We had a chance to talk to Suzie Wokabi, founder of SuzieBeauty, Kenya’s first local cosmetics company about how she transformed her dream into a reality and the lessons learnt so far. Take a look at our Q&A session below.
What is the name of your company and what do you do?
SuzieBeauty Ltd – we are a cosmetics company, providing both products and services. In December 2011, we launched the very first Kenyan cosmetics line.
What year and month was your company founded?
In March 2009.
Where is the company located?
We are located in Nairobi, Kenya
Who are the founders of the companies?
I (Suzie Wokabi), along with my husband Eric Wokabi Mungai.
How many employees do you have, and any specific departments?
4 full time office administrative staff, and 12 full time sales staff.
Is this a full time job or a part time venture?
Full time job (more like 24-7-365
How did you come up with the idea to start the business?
I was a makeup artist in the industry and found the gap in the market for a local product line that would cater to the needs of the Kenyan/ African woman.
Did you have any misgivings about your idea, if so what were some of your fears?
No misgivings about the idea as I had researched enough to know that it would be successful and the gap was there to be filled in a very lucrative industry. But running a business was a fear as I’m a true creative. But I’m a perfectionist when it comes to SB so running the business end of things is something I have had to take into stride and learn to do.
What were the initial challenges you faced when you started out?
Challenges in the set up stages were mainly on the fund raising end. It was very difficult to raise the money we needed to order and launch the products.
Do you have any mentors who you go for advice?
No but my husband and co-founder is the best sounding board ever. I have a great support system which includes my parents as well….
Any networking groups in Kenya or otherwise that you have joined to help you in your professional endeavor?
I belong to Enablis and it was helpful to me when setting up.
What startup companies do you admire, and would like to emulate?
Bobbi Brown Cosmetics is a company I mentally benchmark against – I love the story and could read it over and over again! The founder has the same background as I do and her success is very inspiring to me.
How did you come up with the seed capital for business?
From 2 investment groups and a bank loan from Chase bank.
Do you have any outside investors? And if not, are you open to outside investments?
I do – and open to looking at more for second round financing.
What factors determine if an investor is a good fit or not?
With some experience under our belt, value add is now a non-negotiable. And of course fair equity exchange – we would not give up majority stake under any circumstances.
Which platforms do you look at when looking for potential investors?
We are not actively looking, but get approached quite often which is quite a blessing in itself, and shows that we’re probably doing something right.
What range of products or services do you offer?
We are an all beauty company. Our product line consists of 9 products: Foundation, Powder, Concealer, Eye Shadow, Eye Kohl, Mascara, Blush, Lipstick and Lip Gloss. We also have a full range of application brushes.
Who are your main competitors?
I don’t have a direct competitor as there is no brand that does what we do – or that is locally designed. The competition is international brands imported such as Revlon, Black Opal and Sleek.
What’s your market share?
We have been retailing for 10 months now so when we complete a full year cycle we can start to work on those statistics.
What gives your products a competitive edge compared to what is being offered in the market?
SuzieBeauty products are created by a beauty professional for the everyday woman. The products are specific to the African woman – the textures and colours work perfectly on her skin. Products being offered on the market are not specific to this market.
What was your motivation for starting the business?
The business was borne from the need to fill a very obvious gap in the local retail cosmetics industry- the lack of quality, affordable product. There was also space for a local product line, which had never existed before. SB is Kenya’s first cosmetics line.
Give us a brief history of how you went from the business idea to what your business is right now?
It started with about 6 months of research, and then about 6 months of traveling to find manufacturers, and starting product development. The year of 2010 was spent testing the product on the market, and 2011 spent on fund raising while still testing and perfecting the product. We finally launched in December 2011, and been retailing since May 2012. We are soon to reach a year of retail sales – and the journey has been life changing. It has been a lot of trial and error and we seem to finally have found our footing, and can now create clear plans on how we aim to roll out and expand.
Can you expand on your idea in the future by adding new products or services, entering new locations, or improving your original proposition?
Definitely – the sky is the limit. Our launch line included 9 out of the 30-something initially developed/ created. We will continue to launch new products and colours according too our specific customers’ wants, needs and requirements.
Who are target main customers?
The growing middle class. The customer who wants great quality locally and affordably – does not travel internationally much, but wants the good products consistently and with no availability issues.
