[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen Sofia Wasu quit her job in 2007 to pursue business idea in the beauty industry, most of her friends and colleagues laughed it off. Some, in fact, predicted she would get bored and return to employment in less than a year.

But five years on, she has proved them wrong and has two shops to her name that employ more than 15 workers. “I was working as a manager in charge of a salon and a barber shop, but the saloon shop interested me more,” says Sofia.

At the time, there was a general perception that those who ventured into the salon business were mostly idle women with nothing better to do. “I wanted to change this perception and I am glad I did,” she says, reading an only beauty magazine at her salon in Kawangware, a sprawling sub-urban conclave with mostly informal houses west of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. “My friends now appreciate that salon business is as good as any other.”

With Sh100,000 savings from her previous job and a boost from microfinance institution known as Sacco, shorthand for savings and credit cooperative, Sofia raised her startup capital of Sh250000.She started out with Mrembo Salon in Kangemi in 2009, where she employed two stylists. Mrembo is the Swahili word for a beautiful lady, a clever name-play on the emotions of women in a city where a hair-do can determine whether one gets a date or not.

LITTLE STEPS

“It was a bit difficult at first,” she says. “But through perseverance and hard work, I was able to pay my staff, buy new products and repay the Sacco loan in less than two years.”

By getting workers from beauty colleges, she was able to build a team of professionals who were out to please customers. Clients kept streaming into her saloon, an indication of the good service they were receiving.

“This made me think of taking services closer to them and in 2011, an opportunity knocked on the door when a saloon in Kawangware was put up for sale,” she recalls. With rent of Sh35,000 to settle every month as well as salaries to pay, the single mother of one had to remain focused to grow the business and break even.

Competition is fierce is this segment of the market and margins are thinner for the average salon while it is lucrative for those with loyal customers. “I visit my shops from 9am and I have to be at each to supply the necessities and also know what is required,” she says.

DRIVERS OF SUCCESS

Sofia says honesty is a virtue in this business especially with new products. She has to explain the good and bad sides of using them and often advises against some even when the client insists.

“I never struggle to get clients. I have already established myself in this area and I have no regrets because with this business, I have been able to feed my child, put her through school, and pay my rent,” she says.

Other drivers of success in the business, she says, include time management – for instance, reporting to work on time – and use of the approved products and chemicals. She hopes to open more shops and offer employment to more people in future.

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