She solved her skin problems, now she’s out to solve others’
Several years before Tunbosun started to create products that saves her customers’ skins, she was in the hunt for a product that would save hers. The unavailability of natural skincare remedies left her disappointed that she couldn’t find a ready-made solution, but also inspired her to create one herself. It was by seeking and finding solutions for her own skin that the passion to provide these solutions to others formed in her. Thus, she came up with an idea to create a business, SemseY, which would focus on manufacturing and retailing natural, handcrafted skincare and bath-time products such as soaps, body oils, scrubs and masks.
On the 6th of June, 2016, the stage was set for Tunbosun to go live with SemseY. The mission was to create handmade, completely natural skincare products. No unnecessary chemicals! All ingredients and packages were to be locally sourced. The vision was to grow into a highly profitable business in the near future by formulating genius skin solutions that every Nigerian could identify with.
Over the past 11 months, SemseY has grown tremendously, so much that it was nominated for the Best Emerging Beauty Brand in Nigeria at the Bell Africana Creative Awards. “Being nominated for such a prestigious award, under a very short time in operation, was indeed a great boost. But our proudest moments come from the good reviews we get daily from customers,” says Tunbosun. “Some say things like, ‘You saved my skin!’ and in such moments this stops being just a business to me. Even though we’ve put in efforts to make our products are great, we didn’t expect to receive such weighty feedback – especially not in our first year. But we have now adjusted to such testimonies, and have embraced the challenge of multiplying it across Nigeria and even beyond.”
The Skin Care Market Before SemseY
The Nigerian Beauty Products market has often been perceived as a high-end one, only tuned to tone the skins of celebrities and the upper class. However, the demand for skin care products is seeing a steady rise among members of the general public, thus requiring product makers to cater to the needs of everyday Nigerians. This is the segment of the market that businesses like SemseY are seeking to leverage on to grow their brands.
There are three professionals involved in skin care: the Cosmetic Formulator, Esthetician and Dermatologist. The dermatologist treats skin problems, and that is basically for a medical institution to handle. The other two professionals can be found at SemseY. They map the skin, determine skin types, formulate cosmetics and enhance the skin. SemseY has a Cosmetic Formulator, an Esthetician, and a Dermal Nurse.
“At SemseY there is a process; it is not about random sales of products. It is about complete care,” says Tunbosun. “Products are sold per body type. The best-case scenario – what we always recommend – is a visit to our Skin care clinic for skin analysis and thoroughly informed prescriptions. The skin types for which products are made are always clearly written on the packs of our products, with recommendations like suitable for oily skin, suitable for dry skin and suitable for all skin types. These guide what we prescribe to our customers and guarantee favorable results.”
Riding Challenges to Success
So far, SemseY has pushed its product differentiation strategy admirably, gaining market share and maintaining same through the provision and distribution of dependable and natural skincare products. However, there has been fierce competition, although Tunbosun is not too perturbed by it. “We are not worried about competition at all; we embrace it. It provides us with guardrails into the future as we work to solidify our presence in the market.”
What has Tunbosun slightly worried is the distribution of SemseY’s products. Having gained a considerable deal of online visibility, the delivery lines of SemseY’s products have not been as efficient as she would like it, partly because of the practices of some e-commerce sites. Since they would rather make deliveries in volumes, they keep SemseY’s customers waiting while trying to accumulate other products due for delivery. This trend forces SemseY to make alternative delivery arrangements, thereby increasing the business’ overhead costs.
“Every start-up has many things to build: premises, products, brand image, easy access to products/services etc.; but the most important thing to build is trust,” says Tunbosun. “We are working hard to sort our business channels out so that the flow of business engagements between us and our customers will become more seamless.”
There are also financial challenges
“Early on, we were not generating enough revenue to take care of our overheads,” Tunbosun admits, “but we’re close to the point where we break even. Now, we are hitting the high numbers… and even though we’re still not profitable due to overhead and delivery costs, we’re surely getting there – more so because we are a very prudent organization. For instance, we don’t mind using modest packaging for our products just to reduce costs, as long as the contents are top quality.”
As challenging as the market has been, there have also been remarkable achievements for SemseY, especially with regards to their products getting certified and getting the word out there. One platform which has really augmented the company’s visibility is the SME MarketHub, an e-commerce platform powered by GTBank to boost the exposure and sales of small businesses.
“The SME MarketHub has been awesome. Very very helpful to us,” Tunbosun says. “It has helped us to become known. From October when they started promoting our products, particularly our Beard Oil, we have gotten well over 500 orders. They proved to us that they are really about the SMEs. From our end, we’ll just improve on the quality of pictures we send in and everything would be perfect, as customers would see the pictures that are the same with the actual products.”
Short and Long Term Goals
Tunbosun has big dreams for SemseY, and she is taking the current challenges in her stride, learning from them, and journeying towards her bigger goals. She is not laying the burden of her company on the shoulders of some distant years; she believes that a big, far-off milestone is achieved by reaching little milestones along the way. Her dream is for SemseY to grow as big as Cussons; and in 2018 she hopes to have taken a significant step towards that dream with the creation of Experience Centers. These experience centers will be the go-to places for full skin analyses and products purchases, and will be situated in Nigeria’s major cities – Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
This expansion will require capital, which their current equity cannot accommodate, so SemseY is shopping for partnerships that will inject the equity needed to drive growth and higher profitability.
“The money we started with was personal savings, but now we’re applying for things like the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, and working towards securing capital loans. A couple of investment houses have spoken to us as well and we’re studying their value propositions. Money is crucial to the expansion we have in mind, so we’re really serious with this shopping for funds.”
However, for Tunbosun money is not everything, capacity is also key. Her three guides to sustainable business growth are:
- Learn your trade – seek to know much more about your trade than the next expert person; that way you truly become an authority in your field.
- Get the right hands – having good people on your team is crucial to your growth. Source people who key into your vision and mission.
- While you’re still small, keep it small. Take it one step at a time. Don’t overdo things. Don’t start things you can’t sustain.
“On the 6th of June, 2017, SemseY will be a year old. We would like to thank all our customers and friends who have helped our business grow over the past 12 months. Our pledge is to continue to produce the best skincare products that will meet the needs of our audience. For more information about us and our products, visit our MarketHub Store Front.”
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