TAMPA — Pamela Thompson, 37, was still working for the federal government when she opened her beauty supply boutique and salon in Tampa in late 2019. She quit that job to run her business full time in early 2020.
“Some people may think that I’m crazy for leaving a career in that comfort zone,” she said. “But I’ve always wanted to own my business.”
My Shade and Texture, which specializes in hair products for women and men with textured hair, has managed to stay open and grow amid a global pandemic and local protests following the death of George Floyd thanks to its commitment to the community, Thompson said and the community’s commitment to her.
Can you share what sets your business apart?
It’s being a community-based store, providing more than just beauty supply for our products, connecting and engaging with the community. We donate products to local organizations. We allow small business owners to come into our store to host their own pop-up shops, whether they’re just getting started or they’ve been around for quite some time.
We’re all about connecting our brands with the consumers. And I think that’s what makes us very different. We’re all about educating our customers.
We incorporate technology, as far as different products in the store a customer may not be familiar with. So we have QR codes that they can scan, it will take them directly to information about that product, whether it’s tutorials or ingredients. We just want our customers to make a more informed decision before they make their purchase.
How and why did you start the business?
Women like myself are not getting the treatment that we deserve as African American women. You know, we’re one of the number one consumers in the beauty industry. But we go to different stores, whether it’s a big box store or a mom and pop beauty supply store, we’re not getting that one-on-one attention, someone reading the labels with us, someone who really and truly understands.
And because my business is catered to women and men with textured hair, we have different types of textures and so it was very hard to find the right products. To be able to put that into one space, that’s always been my passion and my vision, so I’m just happy to be open.
Can you share more about how you also support other businesses?
I’ve been able to allow approximately 20 to 25, if not more, small business owners since November 2019 to host their own pop-up shop in a store.
I’ve also worked with at least three to four big brands who we carry in our store. I’ve allowed them to come in for an intimate event called “Get to Know the Brand.” So it’s like an intimate conversation with the CEO of that brand. And they do a product demo.
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So it’s more than one type of initiative that we have in place to promote that partnership with small business owners.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your business?
COVID has been a blessing and a curse for me. (My business) was less than five months old in March, when we got the order from the city of Tampa that we had to close our doors. This is a crucial time for a small business owner, because just like research says, most business owners — small and new owners — don’t last that first year.
I did not want COVID to be a reason why I did not survive. I wanted to do everything that I could in my power to make sure that we were open. So one thing I had to quickly do is pivot.
For the first three weeks after we were closed, I was in the store from sunup to sundown, putting my items onto my website. It caused women in California, Washington state, New York and New Jersey to become familiar with my store. And I’m still, to this day this day in January 2021, shipping and selling products to women outside of Tampa.
I wasn’t a recipient of a PPP (Paycheck Protection Plan loan) or any of those initiatives with the federal government. However, I was grateful to be rewarded two months of free rent by the city of Tampa, so I was able to offset some costs.
And then it was maybe late May, after the George Floyd incident and the nationwide protesting, that also was right here in our backyard.
I actually slept in my store, because we had looters walking up and down the street. In fact, less than three blocks away from my store, a gas station was set on fire.
But what did that bring out? That brought the community out.
I had customers here who wanted to stay in the store with me. Customers helped me put signs on my door to discourage any looting.
But to go through all of that, and to still be able to operate in the midst of COVID, in the midst of local protesting, I couldn’t ask for more.
We had people calling in from outside of the city and other counties wanting to verify that I was a Black-owned business. And of course, after verifying that, they came in to support, and we continue to have people who are specifically seeking to support a local Black-owned business.
What is your outlook for this year?
My outlook for 2021 has just been to prepare for another shutdown with COVID. I think that’s inevitable.
We offer curbside (pick-up). That was one of the things we did when COVID hit, where customers, they’ll place their order online or they’ll call the store, we’ll walk it out to them.
That’s something that I did not eliminate, because we still have women and men in the community who don’t feel comfortable going out and shopping, because our cases continue to spike. Now that I have that plan in place, in 2021 I’ll just continue to do those things.
And my biggest initiative is to work more one-on-one with local small beauty brands to get them jump started and get their products in the store.