Business Beyond Borders

Published on 11th December 2007

Whereas some politicians are jittery about the East African integration, business people not only see in it an expanded market, but a mutual sharing of skills and comparative advantage. Janet Lomwatu, a Tanzanian lady in her mid twenties, has demonstrated this spirit by partnering with a Kenyan counterpart to run a salon. The business venture called BELLA VISTA offers both hairdressing and beauty therapy services. It is housed at Villa Salama near Chaka Place on Argwings Kodhek Road, Hurlingham, Nairobi. Janet is a trained beautician and has been in the industry for three years. The African Executive paid her a visit and filed this story:

Anthony: Most Kenyans are moving to Tanzania to exploit the ‘untapped market.’ Why did you move against the grain?

Janet: It’s a matter of proxy. My family has lived in Kenya for a long time and so I have grown to adopt more of the Kenyan culture. Doing business in Kenya is not similar to doing business in Tanzania because the market trend and lifestyle in Tanzania is slightly slower than in Kenya. Business opportunities are available everywhere. It’s a matter of identifying a need and creating a product to meet the need. It’s a matter of being passionate with what one can offer in the market. It’s a matter of meeting standards. In the beauty industry, the products we use have international accreditation, this makes them applicable and relevant anywhere, so boundaries cannot restrict us from exploring any market. If you asked me whether or not am Kenyan or Tanzanian, I would say am an African.   

Anthony: Don’t you think the beauty market is over-crowded?

Janet: Over-crowded is an understatement, but this doesn’t mean it is any different from other fields. Supermarkets, butcheries, laundries, banks… they are all over, and all of them thrive. Clients choose to go to a place where their personal needs are taken care of. Beauty therapy is a personalized service that needs detailed attention. One is required to be professional in every procedure however simple. Observing hygiene, privacy and integrity will give you an edge above the rest. Since it is a one-on-one service, it gives one an opportunity to market yourself as you work.

Anthony: Ideally, the beauty industry is not as vibrant as the hairdressing and fashion? 

Janet: The three fields are equally important. A person’s appearance has to be whole in the sense that from top to toe, one ought to look presentable. This cannot be achieved if one ignores one area for another. Actually, when one enters a salon, they get an ‘all under one roof’ kind of service. If you want your hair to look good, you wouldn’t want to see your nails or face to look funny.

Anthony: Who constitutes the bulk of your clientele and to what would you attribute the loyalty of your customers?

Janet: Most of our clients are people who work or stay within Hurlingham. They are an array of all races and different cultures. We give all of them similar rates and we don’t have any special rates for certain nationalities or races. All our service-people are well trained and qualified beauticians and hairdressers.  We retain most of our first time clients due to the kind of service we give them. Clients meet and talk. Your business will not do well if it is discovered that you give discriminative or preferential service to certain clients.  

Anthony: Are there any special beauty therapy procedures that are unique for the African skin?

Janet: There is no special chemical for the African skin because our skins do not react to a chemical on colour basis but sensitivity. A European might have a more tough skin than an African or vice-versa depending on their nature. One might have an oily skin, another a dry skin while yet another might have a combination of the two. Ours is the best example of an equal opportunity venture!

Anthony: What challenges does the beauty therapy business in Africa face? 

Janet: There are special challenges to the beauty businesses that I wouldn’t want to share here, but they are not any different from the common business challenges in any other industry. However, the challenging bit is usually a stepping stone to greater heights if one is committed to their service.

Anthony: What would be your message to fellow young Africans who want to start businesses?

Janet: I would encourage them to do so with all eagerness. The market is overcrowded, but the niche will depend on what you have to offer and which way. They need to shun the idea that jobs are only available in the office. There is more fun and satisfaction in the business sector than anywhere else. If the business is under your control, you determine what you earn at the end of the day. If you are lazy, you’ll sleep on an empty stomach.

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