Oprah Winfrey often says that we all have a story to tell. That certainly holds true for Bernard “Bernie” White. The former Hill District native has gone from homeless to Hall of Famer to entrepreneur.
As a result of his life situations, he knows and has a strong belief that he and anyone can overcome anything. “I know from experience,” he professes. Nebby Beauty Care, which White says is the only full service beauty supply store in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, is one of his latest challenges.
|ALL ABOUT THE PRODUCTS—Nebby Beauty Care, owned by Bernard “Bernie” White, caters to the 70 per cent of women going natural. (Photos by Diane I. Daniels)
A graduate of Brashear High School with a dream to play professional football, White traveled to northwest Los Angeles to attend Ventura Junior College. A good student during the two years, White said he often had nowhere to stay during his tenure there. “My buddy and I, we often slept in our coaches’ car, the locker room or Denny’s,” he said. In his late teens, he said his pride wouldn’t let him return home.
“My fear was if I returned home I would be considered a failure,” he said. After graduating from Ventura he attended Bowling Green State University in Ohio and in his junior year became the third player in NCAA history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, while catching more than 50 passes with 1,036 yards rushing. In his senior season, he led the nation with 19 touchdowns, while rushing for 949 yards leading his team to an 11-0 regular season. He graduated in 1989 with a degree in criminal justice. In 2007 he was inducted to the BGSU Athletic Hall of Fame. White said he had the opportunity to sign with Green Bay, but his arrogance played a role in his decision making.
Now a resident of Charlotte, N.C., White said he has operated several businesses before investing in the 126 Meyran Avenue establishment. He identified vending, pre-employment screening, real estate management and property preservation as a few. “I enjoy being an entrepreneur. The challenges are exciting,” he said.
Back in Pittsburgh caring for his mother who has dementia, White said Nebby came about because he saw a need for a beauty supply store in a market that had potential. Opening and operating this store he says has been a learning experience.
The last six months White has been researching, networking and aiming to provide Nebby Beauty Care customers with products they need. He describes his business as a full service beauty supply store that caters to natural hair.
Products he carries include Mizani, Miss Jessies, Mixed Chicks, Taliah Waajid, Kinky-Curly and Dr. Miracles. He also sells Remy Hair in a variety of different brands and looks to expand soon. Other items include flat irons, clippers, men’s products, skin care and some intimate apparel. “If customers are looking for merchandise we don’t carry I’ll research it and make special orders,” he said. He also delivers to salons and barber shops within a 10 mile radius.
Operating in an industry dominated by Koreans, White emphasizes that it is important for other African-American beauty supply store owners, hair salon and barber shop owners to work together. “This is a tough and competitive market,” he said. As an example he explained that he cannot sell certain hair if it is sold by another business within 10 miles. “That is a big area. And who owns those shops,” he questioned. “If we all work together, we will have more control and power.” He also believes that the consumer has the most power. “It is important that we patronize businesses where the owners look like us,” he said. He commends and recommends businesses like Bates Barber Shop in East Liberty, Mark Anthony Hair Salon in Oakland, Sparks Nail Parlor in Homestead and Luxurious Looks Hair Salon in Duquesne for their support and patronage. “We work together. They order from me and I do business and recommend customers to them,” he said.
White admits that it has taken him awhile to grow Nebby to the point where he wants it. “This is the hardest business I’ve operated,” he said. To learn the ins and outs he attends hair shows in places like Philadelphia and Atlanta aiming to build strong networks and relationships.
“I ask a lot of questions. I’ve basically learned this business by being nebby. That is why I named it Nebby Beauty Care. I have actually been thrown out of stores because of my inquisitiveness,” he said laughing.
Because the business has been a learning experience for him, White advises anyone starting or thinking about going into business to do their research, to secure relationships and to separate themselves from others. “These are things I tell my 19 year old son Mainza Naeem,” he said.
White, considering his number one priority as taking care of his mother, said he is working toward owning four beauty care stores. “Being in Pittsburgh provides me the opportunity to learn this business well. My goal is to open a store in the Hill District one near Bowl and Green and one in Ventura,” he said. By focusing in regions he is familiar with he hopes to have them established by the end of 2012.
Not one to let what other people say about how he operates, thinks or the goals he has set for himself and family affect him, White said he has learned from his life experiences. “I have always been a survivor since the age of 10 when I had a paper route to the days of being homeless. All those experiences and these business lessons have made me the man I am today. That’s the legacy I will pass on to my son.”