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‘Be clear on your vision and work towards achieving it’

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Ameera Abraham is the CEO/Director of The Nail Bar, a luxury spa and wellness centre and the founder of Nigeria’s premier professional nail care brand, Amali Cosmetics. Also the Director of Communications at the Spa and Wellness Association of Africa, she is the author of The Full Set, a book that covers business lessons and tips for the 21st century beauty entrepreneur.

Collating her experience as a complete beauty professional, Ameera shares with TOBI AWODIPE her struggles as an everyday Nigerian woman in business, motherhood, postpartum depression from daylight robbery, passion for women’s rights and empowerment.

It’s been 10 years since you ventured into business, could you take us through your entrepreneurial journey in the last decade?
I started as a fish out of water; I was armed with my degree and beauty qualification, but I had no idea what the Nigerian market really was. I did everything with fear and taught myself along the way. There were other spas, but nobody else was doing it the way I wanted to. More importantly, nobody was willing to share his or her knowledge.

In ten years, I have survived being attacked at my first location, which led to my rapid expansion. I have survived being sabotaged by some of my staff and some of my customers; this taught me that you must always hire the right fit from the start and not all customers are your customers. I’ve met incredible people along the way who have shown me that integrity, dedication, consistency and hard work truly does pay off. In everything, through the failures and successes, I have grown and I am fulfilling my God given purpose.

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What is it like running a spa and wellness centre in an economy like ours?
It’s a capital-intensive business. In this industry, you are only as good as your products and therapists; the best of which do not come cheap. Our product lines are heavily dependent on importation and the rising exchange rates do not make this sustainable. The policies on product importation are not the friendliest either, so in order to maintain your standards and consistency in product supply, your budget must be ready to accommodate several plans.

As Director of Communications at the Spa and Wellness Association of Africa, what does this role entail?
It’s been a very rewarding role as I get to shape conversations around the industry in Africa as a whole. My core responsibilities include establishing communication policies; communication plans, providing guidelines and templates for all internal and external communication for the association. For the most part, I’ve focused on setting clear communication objectives, positioning the association and designing specific campaigns.

Having bagged several degrees and certifications from both home and abroad, would you say that adequately prepared you for what you do now?
I definitely think my qualifications made pursuing my passion a lot easier. I’ve always been a huge advocate for education because there’s no greater confidence when starting any venture than knowing you have the relevant industry knowledge to do things the right way. Not only does it minimise the mistakes you could potentially make, it also shields you from falling into the wrong hands in terms of staffing or even partnerships.

It’s no secret that the beauty and wellness industry has been badly hit by this pandemic, how are you surviving whilst looking to rebound?
The greatest appeal for me with my industry was that it was recession proof. No matter the situation, people always want to look their best. This pandemic was not something I even thought possible; it definitely brought the sector to the brink of extinction due to the reliance on human contact to offer our treatments. I leveraged on technology to promote self-care online, I pushed for online sales of my nail care line, Amali Cosmetics, so people could give themselves manicures and pedicures at home.

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In anticipation of re-opening post-COVID-19, I established a strictly by appointment policy and enabled online bookings that allowed pre-payments. I focused on being the safest and preferred option in the FCT post-COVID-19 by establishing a six-step safety policy and communicating it clearly.

The global beauty industry is a multibillion-dollar one, which experts have said Nigeria is yet to fully tap into. How can we achieve this?
First, the government needs to recognize us as an industry in our own right; we should not be grouped under fashion or make-up. With recognition will come awareness, with awareness will come demand or interest in the industry and with that will come individuals seeking the right qualifications to go into the business; giving them access to a piece of the pie.

Secondly, standards and regulation in the industry are also important. Interestingly, I have a whole chapter in my book, The Full Set that addresses this particular issue.

How can we create better opportunities for our local industry players in the global beauty and wellness market?
We need to prioritise access to affordable education, certification and more importantly, introduce standards and regulation for the industry. If we are able to have accredited schools (a few have emerged over the years) offering world-class education that is globally recognised, our therapists will gradually become trusted and recognised. At the moment, we have zero regulation, aside from the coincidental regulations that may fall under NAFDAC’s jurisdiction; it’s pretty much an open market for anyone to set up and run as they please.

