Throughout the country, beauty supply stores are mainstays of predominantly African-American neighborhoods, catering to the diverse hairstyle choices of black women.
But a vast majority of them are not owned by African-Americans. According to Atlanta’s Beauty Supply Institute owner Devin Robinson, of the 9,800 beauty supply businesses nationwide, only about 300 are black-owned.
But black women like Stephanie Sarr are hoping to change that. She opened Savanna Beauty Supply on Madison’s east side in July of 2015.
After eight years of working as an insurance claims adjuster, Sarr decided to take her master’s degree in business and put it to good use. First, she tried an online clothing store, which lasted three years. Then she started to look into other businesses that she had a passion for and decided to give beauty supplies a try.
“Everyone should do what they have a passion for, especially when it comes to jobs,” Sarr said. “If you’re not happy then you’re going to carry that negativity into other parts of your life.”
Sarr said she chose to have her store in an Eagan Road shopping center near a fitness center because she believes beauty is an inside and outside job. Creating the proper hair care regimen sometimes relies on a woman’s physical health.
Sarr plays R&B music in her store. The walls are painted red with wooden shelves that supposed to remind shoppers of savanna trees, which Sarr associates with African-American culture after she saw them on a trip to Savannah, Georgia.
She has decorated the walls with paintings, one of which is by local artist Melana Bass to commemorate the store’s one-year anniversary. Stephanie said she always wants the store to have art because beauty is a work of art. The store is bright, making use of natural light from the large windows in front. Stephanie said she did not want to overwhelm customers with lots of products and she tried to make sure customers can see everything available.
“The customer is my boss, I wouldn’t be here without my customers,” said Sarr.
Many of the products in the store were requested by customers and if the store doesn’t carry a product, Sarr is willing to order it. She features a specialty item, not typically available in beauty supply stores, called “whips,” a cream made from essential oils and butters which are blended together. Customers can use the whips on their skin and hair.
“I like it because I don’t feel like a customer and I’m not treated like I need to hurry up and buy something and get out, which makes me more comfortable and want to spend my money here,” said customer Leasure Flemming. “I like this store because I can ask questions so I feel confident in my purchase.”
Sarr often suggests products or gives feedback to customers. She also consults with a stylist when she can’t answer a customer’s question.