While the natural hair movement has become big business across the country, smaller markets like the Twin Cities continue to face challenges when it comes to product access and knowledge. On-shelf stock is often limited or retailers don’t know how the products work.
Licensed cosmetologist Karen Coffey opened Bella Beauty and Hair in January 2017 to provide women and men in the Twin Cities with a diverse range of products and services catering to natural hair and beyond. In addition to offering a natural hair shopping experience that includes wig fittings and cuttings, where she employs two part-time staff, Coffey also provides styling services to clients in her store.
Read on as we chat with Coffey about what it takes to be a beauty retail boss.
MSR: What inspired you to launch Bella Beauty and Hair?
Karen Coffey: The natural haircare industry has had an influx in care and in products that cater to natural hair. A lot of those products are hard to find in stores, [so] people go online to find these products. I am trying to fill that need and bring customer service back to the beauty supply stores.
That is the reason I decided to open Bella Beauty and Hair — to have tangible products that you can compare, read ingredients, as well as talk to someone who is a professional in the haircare industry and has a little bit of experience with some of the products.
MSR: What would you consider your store’s hero service?
KC: I don’t really have a specialty except healthy hair. Whether it’s color or some other service, the service is always about keeping the hair healthy. We also sell wigs. And, of our natural haircare line, we sell a lot of Camille Rose Naturals — it’s actually one of our favorites, as well.
MSR: What is one thing you wish you knew before launching your business?
KC: I wish I knew how hard it is to break people away from their habits! From the consumer side, if you’ve always gone to a certain place to get your products, but the Black-owned place is closer, [I know that] it’s not that you don’t want to go to the Black-owned place, but it’s your habit to go to this [other] place.
People are just going through their routines [and] are not thinking, “Wait a minute, I’ve got to break this particular habit and put the dollars back into my community.”
MSR: Would you consider that to be your biggest challenge?
KC: That and understanding how to market to the right people. For me, it has been harder than I thought it would be, but still fulfilling. [It has been harder because] you do have to get people to understand the importance of supporting Black-owned businesses. It has kind of become something that people just say and endorse it verbally, but they do not endorse it through their actions.
So…it has been a slow climb for us, because it takes a little longer to change people’s mindsets. Black people who hear about a business opening, event or product may show up one time and say they have supported. But the truth is that you have to stay consistent and support it regularly for the business to survive. [But] overall, it has been good — a lot of learning in a short amount of time.
MSR: What has been the most rewarding part of owning your business?
I think the most rewarding part has been acquiring loyal customers — people that have been coming in and haven’t looked back. They get to know us by name, and we get to know them by name. It shows us that people really do appreciate our presence in the community.
MSR: How do you see your business impacting the community?
People come in and they love the knowledge and expertise, as well as patience when searching for products. And, [with] our wigs, we’ve really attracted a following of people with hair loss issues [with the] patience, the intimacy that we have, because it is a smaller store and we have the quality of wigs specifically for people with hair loss or post-chemotherapy patients. I think that is how we’ve made the biggest difference so far, just beyond selling product.
MSR: What’s your vision for your business?
As things are evolving for us, we have begun to pivot more towards becoming a one-on-one service-based store that focuses even more on hair loss. We’ll still have lots of haircare products, but we’ve seen such a need of people that have to wear wigs due to autoimmune deficiencies that cause them to lose their hair.
In the next three to five years, I see myself connecting more with that community of post-chemo and people who are actually going through chemo who are not ready to wear their bald heads yet. And also young people with alopecia — they need some help. They need a unit that looks like them.
A lot of times, a larger, busier, more cluttered beauty supply store doesn’t offer that [intimate] service. That’s the direction we’re headed in — to focus more on the services and not just the retail.
Bella Beauty Hair is located at 7648 Zane Ave. N., Ste. 103 in Brooklyn Park. MSR readers can receive a 20 percent discount off their next purchase by mentioning the MN Spokesman-Recorder. Offer valid until November 16, 2018. For more information, visit www.bellabeautyandhair.com.
Stephenetta Harmon is a Black beauty editor, curator, and digital media and communications expert who builds platforms to celebrate the power, impact, and business of Black beauty. She is the former EIC for Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (2018-19) and current host of MSR Forefront, a digital roundtable series. She is the founder of Sadiaa Black Beauty Guide, the premier directory dedicated to Black-owned hair and beauty businesses. Find her at stephenetta.com.