Most Black women don’t make it to adulthood without stepping foot into a beauty supply store.
Kinks, curls, and clippers have sent Black folk from every walk of life into these hair havens for decades.
Whether it be for hot combs, wigs, or shampoo, the items America’s Black women deem necessary to face the world have built a multi-billion dollar industry. And almost none of those Black dollars are going into Black pockets—a statistic one Baltimore power couple is aiming to change.
“There is this illusion of a lockout and it’s really not true,” says Quentin Lathan, standing next to his wife, Megan Lathan, inside their beauty supply shop, Beauty Plus, at 2107 N. Charles St. in Baltimore. “If more Black people owned more stores it would be easier for us to be competitive. There’s strength in numbers. Right now we’re outnumbered, so we have to fight harder.”
The Lathans say their business began with an idea to open a community store. The two began studying Baltimore’s neighborhoods and decided to go into the beauty industry after noticing that Central Baltimore had several salons, clothing boutiques, and nail shops, but no beauty supply store.
The HBCU grads materialized their dream with the help of consultants from Beauty Supply Institute, an Atlanta- based company that assists entrepreneurs in securing everything from building space to popular beauty supply products. To date, they have helped create over 90 Black- owned beauty supply stores across the nation.
“We don’t have to be intimidated by the beauty supply industry,” says Megan Lathan, who helps run the business 7-days a week. “There can be multiple Black owned beauty supply stores in Baltimore and every major city across America.”
“We can’t shy away from industries that haven’t traditionally been ours.”
The Lathans said keeping the Black dollar in the Black community is key to Black people becoming true stakeholders that hold power to make decisions about Black neighborhoods- as business owners and tax payers. Black store owners also send a strong message to younger generations.
“When Black children come in it’s important that they see us behind this counter,” said Megan Lathan. “Not only can they look into doing hair- but if they want to, they can own a beauty supply store and employ their family members. We could be creating that type of wealth in our families, instead of being a situation where we are completely ousted and only on the consumer end of things.”
Quentin and Megan Lathan believe their first-hand knowledge of Black hair care products makes their service a cut above what the rest. And then there’s the customer service piece.
“Nobody is going to take care of us like us,” said Quentin Lathan. “When people walk through the door they are like family. An older woman that comes in and needs a wig is treated like our aunt or grandmother.”
Famed entrepreneur, author, and educator Devin Robinson says it was his own unsavory experience inside an Asian-owned beauty supply store that lead him to establish the Beauty Supply Institute.
“In 2005 I owned a barbershop and a salon. I had 12 stylists working for me and they kept running out of product, so I went out to shop for supplies,” said Robinson, who also founded the Urban Business Institute. “I was doing extensive browsing and the Korean guy thought I was casing the place.”
What happened next would change Robinson’s life forever.
“He grabbed a golf club and threatened me. He said I needed to hurry up and pick my product or he was going to hit me. I was prepared to spend $2,000.”
Instead, Robinson walked out. Contemplating the incident in the parking lot, he thought, “Maybe I need to open up my own store.” When he noticed a vacant space in the same shopping center as his salon, he signed a lease and began to stock his shelves.
“That’s when I ran into challenges. I thought I was having isolated issues. Then, in early 2007, I started getting requests from all over the country to help others. There are 13,000 beauty supply stores and only 400 are black owned.”
Robinson said he then made it his business to help others- like the Lathans- break into the beauty supply business. The response has been favorable.
“I love the service and I love to patronize Black businesses in general,” said Rhonda Waller, a patron of Beauty Plus. “It’s difficult for us to support our own people like other nationalities support their own. Then we want discounts and expect people to give us a break all the time.”
Alexis Waller, who accompanied her mother to the store said her first visit had a “more welcoming” atmosphere than what she’s used to.
The Lathans told the AFRO in the future they hope to partner with cosmetology programs in the area to provide internships, and help others start their own beauty supply stores.