Q. Firs things first. How come you landed in this business?
Kang. I majored in Chinese language. I worked as a lecturer at universities in China for a long time. (Kang taught language comparison between Korean and Chinese and interpretation and translation at The University of International Business and Economics China, and Korean and real estate management assessment at Linyi University China). During my lecturer career, I happened to take a hair-related consulting project and it grew on me. I thought it could be a life-long job because hair needs touch of human hands but not robots no matter how technology developed like the media making all that fuss about it in the coming age. I also liked talking with the client on things about our lives during the hair treatment. So I decided to turn my career to hair and took and completed a number of certificate courses including high level courses. I then could be able to get a job at Won Su Heon Hair and Marshall Hair Salon from which I built practical knowhow alongside management skills.
Ryu. Like Kang, I also taught students at school for nearly 20 years. (Ryu obtained a doctor of literature from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies with the paper about Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Tan. Ryu taught cultures of Korea and China and liberal arts-based customer satisfaction at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Seo Kyeong University). All those years, I had this desire to do something more tangible than literature. I happen to know Kang when I was in a graduate course and we talked about many things including job and career. I came to a conclusion that hair salon might fulfill my long time dream of doing something more tangible and I liked engaging with people in everyday life. My role at KR Beauty Tech is research on business expansion and its diversity including analysis on pros and cons of certain products. I'm also working on development of software as a long term perspective.
Q. What challenges have you faced and how did you manage?
Kang. I suggested my business plan to the Seoul Credit Guarantee Foundation and the consultant said to me that he has never seen a business plan this perfect. In fact, I prepared it for a long time. I studied hard, obtained certificates and built field experience by working for hair salons before planning my own business. I did market research for location as well as commercial visibility. I used most of Village Store & Market Analysis run by Seoul but I visited the sites whenever necessary. And the result was the current location in Hongdae. One year has passed now and I'm strongly feeling of the need for building trust from our clients. No matter how much we use online marketing, we need to engage with fellow market merchants in the areas, not to mention clients, at the end of the day in order to grow business.
Ryu. I agree with Kang. People or fellow businessmen, if your like, play an important role alongside our willingness and courage to push things forward especially when it is a small business. We worked really hard and was full of passion at the initial stage of opening the business. We gave attention to detail to everything from location, equipment, props, interior, designers, etc. The closer the opening, the more fear we felt. Looking back after 1 year now, 'people' alongside courage and patience I think was what kept our business strong still.
Q. You mean human resource is very important?
Kang. All our partner directors have more than 10 years of experience in the field and we share ownership of the business through stock option system. This makes us work together when facing difficulties, build trust each other and set up goals together. So yes. Human resource is very important.
Ryu. I think a good workplace is where colleagues work in cooperation without pursuing one's own gains. Building relationship between people probably is the most difficult part of any businesses. Because we are all different, it requires time, patience, learning and understanding to know each other and to build productive cooperation. The role of the leader is to play an adjustment time to time where it is necessary. Instead of accusing like 'why don't you do it?' and 'you are not fit for this!', the leader should rather give encouragement for strength of the person.
Q. What helpful tips do you think you can give to self-employed startups?
Kang. The reason South Korea has many self-employed is because they do not have much choice after retirement. How many do you think they have certificates related to technologies? They just gather every single penny they can afford to do whatever that brings them bread and butter. And that mostly is self-employed like running a restaurant, chauffeurs, deliverers and such. Nevertheless, being a self-employed needs study and preparation as they are likely to fail otherwise. When the pandemic was its peak, the sales of our business dropped to 40 to 50%. Rather than discouraged and blamed the pandemic, we gathered together to bring up effective marketing. That year during the festive season, we have record high sales as a result.
Ryu. Many self-employed tend to think that 2 to 3 months of training and preparation is enough to run a business. But it is not. Because we never know what will come next tomorrow, next month or next year, we should always be diligent and make ready to respond positively and effectively.
Q. What things do you think should be improved in the hair salon industry?
Kang. As far as I know, South Korea is second to none when it comes to hair salon industry. Regretfully, work conditions are not as good as that of advanced countries. The government is providing support with some training programs and manuals but I feel details are missing business to business. So we need some improvement on this.
Ryu. I agree with Kang on that for practical side. On emotional size, I would like to mention about this: sustainable future is one of the frequently used terms on the media now. I think the term is closely related to ethical management. Because without work ethic, the business will not sustain. So be transparent in doing business.
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