The use of social media and a stronger online presence has helped this Black-owned business connect with their customers and create new business.
By Tracey Edwards
Rebecca Opong opened African Image Beauty Supply and Salon in 1987 in the Crenshaw district. Seeing that most beauty supply shops that are geared toward Black people are not Black owned, she knew that she could better create an authentic Afrocentric vibe. She simply opened her doors and customers came in.
“This shop has served a great purpose,” said Narkie Opong, Rebecca’s daughter. “We’ve been here for so long and I think it’s off the strength of the community that comes in to patronize us. We sell whatever it is that you need. We sell braiding hair, crochet hair, skin care, African soaps for different skin alignments, shea butter.”
Many customers have been faithful to this beauty shop because of the positive interactions that they have with the Opongs.
“It’s my belief that when people leave here, they feel a little bit better than when they came in,” Narkie said. “I think that matters because we should always leave people better than when we met them.”
When Rebecca opened the shop there was no social media or online presence. Over 30 years later, the marketplace is dramatically different, and the manner in which people buy products is also different. With the rise in online shopping, many retail stores saw less traffic coming through their doors. In 2017, Narkie decided to give the beauty shop an online presence.
“I had these visions from when I was a child of the foot traffic that was in and out of the shop,” Narkie said. “I said, ‘Mom, we need that foot traffic again.’ At the time social media was picking up. With YouTube and Instagram, content creator stuff was on the rise, but it wasn’t what it is today. I said, ‘Mommy, we need to create an Instagram.’ She didn’t know what Instagram was at the time, and she said, ‘Okay.’ She took my word for it which I appreciate so much, because she allows me to put my input in. She encourages my entrepreneurial ideas.”
The beauty shop had a grand-reopening, which included media coverage from local Black-owned newspapers. The online articles led customers to the beauty shop’s current location at the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Western Avenue. Narkie, with the help of family members and friends, was also very active in creating content for the beauty shop’s Instagram page.
“I was just posting and promoting on Instagram, and people started coming into the store,” she said. “We had some celebrities come in just based off of the strength of social media.”
The transition to using online media was working well until the pandemic hit, which forced Narkie to come up with a new strategy.
“We closed the shop, but people still needed their hair supplies,” she said. “The world was still moving even though simultaneously things had stopped.”
Customers were contacting the shop for the products that they needed, so Narkie came up with “Crown Essentials.”
“People would email, text, or DM us whatever they were looking for,” she said. “We would put it together weekly. I would meet up with customers at the Crenshaw Mall at the Albertsons parking lot. That was very successful and people were so supportive of us.”
Narkie then created a website for the beauty shop to increase online sales, and after some light promotion, sales started coming in.
“We got our first order from somebody in Chicago, who was just searching from Google,” she said. “I just thought to myself, ‘If we’re getting orders without much promotion, I can only imagine how far we’d get with the utilization of technology and progressing the business that way.’ Because we’re living in that world right now.”
While worldwide mainstream websites are selling similar products as African Image Beauty Supply and Salon, Narkie believes that there is still value in shopping online with the local mom-and-pop shop. And it’s even worthwhile to still go into the store.
“People are ordering from Amazon when we’re right here,” she said. “We have it all. We have what they need and what they’re looking for. Sometimes people are looking for someone who looks like them who can help to identify what they need.”