Afolami Oyenuga: “Confidence is key”

Confidence is key. As cliché, as it might sound, feeling comfortable in your own skin and working on your inner beauty, are the first and possibly most important steps to feeling beautiful. As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the […]

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Confidence is key. As cliché, as it might sound, feeling comfortable in your own skin and working on your inner beauty, are the first and possibly most important steps to feeling beautiful.

As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Afolami Oyenuga.

Afolami Oyenuga is the Chairman of Kuddy Cosmetics International Limited. A cosmetics company that deals with all kinds of beauty products essential for the beauty market and to satisfy the needs of all our customers. He hails from Ikorodu LGA in Lagos State. Afolami Oyenuga is also the Ceo of Folami Integrated Concepts a distributor of Makari in Nigeria. Within the last 6 years of working with Makari, Afolami has been able to put Makari on the spotlight and be placed on the top table of the beauty industry in Nigeria. He was able to curb the mass production of copyrights and non-registered Makari products in the market. This was achievable through the dedication and efforts of the Makari team in Nigeria who worked in synergy to oversee the success of the company.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I always say that I was born into the beauty industry since I have been doing this longer than I can remember. My mother, Kudirat Fashola, owned a cosmetics store in Nigeria and I would go help her every day after school since I was 7 years old. My summer holidays were also spent working at the store which I really enjoyed and never considered it “work” but rather a way to connect with customers and learn skills that I wasn’t being taught in school.

At the store I did everything from bagging customers’ orders to unloading huge trucks to building long term relationships with our customers and I loved every part of it. Being surrounded by great cosmetic brands and learning my customers’ skin type and concerns quickly became my passion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I think some of the most interesting stories have to do with my first years learning the industry and how to fully run the stores at the same time. I was determined to learn all aspects of running the business first hand so I could then train my team and also improve processes if necessary.

When I first took over the business, you could see me meeting with big brands like L’Oréal and Black Opal one day, and swatching makeup on clients to find the best lipstick shade the following day. I once spent close to an hour with one of my loyal customers, swatching everything from foundation to lipstick on her arms. When her arms were covered in swatches, it was then turning for me to start trying more shades on my own arms! Anything to make our customers happy and build a long term relationship…

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

When I took over the business from my mother the biggest cosmetic businesses in Lagos, Nigeria, were located in the same complex and they all operated similarly:

-Most store owners put little tough on creating impactful displays that would set them apart from the rest. While stores were well kept, there weren’t many points of differentiation between them.

-There was also no physical separation between the store, the offices, the stockroom, and even the areas dedicated to the employees’ lunch breaks. No one ever questioned how this affected the customer experience since this is how all cosmetic retailers operated at the time.

Thanks to my many travels around the world and especially to North America, I learned the importance of building a strong brand image and while providing customers with an exceptional shopping experience. I invested a lot in creating impactful displays at the store level to highlight each brand, in closing off the stockroom area from the main store area so customers weren’t exposed to it and the shopping experience would feel more luxurious. Lastly, I invested in opening a separate office complex with private offices, meeting rooms, areas for the staff to have lunch, etc.

We started to see a big difference and an increase in sales almost immediately. Not only did our clients appreciate the attention to detail and overall shopping experience, but international brands coming to Lagos looking for local partners were drawn to our store. Also, the fact that we were investing in creating infrastructure, and were one of the only cosmetic businesses that had built separate offices, gave them enough confidence to choose us over other local distributors/retailers. When the team at Makari de Suisse visited the store for the first time after I implemented all the changes, they were definitely impressed and ready to build a long term partnership with me as their only partner to expand in the Nigerian market. I know this wouldn’t have been the case if I had still operated like the rest of my competitors.

In terms of the key takeaways, I think firstly to not be afraid to be a pioneer even if it involves some financial risk. Secondly, to constantly look at other markets and competitors to see what is making them successful and how can that be applied to your own business.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I owe where I am today to my mother. Not only did she provide me incredible opportunities and exposure but she also set me up for success. This was thanks to the fact that I never received any preferential treatment, I was always treated like any other employee and worked as hard as anyone else. From approaching customers to merchandising the store to meeting with big international beauty brands, she made me part of all of it and made me love every aspect of it.

Okay, super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than half a trillion-dollar business.

Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?

As a business partner at Makari de Suisse, a brand focused on addressing skin concerns common among women of color, we have been industry pioneers since we first launched the brand in 1995. Our founder identified, based on his own experience also while working at his family’s store in Queens, that there was a need in the market for gentle yet effective products to treat skin concerns such as dark spots, scar renewal, hyperpigmentation, stretch marks, or acne. We became one of the first global brands to serve the needs of women of color and still today we work closely with R&D Labs and manufacturers to keep launching innovative, natural, and clean formulas for our customers. For example one of most recent launches, our Blue Crystal Collection, is infused with Glutathione, Collagen, and Vitamins C and E. Glutathione is a “wonder” Ingredient to treat hyperpigmentation and at the same time, it is used as a detoxifier and aid for cell repair and in preventing chemotherapy toxicity.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?

  • Inclusivity

As pioneers in inclusivity, it is exciting to see other large beauty brands increasingly catering to more underserved demographic categories whether that is people of color -like our brand Makari de Suisse-, grooming products, or gender-neutral beauty products. While there is still a lot of work to be done and there are many demographics that still seem to have been “forgotten” by the beauty industry, the progress made in the past years towards inclusive beauty is definitely remarkable.

