Sonto Pooe: We Advocate for Natural Hair

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  • We know the dangers of using chemicals particularly relaxers

Sonto Pooe is one of the few South African women taking the hair care Manufacturing industry by storm. In this interview with Ugo Aliogo, speaks about her company native child and the hair care industry in South Africa.

Can you give an insight into your company’s profile?

Native child is a plant based hair care and body care brand designed to meet the needs of African women. I am an African, so coming up with a name that the children of Africa would be proud of is very important to me. Being born African or African descent is not always easy and often we are seen as second best, so I wanted to create something that we can be proud of and call our own.

We manufacture our own products locally using mainly raw materials that come from Africa. Our biggest market is women and children with about 10% men. It is also important to note that although natural based products are extremely expensive , we are making them very affordable for the average man on the street by cutting down out own profits. For us, it’s important that people, who would not have access to good quality products, now can get them with our brand.

We have taken a decision as a company to lower our margins so we can have greater reach, then more people can have products that come from the earth, to heal and nourish both body and hair. We advocate for natural hair because we know the dangers of using chemicals particularly relaxers. So you won’t find us encouraging women to use chemicals. We always encourage our customers or anyone willing to listen to take a broad approach to health from eating well and also using products that are natual and body free cosmetics.

Why did you abandon quantity surveying to pursue a career in hair care manufacturing industry?

I think like most young people I experimented with a lot of things trying to find my way. I have always had a love hate relationship with my hair since I was a young child. My dad is in the building industry so when that suggestion to study Quantity Surveying, came, it was very natural for me. When I was there, I realised this is not my life’s work.

I think since we are dynamic beings we can all do many things, but there is that particular thing that really sets your heart on fire. I had to make the decision to start afresh and abandon what I felt like would not be fulfilling in the longterm.

What do you find attractive about the hair care manufacturing industry?

I love the fact that you can have an idea and see it through to being a product. This work although scientific, it is very much creative. I love the fact that we don’t have to be copy cats. You can identify a need and create something to take care of that need. There is an opportunity to become unique and just the opportunities are endless.

How long have you been in this industry and what are your key growth drivers?

In terms of the cosmetic industry, I have been around for about 12 years, but in terms of the hair care space, I have been around for three years. In terms of growth, for us social media has been a huge growth driver. It helped us to open doors we would not necessarily be able to open. Since the world has moved to mobile, it’s been a key tool to showcase our products at fingertips.

Getting into retail definitely boosted our growth and open doors for us. You have a far greater reach since when it comes to purchasing patterns, though brick and mortar still dominates in South Africa and I’m sure, Africa in general.

Being featured in magazine, newspapers and television have also helped us tremendously in getting our name out there and exposing us to an audience we did not have access to. Lastly, we don’t underestimate word of mouth. We have grown from strength to strength through referrals. When customers are happy they talk and that means more growth for us. And so we are extremely grateful for the doors that have been opened for us and the positive response we have received.

In terms of capital financing for businesses. How much of capital financing is available for key players in the hair care manufacturing industry?

I’m not sure about this one, but personally for me I haven’t found people knocking on my door to help finance me. It’s literally been blood and sweat (figuratively speaking) from our family. My husband has been very instrumental in helping me achieve my dream of Native child. I know that South Africa had a fund, but I believe it has been on hold. If the question is should governments do more to boost manufacturing? My answer is absolutely. Manufacturing is the backbone of economies, and its creates jobs.

How was the business climate for you in 2018? What were your successes and challenges?

We have grown. I’m a believer in God and I know He had a hand in our growth. We continue to grow at a rate of about 25- 30% which for us is key. The market has taken well to our products and we are ever grateful for that. Challenges are always production related. As we have grown, we have had to outsource some of our manufacturing. It’s not easy to find a contract manufacture that will tick all the boxes. But we are working through that and have thankfully been able to overcome.

What is your assessment of ease of doing business in South Africa?

I don’t think business is easy whether in South Africa or anywhere really. It takes a certain type of a human being to willingly go into business because you can go for month without pay. It’s really a labour of love and service. All you do from the time you wake up and go to bed is to serve. So if you are not built that way I don’t think you we will survive. It’s very difficult to manage customers, their expectations, juggling cash flow, staff, quality, image, advertising, and others. It’s easier if you love what you are doing, but I do use that term loosely. I would never been in business outside of South Africa, so I can’t compare it against another country but I do think its fair game. So once you have decided that this is what you would like to do, then go for it and don’t give up. Try to always build a buffer so when waiting for payments, it doesn’t cripple the business.

What is your assessment of the beauty and the hair care industry in South Africa? Is it evolving or has it made commendable progress as an industry?

So this is actually quite interesting, because now you are seeing more and more black owned businesses spring up. This is something that was not a norm growing up. And also seeing more black females in the business is very exciting. I didn’t have someone to look up to when I started or even when I had the idea. Not, black female. Apart from Herman Mashaba of Black, Jabu stone and myself, I didn’t know others that owned this type of business. And so it has definitely evolved and seeing more black women starting these businesses and doing a really good job at it. So seeing new blood come in, is exciting. Its making the industry quiet dynamic.

South Africa entered its first recession in decades. This affected spending and consumption pattern in the country. How did you fare especially in terms of getting more businesses and clients?

So in terms of our online business, we were not affected at all. Remember our products are well priced so when someone has to decide between a luxury and a necessity, hair for black women is a necessity. We don’t play around when it comes to hair. And finding affordable quality is a rare find, so it put us in a unique position. A person can literally choose between a fast food meal or a product that will last them two months. It’s a no brainer. The products allow people to still take care of their hair and they would rather sacrifice something else. In terms of retail, some retailers did pull back spending, but that only diverted traffic back to our online store.

In the area of mentoring and training of young people in the business. How much progress have you made in this areas?

We train young people all the time. During school holidays like now, we have young people working and that gives them work experience and an opportunity to earn extra money. And the entry level jobs get taken up by university students and new graduates. We are constantly turning over staff as fresh new youngsters come in and get the experience they need.

With the year coming to an end in 2018, what are your projections for 2019 especially improving your Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to stabilise business growth?

For us, it is to continue to expand into more retail as we have found out that that helps us grow in terms of reach. We have recently started shipping internationally and have opened our doors to the US market. This will definitely help us further our growth potential. We are excited and very hopeful about 2019 and what is has to bring.