Tobiloba Abdulsalami is the Chief Executive Officer of Hairsentrik, a thriving hair artistry brand in Lagos. She speaks with TOMINA EGBOKWU about her experience in the hair and beauty industry
Can you talk briefly about the Hairsentrik brand?
Hairsentrik is a full-time brand and has been in business for four years and some months. We would be hitting the big five in November this year, and I’m very excited. It still feels so unreal to me; I need to pinch myself really hard anytime I think about it.
What inspired the decision to start the business?
To be honest, when I was growing up, I always had a passion for hair and beauty. I remember always sitting by my mum’s bed every morning and watching her get ready to go out. A lot of the decisions I have made have all in one way been influenced by her. She had a salon and beauty school when we were growing up and that’s where I learnt the very basics. I then started making hair for extra income in the university, and it was that way I learnt more as I followed trends on YouTube and other social media platforms. So, going into modern-day hair artistry, I would say that I am self-taught from constant practices and videos.
The funny thing about my startup capital is that I started Hairsentrik with N1,500 only. I remember pouring out ideas to my mum and telling her I needed just N1,500 to see if it was going to work, and she actually gave me the money. I would never forget that the wig was now sold for N12,000, I then turned it over to keep making more wigs and then I expanded.
What drives the vision for the business?
For me, the only thing that drives my vision wild is my passion. I love what I do so much. Every time I think about it, my heart does a little dance. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. In five years, I’ve not been able to come up with any other thing I would rather have done than hair artistry. Right now, my happiest moments are when I’m at work making clients happy, when I’m working magic and expressing myself through wigs and hair pieces and even down to little things like brushing wigs. I think if you let me, I would spend the whole day doing these things.
What is the structure of your organisation and what are your responsibilities as the CEO?
Because we are still a growing brand, I have a very small staff strength. As the CEO, I handle all forms of marketing as I remain the face of my brand. I also handle first-hand customer relations. I oversee the day-to-day running of the organisation through production, logistics, making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of the company, and the most important part, I’m the stylist. We have a production unit for all our wigs, and I have a support staff to assist with all the day-to-day activities.
What do you love most about your job?
Being able to make other women smile, making them comfortable and, most importantly, giving every woman the unique opportunity to express themselves through our unique, yet very affordable pieces.
What are the challenges encountered when you started out and how did you tackle them?
I think the major challenge I faced when I just started was my age. I was barely 21 years old and a lot of people in my target audience were between the ages of 18 and 45. So, a higher percentage were obviously older than I was and saw it as a leverage to take advantage of me as a business woman. It took a lot of bad experiences and losses to eventually learn to put my foot down and that was when I started to see differences and growth. My age, at first, was also a major issue for my production staff or staff in general. Nigerians can be arrogant sometimes; they found it hard taking orders from a younger woman. Eventually, I had to really toughen up to everyone.
What’s the hardest decision you’ve made so far?
The hardest decision I’ve had to make in my business is expansion. Taking the step in 2018 to get a walk-in studio was not the easiest as I had a lot of fear and worries. Gladly, it turned out to be one of the best decisions.
Knowing what you know now at this stage in your career and in reflection of your past, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
To be honest, I wish I had learnt to take proper records of clients’ orders, purchases and expenses. I also wish I had started saving pretty early.
What are some of the qualities that helped you get to where you are today?
For me, I would say endurance. Being a young entrepreneur in Nigeria, you would have to endure a lot of pressure, stress, disappointments and hard times. Without endurance, entrepreneurship is weak. I have learnt to endure and withstand it all. I think I have seen it all.
What are some of the important lessons you have learnt as a business owner?
Keeping up with trends and learning every day, saving for the rainy day, learning proper management skills, learning to control emotions, investments and paying taxes, learning customer relations and understanding your target market.
What is the most critical initiative you are working on now and how do you plan to achieve it?
For now, it’s still a work in progress; I would like to keep it close to my chest till it’s complete. But I am very certain that in the nearest future, Hairsentrik is going to become a household name. The plan is to be known worldwide.
