How my N30,000 investment became a multi-million naira business –Chinelo Ikeme, CEO, My Hair Limited | Nigeria Newspaper- Nigeria News| Naija News

2.10.16

How my N30,000 investment became a multi-million naira business –Chinelo Ikeme, CEO, My Hair Limited

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chinelo
Chinelo Ikeme is a household name among artificial hair dealers in Nigeria and her company, My Hair Limited, was an official sponsor at the just concluded Africa Fashion Week held in Lagos. In this interview, the Lagos-based, classy entrepreneur speaks about her success story in business, challenges and more.

Are My Hair Limited and  Moore Enterprises sister companies?
Not  per se. Moore Enterprises is actually a family business and we are into the importation of chemicals. The CEO of Moore Enterprises is different from the CEO of My Hair Limited and that’s me. I am only the Financial Director of Moore Enterprises. At My Hair Limited, we buy and sell synthetic hair and we also do clinical services like treating hair.  After  buying synthetic hair from us, our customers  need to do a little work of cleaning it by washing and rolling it. We also treat hair that has been damaged by  chemicals.
What motivated you into this business?
(Laughs) I have always loved beauty, particularly hair. My mum used to wear a lot of hair extensions when I was a child and that caught my interest. I dropped it after a while when I was at  the University of Lagos studying Banking and Finance. After then, I have worked in two banks for six years before I resigned to go into hair care business in particular. I met an Indian man who taught me a little bit of what I know now in the business. When he finally left Nigeria, I continued the business and here I am today.
Was your bank job less lucrative than business?
No!
Why did you the leave banking then?
I felt it was too demanding. I didn’t have time to explore my abilities as I  wanted. Banking is a bit too uptight, because everybody tells you what to do, from top to bottom. Sometimes, you are not even allowed to use your initiatives. I wanted to do something on my own, because I come from a family of business people. Moore Enterprises is a business my late dad started from nothing to where it is today.  My grandfather and grandmother also did business and I knew that one day, I would  leave the banking sector for full time business. Most bankers have the same dream if you ask them. There is no 9am-5pm worker that doesn’t wish to start his own thing one day. I wanted to use my energy to start my own. I always told myself I wanted to use my energy for my own business. I never wanted to retire old and that was why I started early.
How did you start your business?
I started by saving my salary every month. The aforementioned Indian man was very generous to me too. I was at first hesitant, because I used to buy from him. He encouraged me to start by selling to my colleagues in the office and I did. My friends always admired what I had on and I would always pay the man with my salary and wait for my colleagues to pay me later. It is important for people to be confident in what they sell and that gives you the opportunity to grow your business. If people know you for good, they will be willing to buy from you and pay you after a while. I started by selling to my colleagues and they began to spread the good word to others. I would say that referrals really built me up in the business. Thanks to my customers.
Can you recall your start-up capital?
(Laughs) About N30,000.
So, how did a N30,000 investment become what it is now?
I started by selling on credit, because I noticed that people who wanted to buy synthetic hair couldn’t afford what they wanted. Synthetic hair is not cheap. It’s like a luxury. I tell my costumers to buy only what they can afford and not try to jump into the lagoon. I started gradually and like I said, the Indian man would sell to me on credit and I would sell to my colleagues who sometimes don’t even pay me immediately. They would just promise to pay until I started building a structure  by making them pay in instalments. Since I had to deal with bankers, I knew they are people of integrity and their checks won’t bounce although some did. That was how we grew. People would rather patronize the lady who makes you pay in  instalments. For now, we have slowed down on cheques, because we just want to avoid bad ones.
Apart from making your customers pay in instalments, how else do you try to satisfy them?
Customer service and relationship management are very important in business. Some customers can be very erratic and you must know how to manage them. I learnt that from banking and you have to manage people with all their excesses and tantrums. You also have to sing their praises. I taught my staff to treat customers with a lot of courtesy, that  they  have to always sir and ma them. No matter what they do to them, even when they feel the customer is wrong, they have to treat them like kings and queens, as the case may be.
Is there anything special worth knowing about this line of fashion?
The truth about synthetic hair is that authenticity is key. If you sell fake, you lose your customers. You don’t know quality by feeling, you know by usage. Durability. Synthetic hair can be beautiful but when you use it for a while, it turns out bad. The truth is that the customer has purchased it from you and has used it, then she comes back to complain. That is where integrity comes in  and that is why I give my customers guarantee, like I get from my suppliers too. I keep my word and  my customers love and respect me for this. When I  started this business in 2010, I was duped and I also had issues with clients returning some goods. Though I lost a lot of money, today they are my praise singers, because they are still with me.
What was it like when you were defrauded?
I felt really cheated and almost gave up but one of my good friends who is in the same business encouraged me never to give up. That is one thing I learnt in banking again. In banking, it has to be just your job alone and they must not know you are doing something else.
What’s your major challenge?
Getting  authentic synthetic hair is a big challenge, because we don’t have the original in Nigeria. We import. I have suppliers in different countries.
How much  do you make annually?
Hmmm, yes, it’s lucrative when you have authentic products. People buy from you if you sell the original.
Naturally, most of your customers are ladies. How do you manage them, considering that they can be difficult to manage?
Mind you, I also have male customers who come to buy for their ladies or so. You just have to be humble managing them. My six years experience as a relationship manager in the bank hall is enough guide.
What’s your driving force?
That would be the smiles on my customers’ faces and the referrals they give me. It makes me always wanting to please them.
What has kept you in business these years?
I think that is God and my family. I sell products now but I plan to do it in a bigger way and expand my hair clinic. I also teach people how to manage their hair themselves.
Could you tell  us  about   the support  you get from your family?
First is from my husband. He is my backbone and chief adviser (laughs). He is a lawyer, businessman and  former banker too. He is always there, especially those times I almost quit. Having a husband who supports you is important in being able to run your business. He is a good man.  My staff  is  also very supportive. I have empowered them to be able to take decisions and call me for any one they cannot handle.
What are your core values?
Honesty and integrity and I put God first in all I do.
What are your plans to expand your business?
Oh yes! I want to go big time into hair care products needed in treating and managing human hair. I see that most ladies don’t know how to manage their hair and I want to explore that and train people on that.
Do you think Nigeria has an encouraging business climate?
Yes, Nigeria has it, Lagos in particular. The Nigerian business terrain is tough with the foreign exchange instability affecting us but we are resilient.

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