articles beauty business features Kayla and Keonna Davis profiles
How Two Sisters Opened a Beauty Supply Store Before They Were Old Enough to Drink4/15/2016
by Kimberly Foster @ KimberlyNFoster In the summer of 2014, Keonna Davis, 19, and her sister Kayla, 17, were frustrated. They wanted to ex...
by Kimberly Foster @KimberlyNFoster
In the summer of 2014, Keonna Davis, 19, and her sister Kayla, 17, were frustrated. They wanted to experience the freedoms of young adulthood, but could not get jobs to finance them. Unsure of what to do in a job market that has, for years, been inhospitable to post-adolescents, they sought counsel from their parents. When they told their mother, Lethia, about their struggle to find employment, she encouraged them to build something for themselves.
“I told them, ‘Stop begging for work, and make your own work,’” said Lethia, who has twice tried her hand at entrepreneurship.
The sisters brainstormed businesses they would enjoy heading and decided to open a beauty supply store.
Keonna’s interest in haircare was piqued by her transition to natural hair. After shaving her head, she began experimenting with a haircare regimen that worked with and for the hair texture she was born with. “At that time I was trying different products, and it was very interesting to me,” she said. And, perhaps, she would be able to help other new naturals on their journeys.
Kayla, on the other hand, wore hair extensions and wigs. The sisters combined their interests to build a business that would meet the needs of a wide range of potential customers.
|Kayla Davis, 19, and Keonna Davis, 21 Photo: KD Haircare LLC|
Their dreams of escaping the insecurity of sporadic employment, however, required even more money they did not have. While planning for their store’s launch, Kayla began working at Popeye’s and Keonna in an Amazon warehouse.
The work was sometimes difficult and mostly unfulfilling. “Every day I would be like ‘I don’t want to go to work. I’m so tired.’” Keonna recalled. With her petite build and small frame, she is certainly not the person you would expect to spend her days lifting and packing boxes. Her co-workers commented often on her surprising presence in the notoriously grueling environment.
Brick and mortar beauty supply stores cost tens of thousands of dollars to launch, so they opened an online store first to learn more about the market and continue saving money. By this time they’d lost interest in the personal pleasures they once longed for. Their dream of working for themselves became top priority.
Fiscal discipline is rarely a hallmark of those newly ushered into legal adulthood, but Lethia says her girls are wise. “I think that a lot of young individuals could do it,” she said matter-of-factly. “But they’re into more materialistic things.”
They didn't do it all alone. Friends and family offered help because they were so impressed by Kayla and Keonna’s focus, but the sisters came up with most of the money themselves, and they’re proud of that. “The majority came from me and my sister saving up every little ounce of money that we did have and putting it towards our business,” Keonna explained.
As they eased into the competitive world of Black beauty, the pair learned quickly that relationships matter. The hair business relies on face-to-face brokering between retailers and vendors. For aspiring store owners, who you know determines the products you’ll get and the prices vendors set. As total outsiders, they started from scratch. The process was not easy, success was not certain. “It was really stressful for a moment,” said Keonna.
Guidance from veterans was essential. They sought advice from more experienced business owners. Many were generous, but their ages posed a hurdle. Some questioned their seriousness.
“Once they started getting out there and meeting these individuals and networking with them and reaching out to them, that was kind of, like, the gate,” said Lethia.
Also essential was their affiliation with the Black Owned Beauty Supply Store Association. Keonna and Kayla joined B.O.B.S.A. to connect with vendors. President Sam Ennon says the two are among a growing cohort of Black women beauty entrepreneurs who are remaking the business, and it all comes down to the thing that first drew Keonna in: natural hair. “It’s changed now because the hairstyles have changed,” he said.
Breaking into the old model of beauty supply stores, which relied heavily on relaxers, wigs, and hair extensions, has been difficult for Black entrepreneurs. South Korean owners have direct connections to the textile and wet goods industries in their home countries that have enabled them to dominate the market for more than 30 years. Now there are approximately 12,000 Korean-owned beauty supply stores across the United States.
|A busy day at KD Haircare |
Photo: KD Haircare LLC
Now 19 and 21, news of Kayla and Keonna's opening quickly went viral. Supporters are clamoring to help them with the next phase of their business “We’re actually getting a lot of posts and phone calls from people looking to invest in us,” says Keonna sounding nearly amazed. “We’re very humbled by it.”
The beauty supply store is only one of their dreams. Like most at the crest of adulthood, their aspirations are malleable. While they would like to franchise and open more stores, particularly on the east coast where they get the most inquiries, they haven’t given up on pursuing higher education. Kayla wants to be an ultrasound technician, and Keonna wants to go back to school to study 3D animation and visual arts. They are saving money for their next chapter now.
In the meantime, they spend their days managing the operations of a new business. Despite all of the press, their customers come first. With so many products to choose from, figuring out exactly which ones they really want has been difficult.
As they weather ups and downs of entrepreneurship, Keonna says having her sister by her side is a gift.
“I have complete trust and faith in her. She has complete trust and faith in me.
“We’re sisters so we’re going to butt heads on things, but at the end of the day, we both love each other dearly,” she added
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor-in-chief of For Harriet. Email or Follow @KimberlyNFoster