A barbing alliance started 25 years ago between WAHL Clipper, United States and J. Green Mbadiwe and Sons of Nigeria has blossomed. The icing on the cake is the annual WAHL barbing competition in Lagos, which is 20 years old this year, writes
WAHL Clipper of the United States and J. Green Mbadiwe of Nigeria have no doubt come a long way. When the relationship started 25 years ago, the motive was to provide quality-barbing equipment to Nigerians and also encourage barbing as a profession in Nigeria. They also aimed at using barbing to create employment for teeming Nigeria youths. Looking back 25 years after, the partners say the dreams have been fulfilled.
Chief Victor Mbadiwe, CEO of J. Green Mbadiwe and Sons looks back with nostalgia: “25 years ago, a friend of mine gave me a hair cut with a WAHL clipper and I really enjoyed it. He told me that if I travel to America, I should look out for the product and start importing them. I gave it a trial during one of my trips to America. I called up the company and told the owners that I was interested in distributing the products in Nigeria. They agreed to send me the products provided I pay in advance.
“This I did and brought them back to Nigeria. I took them to Balogun and Jankara markets in Lagos. The traders saw the products and liked them. I continued importing until when they called me and decided to send an expert to Nigeria to look at the market. They saw that it was a big and growing one. Thereafter, they decided to give me the distributorship. We are now covering the West African market for WAHL.”
Mr. Bob Thomas, Global Special Projects Manager of WAHL Clipper, USA says J. Green Mbadiwe and Sons has not disappointed ever since the relationship started. He also says the Nigerian firm has helped to expand the distribution channels in the country. “I am very glad to see the advent of modern retailers such as the Game Store coming into Nigeria. These stores offer a wide range of WAHL products and many are aimed for the consumer use at home between barber visits or for even taking with them to the barber. And of course, the many distributors we have throughout the markets in Nigeria have helped us grow the business in the most important of African markets.
“When I first came to Nigeria, the market was disorganised and sporadic outages were occurring all of the time. Barbers were not considered to be professionals. Now, you can find WAHL clippers all over the markets and in the modern retailers such as Game Store. Barbers are now considered to be professionals and there are different levels of barbing saloons, some inexpensive, some moderately priced and some very expensive. Barbers and hair stylists are excelling in their trade and you can see that by the wide variety of haircuts and styles in just walking a few blocks on the street.”
Apart from the distribution of WAHL barbing equipment, J. Green Mbadiwe and Sons is also into the organisation of an annual barbing competition in Lagos, as a way of giving back to the society. Said Mbadiwe: “We are proud of the WAHL products and the marketing has been going on for over 25 years in the country. It was 20 years ago that we decided that we should have a barbing competition. It is about barbers coming together and competing. While they are competing, we are making them to believe in themselves. We are making them to believe that the profession they are into is a great one they should be proud of. I am proud to say that barbers in Nigeria are now proud of their profession, thanks to encouragement from our company.”
What Chief Mbadiwe has been doing in the last 20 years with the competition is to get Nigerian barbers together to compete and create excitement. “President Jonathan, governor Fashola and all the big men you can think of, have barbers. President Obama has a private barber. If you are barber that cuts the President’s hair, you will definitely be proud of yourself. It is a profession that people are now proud of. During the competition, we look at things like hygiene and how the competitors manipulate their clippers. We look at speed and creativity, after which the judges will score them. Usually, we select 24 barbers to compete annually. Apart from the winners, we give consolation prizes to the others.”
The partners agree that despite their years of working together, there are still numerous challenges in the Nigerian market. They are particularly worried about the large number of fake WALH products in the Nigerian market. Said Chief Mbadiwe: “There are so many fake WAHL products in Nigeria. In fact, I will say that 60 percent of the WAHL products in Nigeria are fake. On the streets, they sell some WAHL products for as low as N1000. They are clearly fake products. We are encouraging Nigerians to patronize only our accredited distributors and shops for all their WAHL products. When you but fake products, you are putting yourself in danger. It could damage you scalp. One has to be careful when buying WAHL products. Our products have a year warranty. We also have a service centre in Lagos to take care of our customers.”
On the challenges in the Nigerian market, the American partner said: “The biggest problem WAHL faces in Nigeria are the Nigerians who are selling fake Wahl clippers. They are putting other Nigerians at risk by selling these cheap dangerous clippers that do not meet Nigerian Electrical Standards. With the cooperation of the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, we hired an independent laboratory to inspect some fake clippers found in Nigeria. The laboratory reported that the clippers were dangerous for the user as well as the person they are being used on. The Standards Organisation of Nigeria has helped and over the past few years has confiscated and destroyed over 45,000 fake clippers. Most of the fakes are manufactured in China and the Chinese Customs Agency is helping by confiscating clippers before they leave China.
“So, there are problems in Nigeria but Nigeria has also been very faithful to the WAHL brand and I am happy, grateful and humbled by the fact that we have nearly hundred per cent of the Nigerian market. It is the hard work of our exclusive distributor, J Green Mbadiwe & Sons Ltd. that has really spent time, effort and money to put Wahl in that envious position. We also take legal actions around the world to stop the fake clippers from circulating. I can tell the criminal elements that are distributing fake clippers that soon, one of their shipments will be confiscated and they will lose money. During the past few years, over 250 thousand clippers have been confiscated and destroyed and one manufacturer of fake clippers was sent to jail.”
As the partners celebrate the relationship, Mbadiwe it should not be about making money alone. He has been reaching out to charity homes. “We have sympathy for charity. We have foundations helping the less privileged across the country. We have reached out to charity homes such as the Pacelli School for the Blind, SOS village in Isolo, just to mention a few. Whatever we do, we always remember that they are people out there that are hungry, sick or need one assistance or the other. We reach out and help. By so doing, we are fulfilled.”