  • Clean Beauty/Customer Education

As our customers become more ingredient-savvy and the information about the best ingredients and formulations becomes readily available to everyone, beauty brands must quickly adapt to the new standards and pay more attention than ever to potentially harmful or unnecessary ingredients.

  • Influencer engagement

Our partnerships with macro and micro-influencers who genuinely love the brand and are willing to share useful tips and best practices with their followers is definitely a game-changer. Seeing the positive results that our products have had in their skin has been key to building the confidence level to purchase our brand for new consumers. This is why we only partner with influencers who regularly use Makari, while we want the exposure, we also want it to be as genuine as possible. These partnerships are key especially for smaller and indie brands who may not have the funds to launch massive marketing campaigns like the top beauty players.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

  • Retail Spending Shifting to Online Channels. While online sales are helping drive the beauty market (around half of the growth in the past year is coming from online sales), brick and mortar stores remain a very important element in this market. The ability to swatch, test and smell the product definitely drives conversion up significantly. Beauty retailers cannot forget the important role that brick and mortar stores play in the industry and, while online sales might be growing faster, it is not uncommon for customers to discover brands and product at the physical stores and then complete their orders online. At the same time, beauty retailers need to keep investing in their online sites to create unique and personalized experiences while also launching aggressive sampling programs to ensure customers get to experience new products without leaving the comfort of their home
  • Counterfeit Products. Truth is some brands are hit harder than others and some markets are more likely to sell counterfeit beauty products. Makari is especially susceptible to this issue due to its vast footprint across Africa and Asia. Cosmetics rank in the top-five fake items produced worldwide and with the growth of e-commerce and social media, it is easier than ever for counterfeiters to market their fake products to consumers. We invest significant amounts every year to fight counterfeits. Besides that, we are also investing on educating our customers on where to find the real Makari products and we partner with major online retailers like Amazon’s Brand Registry, which helps us protect our approved, registered trademark.
  • Lack of Brand Loyalty. Customers are less loyal to a specific brand and are instead incorporating products from several brands all at the same time into their skincare routine. While we encourage customers to try out other products and find a routine that works for them, sometimes it becomes challenging for both the customer and for our education department to determine which product or brand is working/not working. Our education team is focused not only on recommending the best products for each skin type and skin concern, but also on educating the customer on how or products should be used, and how and when it is a good idea to incorporate other products or brands into the routine.

You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?

1. Confidence is key. As cliché, as it might sound, feeling comfortable in your own skin and working on your inner beauty, are the first and possibly most important steps to feeling beautiful.

2. Keeping a positive attitude even during challenging times and going forward in life with a smile on your face. Our smile triggers happiness in your brain which makes you and others around you feel better.

3. Avoid comparisons, especially when it comes to the unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards set by most current media. Learn to love what makes you unique and different as opposed to focusing on your perceived flaws.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.

1. Find your niche or point of differentiation: Whether you are catering to women of color, creating sustainable packaging or bringing a disruptive product to the market, customers need to quickly grasp your brand’s mission or what makes you different from the rest

2. Always keep your customer top of mind: Invest in creating not only the best and most innovative products but also the best customer journey and experience both online and at the stores.

2. Hire Talent and invest in building a team: As a global brand, especially when we first started expanding to other countries like France and Nigeria, it was key for us to build a loyal and committed team that could perform almost independently. The advances in technology make it easier to be connected 24/7 but this wasn’t the case back in the late 90’s so trusting our teams and hiring the best talent has been key to our success and expansion.

3. Be Flexible and gracefully adapt to the changes of the market: More than ever, speed is key. Whether this means launching a new feature on your website, exploring a new way of selling your products or rethinking your packaging to make it more sustainable, you need to be ready to embrace change while always keeping in mind your brand’s core mission.

4. Don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks: When we first launched Makari there weren’t many brands, if any at all, creating gentle yet effective products for diverse skin tones. We took the risk to cater to a demographic that was in a way underserved and we launched revolutionary formulations that were different from what other brands were bringing to the market back then. There was definitely a learning curve but we wouldn’t be here today had to be not taken the risk of launching Makari.

5. Persevere and don’t give up: Launching a new business is challenging, especially in industries as competitive as the beauty industry. If you want to succeed, no matter all the roadblocks you encounter along the way, you must remain determined and passionate about your brand and its mission.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I was actually just discussing this side project with one of my partners the other day. Having been born and raised in Nigeria, education was key for me to advance however all the skills I learned while working with my mother were definitely what made me the business person I am today. We are working on launching an academy back in my hometown where children will learn the skills and tools that will set them up for success once they are ready to enter the workforce. These skills will focus on diverse industries and prepare them for different roles from customer service to managing an assembly line, to marketing. Not all the children have the luxury to complete the highest level of education so with this skill-building academy we want to make sure that they will become the best professional they can be.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“With every deed you are sowing a seed, though you may not see it.” Sometimes hard work takes time to pay off and we may lose motivation when we don’t see results as fast as we had hoped. Perseverance, focus and motivation are crucial to achieve long term success.

How can our readers follow you online?

The can follow me on my personal Facebook account: Afolami S Oyenuga or Instagram account: @ mrflo_69

They can also follow the Makari brand journey on Facebook and Instagram: @ makaridesuisse

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