Cova Beauty is a Black-owned beauty supply store that specializes in cosmetics, organic care products, hair extensions, and accessories.
We previously interviewed the owner Dianna Foster about her experience running the largest beauty supply store in Stockbridge, GA.
We caught up again to see how business is going and to find out about some exciting plans she has in store.
When we first spoke, you had plans to open a second location. Any updates to share?
We are looking to expand by franchising Cova within the next two years. I am ensuring our franchisees are equipped for success and that I am available to support them every step of the way.
I know firsthand the challenges that can arise in launching a retail location, and my franchisees will have all the tools needed to prevent them from making some of the mistakes I made initially.
I’m super excited to expand into new communities and enlarge our retail territory!
What type of growth has your business experienced since its launch in 2016? What do you attribute that growth to?
We’ve had a gradual increase over the past few years. In 2016 we made just under $200,000 in the first year of business and we’re projected to be in the seven-figure range at the end of this year.
There are many things that have contributed to our growth but I’m happy to share what factors were essential for us.
Expanding our inventory and being able to offer a more diverse product mix for our customers was huge for us. We opened with less than 10 vendors, and we currently have over 100 plus. When we launched, several large vendors would not allow me to open an account with their company. However, I stayed persistent and built relationships with smaller vendors.
If it was an account I was really interested in, I would follow up consistently to see if there was anything we could do to be approved, and after 6 years we were finally approved for one of the largest vendors in the industry. However, during those 6 years, I did not sit idle, I applied to several smaller companies that carried the same products to ensure my customers’ demands were met and we were able to stay competitive.
To secure those vendors, I was required to go through an extensive credit check, I had to be sure that I wasn’t in an over-saturated market, and I was required to show how I could add value to the vendors by meeting or succeeding fulgent guidelines. We also expanded the fixtures in our store to accommodate 60 new product lines. This new direction allowed us to provide a more immersive experience and increase the time customers were in store by giving them more options which increased our average units per transaction.
2. Strategic Staffing
We hired the right people. Having the right staff remains a top priority for us. In addition to having positive, like-minded employees, I feel hiring a fashion-forward team is critical in this business. I look for candidates who aren’t afraid to take risks with their hair and makeup.
I like when beauty comes naturally to them, and they enjoy it. This helps keep me up to date on the latest trends because they love social media and are always finding cool things on YouTube, IG, and TikTok. Social media being a part of their culture is a bonus for me as well. I love it!
Most importantly, I had to understand the financial health of my business. When we opened, managing a store, and selling products was easy for me but I quickly realized If I wanted to truly elevate, I needed to educate myself on the health of the business.
I work closely with my accountant monthly. During our meetings, we identify areas preventing us from being profitable and formulate a plan to increase our profit margins & average ticket sales, etc. would strongly encourage new business owners to partner with an accountant to create a plan to ensure that their business is profitable and that they are able to take advantage of the programs that are designed to support small business owners.
When the pandemic first started, did your business experience any challenges? How did you address them?
Absolutely. When the Pandemic began in 2020, we were forced to close for about nine weeks. It was difficult because during that time, our employees lost their primary source of income. I’m sure you can imagine the devastation as a business owner trying to provide solutions for a staff I care deeply for. My main concern was figuring out how they would support their families financially while we were closed. I also realized I had to ensure they felt safe and comfortable to return once we were cleared to open.
Additionally, all our vendors in the US closed and our supply chains were interrupted. We had no idea or indication of when they’d reopen. It was a lot, but it was important for me to focus on what I could control. I couldn’t control vendors and shipping, but I could take care of my staff. It was a time of confusion and uncertainty and the last thing I wanted them to worry about was their jobs.
When we were cleared to reopen, thankfully, all our employees returned and while we were happy, we were in for a new challenge. Due to social distancing, we had to change our entire customer engagement strategy. We pride ourselves on offering concierge-like service and we had to completely pivot. The little things that contribute to the Cova experience had to be nixed and boy was it an adjustment. Not going the extra mile had to become our new normal. How do we continue to go the extra mile for our customers without going the extra mile? We had to do the best we could within our mandated parameters.
