Sheer innovation! How ‘Tobi tripled her sales of Shea Butter in no time
Oluwatobi Oluwaleye’s calm mien belies her energy and entrepreneurial skills. This caught our attention immediately as Oluwatobi, founder of TEA’S Nature shea butter-based beauty products, took Outrepreneurs through the story of her business which is barely two years old, but has gained international repute.
Tell us about your brand?
TEA’S Nature is a nature-based company specializing in producing Shea Butter range of products. For now, we have Shea Butter beauty products in different fragrances, but we hope to expand to producing other products like black soap, hair and body butter which base will be shea butter.
How did it all start?
I was working with a real estate company, living in Ogun State [Nigeria] and working in Ikoyi [Lagos State, Nigeria]. I commuted that long distance every working day for two years and it was very stressful. I worked there, before going for the NYSC [compulsory one year post-graduation national youth service]. After my service, I asked my boss for a break before resuming as a full-time staff there. He agreed. I went back after my NYSC, was told there was a restructuring and I would have to give them some time. I went back home and began to think about what different thing I could do.
So, would you say you lost the job?
I didn’t lose the job per se. By the time he called me back saying they were ready for me, I had already started working somewhere else, because there were three other companies whic called me up for employment. So I went and started working in one of them.
Back to how it all started, I started my shea butter business while working. Along the line, I knew a 9-5 wasn’t what I was cut out for, so I left my job and faced the business fully. I chose shea butter as a business, because I got in contact with shea butter in my childhood. My light-skinned sister had a skin irritation. My parents took her to dermatologists and hospitals, but nothing was working. One day, my grandma came from Oshogbo during the holidays. We were all excited with anticipation for what she had brought for us from the village. She opened her bag and brought out this smelly substance in a black nylon. We all ran away. It wasn’t attractive. But my sister had no choice but to apply it. She had to be forced to do so. Within three days, the skin irritation was gone. All I remembered was that it was ori [shea butter] that my grandma used to cure my sister. When I had that break, I thought about this childhood experience. Also, the fact that going all natural is the trend these days made it a good time to start. So, I began to think around the product and the fact that we were attracted to the product because it worked. The packaging and smell were what made it unattractive. So, we decided to improve upon those undesirable things and this gave birth to our product.
When did you start this?
In the later part of 2015.
How has patronage been?
At first, it was mainly family and friends that patronized my product. I think they bought the product out of pity. The product was crude and the packaging was very simple, but they bought it anyway and I saved the money.
When I started out, I got my first set of jars from an uncle, my dad helped print the labels and my first machine was bought by my aunt. People were just giving me free stuff. So, from a customer base of only family and friends that I assume bought out of pity and in a bid to support my venture, I moved to having unknown customers; people with whom I had no direct contact. We are now in a few countries. It is really amazing to see how far we have come, though it is not yet where we want it to be.
What other countries are you in?
Currently we are in the United Kingdom, United States and South Africa. We are also in Canada.
Who are your major stockists?
Because this is the age of technology, we use social media. We have our handles on all social media platforms where people can place order and it gets delivered to wherever they are. We also have brand representatives in major states, within and outside the country, from whom people can get the products. This reduces delivery costs.
Tell us about your sales revenue
Our first batch was 116 products, because that was the quantity of jars my uncle sent. It took us about 3 months to sell them all, but today, we sell a little above 116 in one day. Revenue has been great. This cones with its own challenges, though, because we keep re-investing in the business. The packaging especially has improved so much and this has been possible, because we are making more revenue.
What are the challenges of your business?
The weather, because our environment is relatively warm, shea butter doesn’t do well. So, because our brand is soft and fluffy, the product goes back to its original state when it melts. So, we have to take extra caution to get the products to the consumers in a great state and that’s a major challenge.
Government regulations too are a challenge, though we have gone past that by associating ourselves with organizations. We are members of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I am an alumnus of Pan-Atlantic University (Lagos Business School) and the Technology Incubation Center. Associations like these have given us leverage.
What other markets are you currently looking at for expansion?
Our five year goal is to have one faithful customer in every 10 families in Nigeria and one faithful customer in 30 African families. We know Nigerians and Africans in general are everywhere in the world. If we can achieve our five year goal, we are good. We do not want more than this for now.
What is your motivation?
My major motivation is God. I have also come to realize that no one owes me anything. People make the mistake of depending on family contacts and have an entitlement mentality. This is not right. So, I am motivated by reminding myself that no one owes me anything. If the business does well or not is mainly my concern. Each and every day, I strive to be better at what I do, because no one owes me anything. Also, I get motivated when people who see what I do send me private messages or call to say they like what I am doing. Though, sometimes, I feel like going back to the 9-5 grind, but when I see the number of people who look up to me, I realize giving up is not worth it.
What would you point out as your major asset in this business?
My contacts and the customers. One thing I have realized is that every person that has ever bought TEA’S shea butter, always comes back for more. These are my major assets, because without them my brand cannot survive.
Do you have a team?
Yes. I have 2 full time staff and then there are people who come in on contract basis, anytime there is a need for more hands, because it is not wise to put so many people on salary for now.
Have you ever sought for external funds?
I have. I mentioned earlier that I am an alumna of Pan-Atlantic University. That was made possible by a grant from the World Bank. They decided to sponsor women whose businesses were between zero to two years and I applied. They partly sponsored my education to the tune of 1million naira. This was one grant for which I was really grateful. Asides that, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry also provided some sponsorship, more for educational purposes.
As a founder, what lessons have you learnt?
I have learnt that because you run a business, it doesn’t mean you will always have money. A lot of people see you making sales and just assume that you must have a lot of money. Your business and you are two different entities. I used to think when I started my brand, I would always have money in my pockets, but the reality dawned on me when I went to Lagos Business School and was taught that’s not the way it works. Another thing I have learnt is that your friends are important. These are the people who will spread your message for free, when you are not there. Also, when it seems everything is not working for your good and you are at your wits end, always speak to people who are remotely in the same business with you. They will encourage you and teach you how to come out of tough situations, because they have encountered and overcome such difficulties, in the past. If you are down, it doesn’t mean you are out. These are the lessons I have learnt so far.
Chiamaka Akuba50 Posts
Chiamaka Akuba is a graduate of Mass Communication of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about emerging markets and entrepreneurship and is actively working with the industry. She loves her conversations challenging and can’t help laughing when you call her ‘Honourable Writer of the Federal Republic'. Chiamaka is a Staff Writer at Outrepreneurs.