Here’s what it takes to establish a beauty products business

“More than anything else, one needs passion to run a successful business enterprise. It is what carries you through when times get tough, as is without a doubt bound to happen in business, and is what actualises your dreams – when tied with effort.”

Laura Munyazi, 29, who has a science degree in Pharmacy, owns Dr Alora Organics, a business which produces and retails beauty products. She says that her business acumen sprouted and was propagated right from her childhood.

“My father owned a supermarket in Kimilili, Bungoma County, when I was growing up. Every day after school I would rush there to sell and engage with customers, that is how my love for business begun.”

Humble beginnings

It is while at university that her passion for business was rekindled, and she had a first go at it. The institution neighboured Bidco Africa, a manufacturer of fast moving consumer goods, and she often told anyone that cared to know that one day she would own a multimillion enterprise like Bidco Africa, a factor that earned her the moniker, Laura ‘Shah’ – Vimal Shah is the chairman of Bidco.

Raw shea butter

“I knew I did not have the millions to start such an enterprise, but I knew I had to start somewhere. At the time, I lived in a two-bedroom house with my sister, so we moved into one room and decided to use the other room to kick-start my business,” she explains.

The fastest selling product is Dr Alora Family Body Butter, which costs Sh650 for a can of 200g.
Dudley Muchiri | Nation Media Group

Initially, her interest was in soap making, and with the little knowledge she had acquired from her studies, she bought raw materials and started production. She made her first batch of shampoo and black soap, ran a few trials on herself, then started selling to fellow students.

After a while, she realised that for her business to grow, she needed to expand her production line, so she started producing body lotion, which got the Kenya Bureau of Standards certification in 2016. She also begun to produce raw shea butter.

“At that point, I did not even know what the standards were, so all my hopes were resting on the trial and error approach. Fortunately, my products passed the test.

Leap of faith

Later that year (2016), Laura graduated from university and enrolled into an internship programme, which in turn slowed down her business. She notes that she did internships in various health institutions while still sending numerous job applications, with the hope that she would get a job.

“Unfortunately, I did not get a job, and was stuck at home two years after graduation, without having gotten even a regret letter from all the companies I applied to. I started developing feelings of depression and hopelessness, that is when I knew I had to do something to change my situation.”

In 2018, with a capital of Sh250, 000, Laura , through the help of a friend, found a stall in River Road, Nairobi, where she established Alora Organics.

“he money was all the savings I had accumulated from meagre sales and during my internship. It was rent for my house and my shop, my food, clothing, and business capital, but against all odds, I somehow managed to make it work.”

She notes her products were limited at the beginning as she only had black soap, shea butter, hair oil and lotion, and so were her sales. However, she had decided to give the business her all, determined to make it work.

To add on to her knowledge, she enrolled for an online diploma programme in Organic Skin Care formulation, which was being offered by UK-based, Formula Botanica, an online teaching institution for organic formulation. She adds that she felt the need for this training as the formulation knowledge she had acquired while studying her undergraduate was limited.

“I had to go back and re-learn. I acquired new and much needed knowledge about products you use in production, such as serums, carrier oils and emulsifiers. I also got to learn about regulating pH and making products that are aligned with more specific skin issues such as sensitivity and acne.”

With her newfound skills and renewed zest, she was able to grow her range of products from the initial four to the over 15 original products she retails now. She also moved her production part of the business from the one room to a bedsitter, and eventually to a four-bedroom house that now serves as her main production site.

Last year, she felt the need to rebrand her business from Alora Organics to Dr Alora Organics. This decision, she explains, was driven by the feedback and clientele her business was attracting.

“There are a lot of businesses along River Road that deal with ‘mafuta’ (skin bleaching products), and I knew I had to separate my business from that. I was also getting customers whose demands of ambience were a bit higher, so on top of rebranding, I moved my business to The Bazaar, along Moi Avenue.”

To run a business as a young person

One of the biggest challenges she faced while starting was licensing from the county government as well as getting licenses from KEBS. For her first three products, she pays a yearly fee of Sh5,100, and for every additional product, she has to pay Sh5,500 – she has added a dozen products following the first three.

She notes that production has been a challenge too, as she has to do most of the work herself to ensure all products are correctly tested and to maintain quality, as her customers demand premium products. Her customers come from as far as Europe and the US, most of whom get the products via their relatives in the country.

“Competition, especially from imported products, is also another concern, but I have come to realise that if you are able to provide your customers with premium and quality products at a reasonable price, you will definitely navigate through the pool, however wide.”

In future, she plans to open an aesthetic clinic to enable her interact more with her clients, as her biggest joy is listening to success stories from her clients about her products working exactly how they envisioned.

She is also in the process of developing a better website where customers can buy directly as her online marketing is limited to Facebook and Instagram at the moment. She is also looking into how she directly reach customers in the diaspora.

Currently, the business has 20 stockists all over the country that retail her products. Her best-selling product, Dr Alora Family Body Butter, costs Sh650 for a 200g can and Sh1,200 for a 350g one. Hair oil costs Sh600 for a 250ml bottle while raw shea butter retails at Sh500 for a 250 g can.

“For young people with an interest in business, there is something for everyone, you just have to find your niche. All you have to ask yourself is, what do I have in my hands? And then find a way to make it work for you.”


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