GREENSBORO It’s like a hair supply superstore, with its nine aisles of hair, nail and beauty products stocked with everything from hair clippers to hair straightening products.
Along an 80-foot long wall hang hundreds, maybe thousands, of hair extensions.
Sam Ajaj, owner of Unique Hair and Beauty Supply at 3709 N. Church St., said he can hardly keep the shelves stocked.
“There is no beauty supply store in Greensboro like this,” Ajaj said.
This 10,000-square-foot store is not part of a big box chain. It is a family-owned business built one customer at a time for more than 15 years.
But the road has been long from Ajaj’s home country of Lebanon to this beauty supply store in Greensboro.
Ajaj came to the United States in 1979 to escape a civil war.
“I wanted to pursue a more civil education and life and a better future for my children,” Ajaj said. “America was something I was dreaming about.”
Ajaj enrolled in Miami-Dade Community College in Florida for a two-year degree in chemistry so he could go into a medical field. But as war in Lebanon deepened, the currency became devalued and Ajaj found he was unable to afford tuition. He dropped out of school and got a job at a grocery store selling hair-care products.
Ajaj said nothing like Unique Hair existed at that time.
“It wasn’t until the late ’80s or early ’90s that you started seeing beauty supply stores,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ajaj was trying to get his family to the United States. It took five years for his wife, Jamal, to get a visa so she and the couple’s two young sons could join Ajaj. His family would become citizens while Ajaj obtained permanent resident status.
Ajaj eventually moved his family to Greensboro, where a cousin lived.
“My wife was pregnant, and we had two small boys. We liked the school system and wanted to live in an area where she could walk them to school,” Ajaj said. “When we came here to Greensboro, we came here with basically nothing.”
With no job prospects, Ajaj started delivering pizza. It wasn’t long before the hair supply company he had worked for in Florida offered to open a store in Greensboro if Ajaj would manage it.
The store opened on Church Street in 2000. It was only 3,000 square feet, but it thrived. In 2009, Ajaj bought the store.
“Over the years, we built clientele,” Ajaj said. “And we came to know people in the area.”
Ajaj bought a home in Summerfield and his family moved out of their apartment.
Ajaj began thinking about expanding the store. With the help of Bank of Oak Ridge, he purchased land just down the street in 2015.
“The store became too small for us. The bank suggested we increase the size of our business,” Ajaj said. “The land came up for sale in 2013. We figured it would be a good location for us. It is not too far from our old location, so customers can find us.”
Eula Donaldson said she comes all the way from the other side of town to shop at Unique Beauty. “They’re nice people, and the prices stay the same,” she said.
About 15 percent of the store’s clientele are salon owners, Ajaj said.
Construction on the new store began last spring, and it opened earlier this year. It is more than three times the size of the old store and stocks 40,000 to 50,000 products, most for African-American men and women.
Ajaj said with the store’s growth, he will soon carry merchandise for a variety of ethnicities.
“Hair, weaving hair, braided hair is a really big industry right now,” inventory manager Garland Craigg said. “Sam is equipped to supply the product and all of the associated products.”
Craigg has known Ajaj since 2005, when he and his wife, Janet Craigg, became regular customers of the store. Garland Craigg, who has a background in product inventory, began working full-time for Ajaj in February. He is helping Ajaj transition to a bar code system and set up an electronic inventory system.
“Sam was keeping all of the inventory in his head,” Craigg said.
Unique Hair employs 11, including Ajaj’s family.
Ajaj’s son, Omar Ajaj, is a college graduate who is helping his dad run the business. Omar Ajaj has worked in the store since he was a kid. He remembers being in middle school and stocking aisles on Friday and Saturday nights while classmates were going out with friends.
His sister Amy helps in the store. A graduate of Northern Guilford High School, she plans to enroll at UNCG and eventually go into a medical field. Brother Muhammed also helps at the store — or he will until he goes off to dental school in August.
The youngest sibling, Julie, 9, also helps out.
“I was a good shepherd for my family,” Ajaj said. “The success comes from all of the family working together. One person can do so much, but when a family works together, the outcome can be much better.”
Ajaj named his company Jamal Beauty Supply after his wife. She is the wig specialist. She can tell you about any of the store’s 600-plus wigs, most of which are on display in a three-aisle section. The store stocks popular brands like Sensational, Bobbi Boss and Vella Vella in a variety of colors. Customers include cancer patients and those who “just want to look different for one day.”
Customers can get fitted by a stylist in the store.
Ajaj plans to open a two-seat salon.
The store carries a selection of all-natural products, and there’s even a section for kid’s hair products.
Ajaj is gearing up to enter the online market. He has hired a firm to develop a website.
“A lot of people who live in rural areas can get their products shipped to them. Some live a hundred miles or more away from the nearest beauty supply store. I think something like this can make life easier,” Ajaj said. “Everybody wants to look good.”