs. Follow these rules to ensure your shoppers leave happy and return often.