Steve Maduka is the MD/CEO Royal Hair Limited/Radiant Revive Limited, Nigeria’s leading hair product company with interest across Africa and a production facility in Vietinam. He is a typical example of the saying, ‘venturing is success’. In this interview with the SME Digest/ Access Bank radio show on Inspiration 92.3FM, he admonished the Nigerian young entrepreneurs to venture into their dream business, to just start, overcome the challenges, and then become a success like him. Listen/Read the excerpt below.
How did you start?
First of all, I didn’t plan all these big success. I studied Electrical Engineering and got a job with PHCN where I worked for four years before leaving in search of the greener pasture in the UK. Even when I left for the UK, I didn’t have a plan of what I was going there to do. I just decided to travel abroad because people are doing that. The same way people are going to Canada currently. When I got there, I had nothing to do because I needed the right documentations which I didn’t have. And I couldn’t do the illegal things people were doing to stay afloat. I started looking for what to sell at least to make some money to be surviving on. Then I saw this hair with a lady that looks like human hair, then I asked her if she thinks they will buy this if I send it to Africa? She said yes! At that time, I didn’t have up to N75,000 in Nigerian currency. This was in 2010. But I managed to get the first one and sent it to Lagos, and my sister sold it and returned the money. I kept buying more from the profit and sending to her, she was selling and returning the money. At that point, I told myself it was time to go back home because my customers are in Lagos and not London. So I came back home.
So when I came back in 2012, I still didn’t have enough money but I had to start. I was working round the clock online daily. With my Facebook account I will look for ladies and send them a message telling them we sell original human hair, you can pay on delivery. At that point I had no office, I was squatting with my sister somewhere in Isolo.
Then finally, I started getting like one order a week. I will wake early get ready so that I can quickly go and deliver the order. Some will like it and pay, some will say that is not the actual colour they wanted or some excuses sometimes unreasonable, but I had to keep pushing. I once went from Isolo to Ajah to deliver a hair and the customer told me that wasn’t the colour she wanted. These are some of the challenges one may sometimes go through when building a business. I had to keep selling. I hardly sleep then. I go to bed by 2am and by 5am I’m up to check my Facebook messenger to see if there is any order by customers. That was my only alternative since I had no money to rent a shop and I had to do it well. A year into doing that, I was able to raise money to rent my first shop in Surulere. Because of cash constrain, I told my landlord I won’t be paying service charge because I don’t need it yet. I needed to invest that money in buying more products. So what I do was open my shop window and door for cross ventilation and light from sunshine. But we grew from there.
What were you doing that made you stand out in that business?
When I got back to Nigeria from London, original human hair was very expensive. The hair I was selling for N80,000 others were selling it for between N200,000 to N350,000. So the first thing was quality of my product and the next was my competitive price. Early 2014, I opened an office in Port Harcourt because I do receive a lot of order from Port Harcourt. We started receiving orders from all over Nigeria, United States, Germany, United Kingdom and other countries. So the next thing I did was to internationalise the business especially making good use of the internet and social media.
Why were people in London buying from you since you import from London?
No, as soon as the business started making progress, I had to stop buying from London because London was very expensive. I had to look for suppliers in China, Cambodia and Vietnam from the internet and establish communication with them. They invited me and I traveled to each of the countries despite the language barrier. With this access to getting product in large quantity, we opened more outlets in Lekki, Abuja, Ikeja, and Owerri. One of the things about me is that I love to satisfy my customers. But at a point, my suppliers were not meeting up to our demand. I had to travel to Vietnam and set up my own factory that handles part of my production. That, in itself has not even solved the problem of meeting up with demand. My biggest challenge till date is meeting up with the number of demands. Yet I am not serving up to 1% of Nigeria human hair market and Royal Hair is the number one retailer of human hair in all of Africa.
Didn’t you face a lot of societal stigma as a man choosing woman hair as a profession?
I faced a lot of that. My sister once told me to look for something to do and come off this idea of selling human hair which is more of ladies-like business and look for something better to do. Today, she has a shop where she sells my Royal Hair brand of products. When I was going to marry my wife who was a banker then, her friends kept telling her, ‘‘is he that guy selling weavon that you want to marry?’’. One year after we were married she had to quit her job and I made her advance by sending her to a business school and today she has joined the business.
How do you ensure quality?
I am the quality control manager of Royal Hairs. I give full detailed attention to all our products, especially the ones coming from our other manufacturers. My purpose of doing that is to always ensure that the same high quality of hair is what is coming all the time. The reason my customers are using our products all the time is because of quality and not because of my face. So I must ensure that quality is never compromised no matter what. Which was what also led me into manufacturing my own brand of hair treatment products known as Radiant Revive. When you buy an original human hair but use fake bleach, colouring and other treatments on it, it will damage the hair and it won’t last long. So I had to go into manufacturing the right quality hair treatment products to apply on the hair to make it retain its quality and last long.
Has business been always rosy since you started?
Absolutely not! Because of the economic situation in 2016 which affected the exchange rate, I had to take a loan from the bank. Because of the effect of the economy on business, it was challenging paying back the loan and the interest then, but I stayed committed to paying back no matter what. I eventually paid up within the time I contracted to pay back. In business you will face challenges, but do all you can from where you are with what you have to keep to your promises. Keeping to your promise is what your customers; be it your vendors or financiers, will use in judging your kind of person and in relating and doing more business with you.
How did you raise money to start and scale up?
I didn’t raise money to start. I started with less than N100,000. Even my factory in Vietnam today is possible because this is the game of numbers. What do I mean by numbers? Simply multiply N20,000 by 10,000 people, then the answer you get will show you how I was able to scale and own a factory outside Nigeria. Business is a game of numbers. Just strive to sell and keep increasing the numbers you sell. It won’t happen overnight, but don’t stop pushing. I didn’t start out with a big number. I just get up each day and give each day my all.
What would you say about starting and running a business in Nigeria today?
The truth of the matter is, starting a business now is easier than it was before. Now you have Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, YouTube, Google and all forms of social media platforms that allow you connect and make sales to the whole world in a matter of seconds. Before there was nothing like all of these platforms that gives you easy access to business world. Social media is like when your car is not starting, and someone helps you and push it to start. In today’s business world you don’t need money to start, there are a lot of tools that can get you started.
So what would be your advice to the younger Nigerians that want to start their own businesses?
My advice has always been, start! You don’t need money to start a furniture business, just go and look for a furniture maker who can deliver quality products and take pictures you can post online and when people order you deliver and pay the furniture maker his money and take your profit. If you can do this consistently for a year, you will be amazed at where you can find yourself in life. There is no limit to how far we can go in life. We are our own limit setters.