This story is part of a series on the disruptions to local small businesses expected in the community of Altadena when a new Walmart Neighborhood Market opens next year. To read the rest of the series, check out the links at the end of this story.
When Min Cha Park opens the doors to Toto Beauty Supply, her entire world revolves around selling hair. Every corner you turn, there’s a new shade of hair—red, blonde, black and golden locks that range from $20 to as much as $100.
“It’s just like, you know, gold,” said Park, who was perched at the front counter ready to ring up customers.
Park moved to the United States 35 years ago and later went into the painting business with her husband.
She didn’t know much about selling hair products, but a friend said she should give beauty school a try. It became the perfect business idea.
“We are getting old, so we have to have something (like a) sit down business,” Park said.
Today, Park said business is sputtering along, with sales just enough to pay rent and other expenses. She moved to her current location on Lincoln Avenue in Altadena about five years ago because the rent was more affordable.
Park buys her products from ten different hair companies, including Midway International. Hair represents about 70 percent of her sales. The other 30 percent is from chemicals, which are items like conditioners, gels and hair dyes.
Right now, Park is the prominent beauty supply store in that area of Altadena, which has several small businesses that range from a party goods store that sells piñatas to a family clothing shop on Lincoln Avenue.
But next year, she’ll compete against the nation’s largest retailer — Wal-Mart. A new Walmart Neighborhood Market opening down the street will also sell hair products like shampoos and hair coloring kits.
Park said she’s scared.
“I’m sure they are going to sell the same chemical I sell,” Park said. “I’m sure they are going to (have it for) less price than I sell. Hopefully not (by) much.”
Park said she has a 30 percent profit margin on her chemical products, but because of people stealing and sometimes dropping the items in her store, that margin drops to 20 to 23 percent.
She hopes that Walmart will encourage more people to come by Toto Beauty Supply. Even though she’ll compete with the retail giant on chemicals, Park has the monopoly on hair extensions and wigs.
“If a lot of people come … hopefully I can have more business. Then, I can lose a little bit,” Park said.
Park said she’s determined to keep her business running and doesn’t have plans to retire. She declined to state her age, but said she’s more than 70 years old. Her husband died a few years ago and she has an adult daughter. The store is what keeps her busy.
Even though there’s only “small money” made at her hair business for now, Park said it’s better than the alternative.
“I cannot save anything, but I just keep going. Better than staying at home,” Park said.