By Ayo Alonge, [email protected]
The Chief Executive Officer of Bismid Cosmetics Limited, Olubunmi Agbeni, cites branding, customer relations, among others, as key to the growth of startups.
While saying that her cosmetic products are over 160 across the country and beyond, she tells her success story, competitive edge, stake in the cosmetics industry and more.
I started more than 16 years ago and I started from small. I started with N4,000 so I don’t think you need much money to start. I never knew it would be this big. I was discouraged by a lot of people, but because I have passion for it, nothing can derail me from it. About 18 years ago, I used to help my mum sell food in a local cafeteria. Then, usually took my time to admire everything that was about beauty. I was helping my mother sell amala. One day, I admired a lady who was working as a cleaner somewhere, as I saw that her skin had really changed. That was how I asked her to link me up with the brain behind it. I later made the frantic effort of saying that I wanted to learn the business. I was turned down because I didn’t go to school and was told the business is for learned people. I persisted and approached the owner of the company, and on seeing me, she was ready to have me as an apprentice. In fact, I was envied and bullied by my colleagues who called me bush girl. But then, I was very focused. I got a breakthrough when I discovered how to treat what we call a million pimples on people’s faces. The major constraint I had is that I was finding it difficult expressing myself in English but I was doing very well on the job, despite that people thought I was being fetish. Later, I consulted a student in UNILAG who started teaching me how to speak in English. I also started learning English from my little daughter’s English textbook.
The business has a lot of challenges which cannot be overstated. One major challenge is that we have a lot of people coming into the business and some speaking bad about you, just to pull you down. That is a key challenge, I must tell you. But then, I can tell you for free that I am one of the top cosmetologists and beauticians in Nigeria, today. Mixing creams is in vogue. We have so many people into makeup and nails fixing already.
To manage competition, you have to be very hardworking. Some cut corners but you have to be truthful always. My client know me very well. I don’t lie to you as to what to buy, even if you are the richest. At this level I am now, I have outgrown telling lies and deceiving people just to make them pay more. At this stage, I tell you the truth the way it is and if you come to me and there is no solution to it, I tell you and you won’t bother wasting your money. I have never been intimidated by competitive brands. I lead and others follow. I am myself. I have taught more than 300 people. The only thing that will make me feel intimidated is if I am not doing well. This is a business I am doing and I am like a role model to a lot of people. People often say I want to be like Bismid when I grow up. So, why should I feel intimidated? I lead and others follow.
I started here on a small scale before I travelled out. I saw something different. I saw the way they package and brand. I can tell you that when it comes to packaging, Bismid is number one. I started with just few products and now, I have about 160 products with lovely packaging. Once you bring in products and they look beautiful, people will buy. Before I went abroad, we had our local profits that we brand locally and we are still doing some locally, like the soap and sheer butter. But, I still need to bring some from abroad. We don’t need to deceive ourselves, Nigerians love good things but there is no adequate facilities to produce here. People can hardly do it here. If you want the best for people, you just have to go abroad. I have at least 20 of my products still made locally but our people will always prefer products made by oyinbo people.
Clientele and profitability
I mostly get clients through referrals. If you are good enough, they will locate you. You can break through in business only if you are good. Even if you sit underground, people will fetch you out. Profitability depends on the products you are selling. For us, our products are available because I am for the masses. Even if you have N500, you can get one of my products.
Stake in sector
In fact, the sector is beyond human comprehension. People appreciate beauty so much in Nigeria. Some will tell you they must check their beauty before they eat. The way Nigerians value their beauty is amazing. People give it 100 per cent attention.
I didn’t get what people were looking for when I started. The more products you have, the more money you get. While starting up, I went to partner with an Igbo man that had a cosmetics shop and I was bringing in products for him. Sometimes, I didn’t make any gain but the joy there was that I was gradually making the name. I can only say I thank God that I now have an empire of my own, with different sections and even a wide car park. Any business that can fetch you that is definitely not worth little. I want to have an institute where people can be schooled in beauty business. The woman that could not express herself in English is now about starting an institute. I challenge people to dare to begin, rather than sit and bemoan their situation. As a businesswoman, I can count some of my numerous achievement. First is that I can now express myself very well. This is a business that avails you the opportunity of meeting notable people like wives of governors, senators, multi-billionaires, and so on. They too want to look good. I travel to France, Italy, Canada, and to so many other countries, just through this business. I never believed I can get to where I am today. I have also bagged so many honorary awards to my credit. All these are for a woman that didn’t even go to school.