So, our new normal looked like creating a new environment where my staff felt safe enough to work with Covid-19 safety protocols. The personal touches we placed on customer service had to stop. We could no longer walk them bags around the counter and thank them for their business. I felt like we couldn’t provide an experience for our customers anymore. We had to limit and then discontinue the option to try on wigs.
Now that may seem small, but our customers love trying on wigs at our vanity bar. The casual and cool conversations were no more as customers wanted to purchase their products and leave. We were no longer able to do what we do best. Ensuring everyone was healthy was the only priority.
I had to restructure certain guidelines according to the CDC. Small things became challenges. If an employee called out because of Covid symptoms or being exposed to someone with symptoms, informing my team could cause alarm even though we were adhering to CDC guidelines. Callouts impacted daily operations. Employees having to quarantine for two weeks meant the remaining staff were forced to cover additional shifts. These challenges eventually led to a decrease in employee morale. We were able to
quickly adjust to the challenges with a new way of interacting and the team became engaged in a positive way. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to my team.
Lastly, our supply chains were interrupted. When we reopened, many of our products were no longer available because some vendors had to unfortunately close or there was a delay in their inventory which caused delays in our inventory. We were certainly in no position to wait for vendors to untangle themselves so as a solution, We began partnering with larger vendors and over ordering. We stored the additional products in our warehouse and used that as our backup. That ensured that our shelves were always stocked.
Why have you decided to launch an “Every Door Direct Mail” campaign?
Prioritizing fruitful relationships and valuable encounters with our customers was a part of our mission before Cova opened its doors. I realize the importance of connecting with them in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
After reviewing our data analytics and the genuine relationships we’ve cultivated with them over the last 6 years, I decided it was time to expand with a new approach to our outreach matrix.
An EDDM Campaign is not only efficient, but it gives us the opportunity to introduce Cova organically to those within the community we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet. This excites me because we can connect with them on a personal level with targeted marketing.
While Digital Marketing allows businesses to reach consumers in a very short amount of time, EDDM allows me to strategically saturate an entire market and track the results. I’m hopeful this will contribute to my goal of building name recognition and brand awareness in the community while reaching a strengthened, more diverse audience.
You carry a number of Black-owned brands in your store. How do you select which brands to carry?
I would like to start by saying yes! We do carry several Black-owned brands in-store.
Some of my personal favorites are The Doux, Alikay Naturals, and Camille Rose. I am often approached by amazing Black-owned brands and while I wish we could carry them all, there are so many factors to consider and I’m happy to share our product selection process.
The first and most important is that each product must meet a certain standard. We always must make sure that the product is safe for consumers, properly labeled, in compliance with all laws and regulations, and manufactured in an environment that will not cause them to become adulterated.
In addition to product safety, I must consider the demographics, my location, the season as well as the buying patterns of our customers. Stockbridge is a family-oriented community and what sells well in the city of Atlanta, differs from in the city of Stockbridge.
I’ve had the opportunity to work in my store almost daily for the past 6 years which has been a tremendous benefit. It’s taught me what works well in my store because I’m able to listen to my customers, and trust me, they know what they want.
We also visit Beauty Trade Shows to stay ahead of the trends and to be sure we’re stocking the right brands. I also meet with my vendors monthly and request a ranking report to select products based on what works well in my store. A ranking report is helpful because it ranks their top-selling items, and we all know popularity matters.
When hand selecting products for the shelves, it takes planning where I must consider package sizing, chemicals, price point, and demand. Proper planning is a huge factor in my success. I personally hand-select each item that we carry and that’s over 170,000 ticketed items.
Have you noticed any change in customer preferences or demand for certain types of products over others?
Absolutely, I think the social injustice in our community has prompted a renewed sense of awareness. And our customers want an accurate representation of who they are, what their hair texture is, and how this brand can help them be their best selves.
I’ve increased the number of Black-owned brands we carry because of customer demand. We want to support our own and I’m honored to be a link in that generational chain.
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