DURHAM — When Valerie Jackson answered the phone at about 2 a.m., the man on the other end told her an SUV had slammed into Hairizon Beauty Supply, a downtown Durham store she owns with her daughter, Joi Stepney.
I sat up on the side of the bed and said, I beg your pardon, Jackson recalled. I know you must be playing.
The March 4 crash claimed 90 percent of the natural beauty product stores shelving and inventory, and it marked yet another challenge for the mother-and-daughter team to overcome.
We are chasing the American dream to have a business of our own, said Jackson, who works at the shop while also maintaining a clinical coding specialist job at Duke University.
Until recently, Stepney, 32, worked three jobs at Hairizon, as an assistant director at the nonprofit organization Housing for New Hope, and as the night manager at Dames Chicken and Waffles to help keep the shop afloat.
The small-business journey started when Stepney stopped using chemical treatments to straighten her hair as a senior at UNC-Charlotte in 2002.
In the years that followed, she sought natural hair products, but she rarely found them on store shelves. In early 2010, Stepney returned to Durham with an MBA from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and a passion to build a business around natural hair care products.
Hairizon got its start in June 2010 when a Fuquay-Varina shop carried the companys products for four months. However, the items barely sold.
The two moved their products to a consignment shop on West Chapel Hill Street in Durham. But they packed up everything two months later after someone shot out all the windows of the store.
We had everything in the car, and we were disgusted, hurt and discouraged, Jackson said.
In January 2011, they opened in their current Main Street location, which offered a window front, but not a direct entrance from the street.
To cover the rent, they shared the space with a man who sold vintage records and later with a woman who sold natural lotions. Over the summer of 2012, they invited other businesses to put their products in the store, exchanging shelf space for $50 a month. They usually have products from about five other local home-based businesses, Stepney said.
Hairizon, which employs two part-timers and a store manager, includes a body bar, where customers have the option to create a custom concoction with whipped shea butter and a menu of oils and other ingredients. The store, which also sells its items on its website, carries jewelry, lotions and has shelves filled with natural products to wash, condition, moisturize and style various textures of hair.
This month, the store moved to a consignment model, in which they take 20 percent of sales from tenants instead of $50 in rent.
After the accident, the mother-and-daughter team worked with their landlord, the city and insurance companies to rebuild the store that now has a direct entrance from Main Street.
Hairizon reopened May 19, and business has picked up so much so, in fact, that Stepney was able to stop working at Dames.
We are almost breaking even, Stepney said. Business is definitely on an uphill track.