Faith Kabira is the founder and CEO of Aleezas, a beauty salon, barbershop and spa with three branches spread across the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
Challenges. They almost become part of the furniture at the salon.
On a more serious note, one of the greatest challenges, for me, was training my team to be professional all round. In the hair and beauty industry, you find professionalism is mostly in the technical skill, but not in etiquette, grooming or general conduct.
It took a lot of time and effort to deliver a “five-star-resort” kind of service, from language to demeanour and, of course, the technical prowess. I partnered with L’Oréal Professional, who’s been training us on international service delivery standards. We also have quarterly in-house refresher training sessions on customer service.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
Opening the first 100% professional premier salon in Kenya – I am still relishing this one.
After five years of running two branches of Aleezas salon and spa, I finally opened a third branch, which is a platinum salon. I always say when you think priority and premier banking, you will, at the same time, think of our platinum salon.
Platinum is chiefly in three facets: professionalism, people and place.
At Aleezas Platinum, we use only professional products, which you don’t get off the shelf like consumer brands (they are made specifically for salon professionals). Our team of hair stylists and beauty therapists is professionally trained by local and international trainers. I have managed to send some team members overseas for training, in our quest to achieve our vision of being globally competitive. The furniture is also from Maletti, a renowned Italian designer of salon furniture and equipment.
I am also extremely proud that I have created a platform for many young men and women to earn a living. This keeps me going every, single day.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I am too ambitious in doing things differently. I want to stand out in everything I do and I want to do it perfectly.
However, sometimes, this comes at a high cost because, for instance, in opening the platinum salon, the investment was huge. And even though the projections on returns are high, there’s a lot of groundwork to be done in selling this all-new idea of a professional salon. Therefore, you find that my ambition is sometimes costly, but, usually, the returns, albeit slow, are great.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
The popular belief that the ends justifies the means. In most cases for businesses, the end-game is profit. And we are told to work towards that profit no matter what.
I beg to differ, because the means matter a lot. Eventually, even though the end is the point, if the means were not ethical, or legal, or if shortcuts were taken, this comes back to bite hard. As you look towards a profitable end, ensure your means are justifiable. It’s also incredibly rewarding when you do things the right way and achieve results which are primarily from an honest day’s job.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
Wow. I wish I knew entrepreneurship was the tougher mountain to climb than employment.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, I had this fantastic idea that being my own boss would be so great; I’d determine my working hours, my pay; I could call all the shots. While I call the shots now, it takes blood, sweat and tears to keep a business running.
The sleepless nights are more than the ones I sleep sound. If there’s a problem, I have to solve it myself unlike when I was employed; the company’s problems were not mine. I am, however, thankful for every learning process because that is what makes one tough for this journey.
6. Name a business opportunity you would still like to pursue.
I think there’s a lot of untapped opportunity in manufacturing in Africa in all industries in general. We import almost everything, whereas most raw materials come from our continent.
There are, of course, economic and political barriers to entry; but the opportunity is there. Some of the few manufacturers we have still have to go to Asia for formulas, production and packaging because it’s cheaper. But we have the opportunity, and capacity, to do all this from here at home. If you look around, you will realise that people from outside the continent have noticed the opportunities we have and they are flocking our airports day and night to exploit these prospects.
‘The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.