What mediums do you use to reach your customers? Social media, print media, television etc?
We don’t do any paid advertising. We are very active on social media and Suzie does a lot of PR for the brand. The media is always fascinated with the SuzieBeauty story, so she gets to tell it over and over again, reaching new audiences each time.
Do you mainly focus B2B or B2C?
More B2C than B2B. If businesses want to partner in any way, they approach us. We do all our PR and marketing targeted towards our customers.
What are your current inbound marketing strategies to increase traffic to your site? SEO, PPC, SMM etc.
None really – just our own pushes and promotions, social media ads, etc.
What avenues do you use to receive customer feedback?
We have a lot of face to face interaction with our customers who are always ready to provide feedback and ideas. We also receive a lot on our facebook fan page and email.
Congratulations, I saw your most current campaign on Facebook. How important is social media for your business?
Vital – SuzieBeauty would be much further behind without our active social media.
How receptive do you think the Kenyan market is to social media marketing tactics? Do you think they are more receptive to social media marketing techniques compared to traditional advertisements? Which of the tow have you had most success in?
Definitely much more receptive to social media that traditional ads – this is where they can get interactive, give direct feedback – and we always make sure to respond to comments as needed and we answer ALL messages we receive. This type of interaction is impossible to achieve with traditional advertising, which we have opted not to do.
What social media platforms do you use to reach potential customers?
Which platform is the most effective in bringing in new sales to the business and why?
Facebook, as we have the most fans on that. All our events, goings on, campaigns etc. first appear on facebook, and thereafter we go into our mailing lists etc.
There is a huge wave of eCommerce that is hitting Africa. Are there any challenges you are currently facing in running you eShop in regards to infrastructure, customer awareness and brand, availability of internet to potential clients?
Definitely. Our online shop has been up and running for almost a year and the traction is almost negligible. We recognize that we have not marketed it enough, we could do much more but we are still trying to perfect our retail distribution. It’s in our 2013 plans though, to get people to purchase online. In cosmetics it would work best with repeat customers replenishing items they don’t need to try on first.
Kenya has been taunted as a trendsetter in Africa and the world in general when it comes to mobile development. Do you have a mobile version of of your eCommerce site? Do you think this can play a part in reaching potential customers who do not access to computers on cable internet?
Our web designer has made the site and online shop mobile friendly – and we hope to get more business this way in the near future.
What are the big milestones you have as a business?
Launching a pioneer product and brand, and within the first year we will be profitable. We are privileged to be associated with the large international players who have entered the market and found that they have to compete with us. Lastly, we have just opened our own retail space at the highest selling mall in Nairobi, The Junction Mall, and will be retailing in the largest regional department store in the next few months.
What’s the five-year plan?
To perfect our distribution in East and West Africa, and be spreading continent-wide.
As an entrepreneur in Kenya, what are the major challenges you are facing?
Doing business in Kenya can be difficult – we were brand new in the market and were forced to take on whatever terms our chosen retailers gave us. That will now change as we have a track record and have become a force to be reckoned with.
Finding affordable financing was also near to impossible for a start up.
Is there anything the government can do to make it easier for more people to look at entrepreneurship a viable employment opportunity?
Yes, providing affordable funding, and working on importation taxes and duties which are currently killer.
Are there notable organizations in Kenya or Africa, you feel are giving entrepreneurs a helping hand? (Funding, advise, networking opportunities, incubators etc?
Enablis, which I have belonged to for a few years now, is very helpful with networking opportunities, and business education.
What are the major lessons learn?
It always works out in the end – if it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end J
Very importantly, the 3 P’s – Patience, Passion and Perseverance are all VITAL to entrepreneurship. 90% of the time, things don’t work as planned. One has to be flexible and fluid enough to switch gears and just keep moving with the eye on the prize.
What is your advice to other budding entrepreneurs
Don’t give up!! If I had a shilling for all the days I would want to hide under my bed in fear of the big bad world and all the hits I would have to take, I wouldn’t need any funding for my business J You have to just keep pushing, not forgetting why you started doing what you’re doing. If you are doing it in the right way, and for the right reasons, it will all fall into place and work out for you.
I also truly believe that you will not reap what you have not sown. Nothing good comes easy/ easy come, easy go. Tried and true! A lot of these clichés come from a very honest and actual place!