How would you describe the level of patronage when you started out and now?
There’s a very huge difference. When I started, I was barely getting 10 orders a month and I couldn’t produce in large quantities. Now, I can say our client base is huge. We get a lot more wig orders in a month. And this is not inclusive of the other major services we render. We also have our trainings, wholesale clients and a natural hair care line.
What is your view about the beauty and hair industry in Nigeria?
I say this every day: the industry is evolving by the minute. Nigerian women are naturally beautiful and they love to enhance their beauty. Because the beauty and hair industry is very much accepted in Nigeria, it is very encouraging and this makes us want to give more to society.
I can also beat my chest to say that this industry has created a lot of job opportunities for young men and women; so, when people say the industry is too populated, I laugh. Beauty is art, and art is very peculiar to each artist.
Do you think the growth of the local industry has reduced Nigerians’ appetite for foreign brands?
The growth of the local industry is huge; the things we see daily made by Nigerians are unbelievable. The best part is that foreigners have now started investing millions of dollars into this industry. It is now a ‘Nigeria to the world’ affair. I cannot remember the last time I bought clothes from a foreign brand. I now only buy made-in-Nigeria brands, or from Nigerian sellers because there is so much creativity, quality and growth. At least, the lack of jobs has started working in our favour. Now, this is the Nigerian dream.
I tell young parents every time to make sure their kids learn a skill. In the nearest future, who knows, we might be giving China a run for their money.
Some people believe the industry is saturated. In what ways do you distinguish yourself in the industry?
I agree it is. Like I said earlier, beauty is art and art is peculiar to each artist. The secret to standing out has always been, first, thinking ahead of everyone. Meaning, when everyone sees only stars, look beyond the stars. Try to see Jesus. So, whenever I see a saturated trend, I jump on the next bus. They never see me coming. This always puts me a step ahead at all times.
How do you drive innovation and new product cycles?
Firstly, I’m a good listener. I listen to my clients and their needs; this always creates an avenue to birth new ideas. Secondly, I give myself brainstorming periods; it could be a month, a week or a day. But I tell myself that I must come up with the next big thing in that time. When I do, I do not waste time – I jump on it and most importantly, I’m a big risk taker. You can never know until you try.
Who are Hairsentrik’s ideal customers and how does the company currently approach them?
The ideal Hairsentrik woman is the woman between the ages of 18 to 45. This woman is either in the self-exploring stage of her life, expressive stage, or maybe a redefining stage. The beauty of our pieces is to make you look and feel out of this world and beautiful without hiding who you truly are. Also, as you know, we are in a very digital age. Everyone is online somewhere and somehow, so we have been able to build our client base through the easiest platform to reach them which is social media and the Internet. Daily, we are able to reach thousands of women online from different parts of the world, using social media.
Do you think young entrepreneurs in Nigeria are getting enough support from the government?
I do not think so. I think the government’s support is minimal. But I applaud the Nigerian youth; even though they call us ‘lazy’, a major percentage of us have built our dreams from nothing. A lot of us have started from zero capital, without godfathers, and we are starting to get recognition worldwide. I am not lazy; I pride myself in saying that I am a hard-working Nigerian youth.
Who are your role models?
My mum. Everything I am now is a reflection of everything she taught me, or let’s just say everything I watched her do.
Businesswise though, I will say Gwen Addo of Hairsenta, Ghana. That woman’s brand is an expression of what I want my brand to look like in another five years but better, of course. She’s very unique. Tara Fela-Durotoye is another role model; I love the way she has evolved from being a small beauty entrepreneur to a world-class business mogul. She took selling beauty and turned it into empowerment, job opportunity and a lot more. That woman is a future goal.
If you are not making wigs, what do you do for fun?
Work is fun for me. But let’s say once there’s a chance not to work, I take my rest very seriously. I like to be alone; I’m an introvert. I also love to conduct researches on how to be better. I love to watch a good movie or two and I’m constantly looking for good food. I’m also a professional dancer in the shower.