Nkechi Sophie Okoye is a graduate of Statistics from University of Abuja; and Productions and Operations Management at Centre for International Advanced Professional Studies, Ikeja, Lagos. Her love for beauty and business made her to create ‘Sophie’s Bath Essentials’ brand that would add the shine to a woman’s beauty, as she explained to Funmi Ogundare why Nigerians need to support Made-in-Nigeria products and the need for small scale business owners to think smart and believe in themselves in order to achieve their dreams
Why Sophie’s Bath Essentials?
They are generally made from Nigerian ingredients; the black soap, coconut oil and turmeric are everyday products that have been around for a long time. But what I have done is that I added value to everything that we know which is the common Dudu Osun that is being sold in the market, and packaged in such a way that people can see that the things that we have can be presented in a better, refined and exciting way. That was why I started it. I just wanted to find products that were easy to get and I don’t need to depend on foreign exchange. They are true Nigerian products.
At what point did you develop a passion for beauty?
I have always had passion for beauty and wearing makeup at a teenage age. It’s been in me, I like science as much as I like beauty so adding the two together is Sophie’s bath and body essentials.
What is the correlation between science and beauty?
It is about money and business. To be able to create this product that I am so proud of, as much as the motivation was my passion for beauty. Being an Ibo woman, business is like our second nature. When I thought of how to add value to the black soap, people now started to appreciate it. Later people of a certain class would want to buy things that they consider lower or of a lower value to what they usually use. I feel that if I can use it, other people can use it too and they can appreciate it. We are too much very into foreign things and love foreign market. So for me I am able to present Nigeria made products to people by packaging it in such a way that it will be appealing to everyone. The production method of black soap is age long. If you make black soap yourself, it is not the same as another person. The way the Yoruba women make their black soap is such that it does not have water, so for a long time, nothing happens to it and the way they make it is almost like raw material. One of my products is Sophie’s glow scrub, it is basically black soap and sugar and it forms an exfoliating soap and scrub depending on the use, it is a multipurpose. When you say exfoliating, nobody ever thinks of black soap. When you evolve what you already have and add value to it, you can give it to people and they will buy. If you check it, the amount of Made-in-Nigeria products have increased as a result of recession.
Who are your target market?
My target market is those who appreciate Nigeria, who have a disposable income to purchase beauty products that will make them look better. It is also for a woman who is up and coming and cares particularly about how she looks, not in the sense of being light skinned but someone that wants to maintain what they look like. It is an enhancement thing for your self esteem because when you look nice, you are more confident. You will want to talk to more people and socialise and generally a young, middle aged woman who appreciates beauty.
In the last one year, how would you describe the feedback from your target market?
The feedback has been great and amazing. I honestly started with just a dozen products in March 2017 and it sold out in a day. I noticed that people like it and I decided to make more and people bought it. I started getting great reviews and I have never had any problem with anybody or complaints from anybody on the products.
What are the challenges you face in operating the business?
There is no access for small medium enterprises. My major problem is access to loans and the certification that I have to go through as a small business because in order to expand to the level that you want your small business to move from small to medium, you need to pump in some certain things like NAFDAC number which has one general guideline whether you have a big factory or small. Watching the gross of my business from day one to now, I can see that it’s going places and I have met customers that I didn’t know I have. I want it to get to more places, but all these rules and guidelines in the capacity that they expect businesses of my size to deliver, sometimes is very impossible. You can’t get loans for shop spaces, you have to figure it out yourself, but you can get loans for equipment and material. So how do they expect that if you can’t get a loan or don’t have the money to build a small factory, you have to do something? Those kinds of things affect people from moving from where they are to the next stage. My business strategy is that Nigeria is at the beginning of industrialisation, there are a couple of factories, but for the amount of people in Nigeria, they are not enough. From what I have read over the years and research, I have seen that you need humans first before you can get machines. With the industrialisation that people are talking about, what will the machines be doing? So you need to tell people to do it with their hands. In Europe for instance, everything that is handmade cost more money regardless of what it is, but we don’t see that in Nigeria.
How do you intend to surpass the challenges?
For now, with increased sales, maybe more money will enter and more projects, I will have a better credit plan to get a proper investment from investors. I also try as much as possible to employ people to do my work for me. I have gotten to a certain level that I cannot cope or do my work myself anymore, so I’m trying to hire as many people as possible and teach them so that they can have a skill and trying to teach them the business and processes.
What is your view about Made-in-Nigeria products?
I think they are amazing, we seem to have been blindfolded by the foreign products. Almost 70 per cent of what I use is Made-in-Nigeria. I buy Made-in-Nigeria clothes, shoes and bags. I make sure I project Nigerian goods in the positive light. If you go to the stores, and you will see things that you didn’t know that Nigerians could package. For instance packaged stew, pap, and Ankara ready- made clothes, the more we project the things that are made locally, the more people accept them here. Nigeria probably has the largest people in diaspora. Imagine if they buy it. The more we support Made-in-Nigeria goods, the more money that Nigeria will have. You can package anything, as long as it is hygienic and attractive, you will sell. You don’t know till you try. Ghana has a whole industry of shear butter, baobab oil and coco butter because they produce a lot so why can’t we? We have the resources, we only need people to have money. We don’t need to wait for the government because they will not give us the resources.
What makes your product stand out from others in its category?
I think I am very influential to the people around me, I have interacted with in terms of beauty and lifestyle. Everything that I have is in such a way that a woman who behaves like me would want to use it. They are things am used to, basically me in a bottle or cup. So it is a very personal product and I think that putting these much of myself into the creation of all these products has made it stand out. I have used it for years before I decided to sell it.
Where do you see the product in the next 10 years?
I see myself everywhere in the world, in every retail and beauty store, everyone knowing it and having an idea of who I am. I see myself creating an industry where I can hire indigenous Nigerians, I see myself being able to pass down my skills in terms of business, beauty and production to other people. I see myself putting Nigeria on the world map and everything that is positive.
What advice do you have for youths out there as an entrepreneur?
I once took a time out to think critically about the process we want to use to create it, so getting up as early as possible in the morning, sitting down to write, to do list and from there I learnt how to be meticulous in my planning. Regardless of how I feel, I get up and do something. I think am addicted to productivity so I have to do something everyday. When I don’t do something that day, I feel very guilty about it. It might not be a 24 -hour stretch of doing something but everyday I must do something to move me closer to my dream. Smart thinking because you have to compress all the activities and processes to achieve something into the most detailed and precise points. It is not about doing something haphazardly, for you to be able to sell something to another person, you have to believe that you can use it. You have to connect yourself to your brand because that is the stage where I am at this point. Unless you are a mass producer, the only way you can sell is by connecting yourself to your brand.