The Hair Hive owners lock in essential business designation, and plan for the future post-COVID-19

Today seems a far cry from the excitement of the Hair Hive’s grand opening, on March 7, 2020. The shop, on Fillmore Avenue on Buffalo’s East Side, was founded by three sisters who share a dream of running a black woman-owned beauty supply store focused on their community. They launched “back then” with the support of WEDI, in the form of a business loan and other business assistance.

Now, with characteristic positive attitude and commitment, even though two weeks after their official launch, the state was effectively shut down for most businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sisters—Danielle Jackson, Lauren Jackson, and Brianna Lannie—have found ways to maintain the business…and sustain their dream.

During their first few weeks, their business plan proved solid and the concept, workable. “We sold out of about 60% of our inventory during our grand opening weekend,” says Lauren Jackson. “And business was steady pretty much every day for the first two weeks.”

The pandemic and shutdown were a “curve ball,” Jackson adds. “We were just starting to pick up momentum, getting a flow of customers, figuring out what to order and stock, how to be prepared.”

One advantage Jackson feels Hair Hive might have had over other, more established small businesses when the shutdown did come, is that their finances were in order and they were current with their bills.

They didn’t even have time to fall behind, Jackson says. “That allowed us to take a step back, and look at what we could do. During that time, we got an email from a distributor, letting us know about ways to stay open during the pandemic, like if you sell essential products or services.”

On April 8, after a brief online application process, they received notice that they’d been approved as an essential business. Items that the shop carries which qualified it for the designation include masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soaps, lotions, and feminine products.

“It wasn’t just reopening,” adds Jackson. “We wanted to do something for our community, so when we did start call-in and curbside service, we gave away 300 free disposable masks, which are hard to come by.”

Juan Acevedo, their relationship manager and de facto mentor at WEDI, says he was not surprised by the sisters’ collective will to find a way to continue operating their business.

“WEDI took them on as a client because from the start, they were very well-organized,” he says. “They took it seriously—when it comes to a business idea, a lot of people start out motivated then taper off. Lauren, Brianna, and Danielle haven’t stopped, even with everything that’s been thrown at them.”

In turn, the sisters say that WEDI—and Acevedo in particular—was incredibly supportive after the long, occasionally frustrating, process of looking for capital. The path to being able to open in the first place required perseverance.

“We went to the bank, and were denied. We went to [other community development organizations] and were denied,” says Jackson. “The whole process was slow, and we were feeling defeated.”

“When we got to WEDI, through Capital Connect, we were assigned someone to work with there; Juan was the first person who was as excited as we were,” continues Jackson. “He’s wonderful; a great fit for us, and we worked with him very closely.”

Acevedo says that the sisters have a potent blend of personality, experience, and can-do attitude that engaged with his desire to help clients achieve their dreams. “Between the three of them, they are constantly looking for ways to move forward,” he says. “Their energy is infectious, and their entrepreneurial spirit is so strong.”

“It makes the process much more positive when you have someone pushing and rooting for you, who believes in your vision and sees what you are trying to do,” adds Lannie.

“We wouldn’t have the same type of relationship with a bank loan officer,” says Jackson. “With Juan, it’s more like mentorship. We continue to speak with him through the pandemic; he’s sent information on grants and loans, and what payments can be deferred. We’re grateful for his help, and that we’ve been able to stay open.”

The essential designation process was transparent and straightforward, says Jackson. And the rules to maintain the designation must be strictly adhered to. “After I filled out the online form, I heard back within three days,” she notes. “One of the most important elements is detailing the products you sell that are considered ‘essential.’ And if you run out of those products, your business is no longer considered essential, and you have to close.”

To maintain their own and customers’ safety, the sisters take orders by phone, and set up curbside pickups during limited opening hours. They allow customers in the store, but only two at a time. “We’re encouraging customers, especially those who might be more vulnerable, to do the call-in/pickup,” says Lannie. “We wear gloves and masks while assisting and cashing out in the store and delivering to curbside, and we’re constantly wiping everything down.”

Because salons and barbershops are all closed, the service that the shop provides—in addition to the designated essential products—is proving to be just as essential for their customers.

“Our customers—many who are essential workers themselves—are ecstatic to be able to get what they need to push through. We’re giving them an alternative; they can buy a wig, or buy a pair of clippers to do their hair themselves,” says Lannie.

Jackson holds that the business is more than simply a place to sell goods, and other aspiring business owners should consider this philosophy. “It’s an investment in yourself. To succeed, it helps to know what you are doing, and to have a cause, to make it about something greater,” she says. “For us, it’s giving great, high-quality customer service, and giving back. The money might not always be consistent, but your cause will always be there to motivate you.”

With their current success, the sisters feel confident enough to plan for the future. “We have new customers coming in every day. We are going to continue giving great customer service, and keeping the community in mind with everything we’re doing,” says Lannie.

Read more articles by Jana Eisenberg.

Jana Eisenberg is a Buffalo-based freelance writer/editor. In October, 2019, she was named managing editor of UpstartNY. She grew up in Los Angeles, called NYC home for 20 years, and now enjoys telling the stories of life in Western New York.
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