Having lived abroad for a while, what would you say are the main differences in the beauty industry in Nigeria?
The key difference is that there is trust between the beauty therapist and the client. A Nigerian abroad will take advise from their beauty therapist or hair stylist, but upon returning to Nigeria, they will dictate to the therapist here on what to do and how to do it. The local therapists’ lack of exposure, education and professionalism is responsible for this.

In order for our beauty therapists to gain confidence and be seen as trustworthy and well informed, that education and exposure is a must have. There are also industry standards; abroad, you can walk into almost any beauty establishment and be guaranteed a certain standard of service. Here, you must do your due diligence and it is highly dependent on referrals.

Being an entrepreneur can be challenging. What are some issues you’ve had to deal with over the years?
I started off having to prove myself, because I started business at 21; not everyone took kindly to me. Not everyone thought it was in my place to be in business at such a young age. I have faced security threats, impromptu policy changes, systematic inadequacies that are enough to make you want to throw in the towel daily, because arguably everything in this country is set up to make you fail.

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You started your business quite young, would you say you had to forgo some thing(s) in order to be as successful as you are today?
I was almost always the odd one out of the bunch; while my friends were partying and having an incredible social life, I being an introvert and somewhat of a recluse decided to put my time and energy into pursuing my passions. So, I think the one thing that suffered the most was my social life. I learned responsibility very quickly and more importantly, the value of money, I understood the concept of purpose and the importance of knowing who you are from an early age and I think that has definitely worked in my favour.

You recently authored a book, what is it about and what inspired this?
The Full Set is a book I wrote because it’s the book I couldn’t find, particularly at the start of my business journey. There was no support, reference or guide for upcoming Spa and Wellness enthusiasts like myself, not just in Nigeria, but globally. It is my way of giving back at a time where so many are struggling due to the impacts of the pandemic. More importantly, it is my way of letting every entrepreneur out there, male or female, young or old, know that your dreams are only crazy until you achieve them.

As an advocate for women’s rights, tell us a few ways you are exemplifying this?
I think my daily life choices and actions reflect my zeal to see women empowered. I offer free trainings on beauty therapy and the business of beauty via a one-year internship programme at The Nail Bar. I’ve trained 10 ladies till date and to see their transformation in confidence, in demeanor and mindset is so rewarding. I also volunteer my time and resources in various charities that provide enlightenment on childbirth, female reproductive health, girl child education as well as education in technology.

How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
Please don’t do anything you’re not genuinely passionate about; don’t jump on the latest trend and expect to build a sustainable business out of it when your heart isn’t truly in it. Be clear on your vision and work towards achieving it; equip yourself with the right qualifications; do the right thing at the right time, procrastination can ruin even the most brilliant start up. Most importantly, be transparent, authentic and add value.

You wear so many hats, how do you combine everything and make them work?
I’m big on structure and processes, so essentially, I run everything like I run my business; with set timelines and structure, otherwise I will burn out. I make sure I pace myself by working when I need to and prioritising self-care when I need to.

How do you get inspiration and stay motivated when things aren’t going the way you want them to?
My source of inspiration remains God; prayer is a huge part of my business plan. My children definitely keep me focused and motivated; I really just want to be a mother they can be proud of.

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Tell us something you did/do that has turned your business around positively for you?
Consistency is key. I have been practicing what I preach everyday for 10 years and it’s paid off. Trying to change the narrative in any field is challenging and until you show that it can be done, no one really pays attention. The easiest thing to do at the time of very little is to give up; this is where most people get it wrong. Perseverance will eventually get you to your desired goal.

What last words do you want to leave with women reading this?
Always believe in yourself, your goal and your purpose. Sometimes, there will be no support as you try to navigate the murky entrepreneurship waters, support and encourage yourself. Nobody can execute your vision as well as you can, and as such, it is important you block out the noise. Just be consistent, intentional and most importantly true to yourself. Your time will surely come.

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