Photo/ Courtesy of Devin Robinson
Imagine walking into a beauty supply store and being threatened by the owner with a golf club. In 2005, Devin Robinson, the proud owner of 20 West Barber Salon went to his local beauty supply store to purchase supplies for his business. While perusing the aisles, shopping for products for his customers’ curls and kinks, he was racially profiled and threatened. The Korean store owner became irate. He felt Devin was taking too long shopping. He proceeded to make disparaging remarks and chased Devin out of his store.
That experience was a pivotal moment in Devin’s life. It set the new entrepreneur on a path to open his first beauty supply store. Today, the former business and economics professor has helped open over 160 Black-owned beauty supply stores across the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean through the Beauty Supply Institute, a training and consulting organization he founded in 2007.
The St. Thomas, Virgin Islands native’s path to success was not a straight one. As a teenager, Robinson got mixed up with the wrong crowd. At age 15, he was arrested for being in a stolen car. “My friends and I ran from the cops…when they caught me, they put a police dog to bite me…they beat me up badly and left me for dead, bleeding out in a jail cell.” Luckily, the officers who came in for the morning shift saw Devin’s condition and called an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Just a few years later, a close friend of Devin’s was murdered. That was a turning point in his life. The experience left Devin with an urgency to turn his life around.
Black Business Ownership
Black consumers spend nine times more on hair care than other groups; however, Black people are rarely the owners of these businesses. In Black communities, the hair care market has been dominated by Asian entrepreneurs due to their close ties to the suppliers and wholesalers in Korea. Devin wanted to change that. It was the inspiration for his best-selling book, Taking it Back: How to Become a Successful Black Beauty Supply Owner.
Devin has stepped up to take on the beauty supply industry. He wants to reduce the learning curve for aspiring Black beauty supply store owners. Through the Beauty Supply Institute, he created a solution to help level the playing field for Black entrepreneurs that are interested in the beauty supply business. Devin also hosts two Beauty Supply Entrepreneur Conferences a year.
Reducing Barriers to Funding Equality
While he has trained thousands of entrepreneurs on business management and principles, Robinson understands that one of the major barriers they face is securing funding to start and scale their businesses. To help close that gap, the serial entrepreneur launched the Urban Business Lending Group in January 2019.
One of a few Black nationally certified business loan brokers, Devin and his team offer aspiring store owners traditional SBA loans and non-traditional loans requiring a minimum 551 credit score. Start-ups can receive up to $150,000 and existing store owners up to $400,000. Since the launch, Urban Business Lending Group has provided nearly $2M in seed funding to new entrepreneurs, primarily from Black communities. Devin stated, "We help get our clients qualified. They are not simply denied and turned away. That's why we have seen such success this far and expect to grow every calendar year."
Making a difference
Devin is committed to supporting economic growth and wealth building in the Black community. More than an education and training center, the Beauty Supply Institute assists black entrepreneurs with securing vendors, lease negotiations, and transforming their retail space into a fully functioning business. And with the launch of the Urban Business Lending Group, he is creating a business ecosystem to help mitigate the structural obstacle that persists for Black entrepreneurs.
The best-selling author and entrepreneur has realized his vision. “Assisting people in realizing their dream of store ownership while bringing jobs and money back to my community is a dream come true.” We still have a long way to go, but the days when Korean entrepreneurs were the only beauty supply store owners in Black communities are slowly fading.