BY VICTOR ADAR
As beauty products continue to draw in many users, Anna Njoroge Ngaruiya is keen on saving Kenyans from spending their time and money on imports. Hers was inspired by real life experience. After working for a US based retail company for about 15 years as chief financial officer with frequent visits to the country, she discovered that skin and personal brands were scarce.
Ms Njoroge can vividly remember how she would travel in order to buy beauty products herself. To her, there was very little in the market. Actually, there was nothing. It is at the back of this that when she came back to settle in Kenya in 2014, the need to set up a manufacturing plant came calling.
Surprisingly, she realised that the market was not ready for her business so much that she had to get a job as she pondered her next move. Going into employment offered her a chance to have a helicopter view of the market, know how to interact and learn some rules of trade. It was in 2016 when things aligned. Ythera Beauty, a company whose products include body mists and creams, was birthed.
“I wanted same products that I used to get,” she says. “But are the products here? Why don’t we create our own line that works for us? The ones that we are going to buy are not meant for us… I had a lot of mentors and I felt it was important for us as Africans to start telling our stories. I am proudly African and I like good things.”
At the age of 23, Ms Njoroge was already thinking about venturing in the beauty industry but didn’t know how stuff works. Today, she is abreast with matters funding, private equity, revenue and tax audit. With almost 38 partner stores that include True Cosmetics Limited, The Beauty Box by Lintons, Super Cosmetics, Sterling Cosmetics, Priti Jewelers, H&K Global Cosmetics, Nails & Scents, Virdi Pharmacy, Super duper Cosmetics, Ava Pharmacy, Golden Cosmetics, Turquoise and Vivo Store, just to mention a few, the company is able to move its products, focusing on mid to high end market.
“I am a strong believer that if you want to grow you don’t grow by being a market for every body. So I decided I will do this and I will manufacture locally. We need to stop trading. You don’t grow by being a market place for everyone,” she says.
You may think that manufacturing is a man’s thing. In certain spheres, it is actually referred to as an Indian man’s thing. But what is motivating is that as at end of March 2020, Ythera Beauty had six full time employees, about five casual workers as well as consultants who do specialised jobs.
“It’s hard… (she laughs) but it works for me because I have no shame. I walk everywhere and I have a lot of patience. I know my strengths and I believe in hiring experts to do what they do best because if I do it myself I will spectacularly fail. I don’t know everything so I do have a lot of consultants that I bring in. Hire the experts; pay the experts to do what they do best. It will save you the pain, backache, and even money. So just do it right from the beginning,” she says.
A spot check in beauty and cosmetics shops in town show that the price of imported high end brands range from Sh1, 500 to about Sh2, 300 depending on where a customer is buying from. While there are top brands like Victoria secrets, the next thing you find are affordable ones mostly copies of imports going for a price range of Sh300 to Sh500.
While a majority of Kenyans think that imported is better. That is not the case. The bulk of customers are green about premium brands thus end up buying replicas. Fenty Beauty, Lime Crime and Black Opal are examples of high end products prone to imitations. The bulk of retailers are generally green about the original versions of prime brands. Have you met someone and he or she smells like a chemical residue?
The disadvantage of the low-end brands is that when you spray them, you might end up choking. Scents, body mists and creams ought to put an “invisible extra” to a personality. A good fragrance, for example, should not choke – fragrance vary from person to person because of peoples’ different body chemistry, which is affected by so many things including what one eats, and drinks.
People in the beauty and cosmetics industry say that there are no body mists made in Kenya, an indication that Ythera Beauty is the only start up which is manufacturing them locally. In fact, Cussons and FA are the “local” brand names that people can remember with ease. But theirs too, are not locally made.
“We wanted to produce quality products. That’s why I manufacture here. I wanted to create international quality products but at an affordable price. The price of imported stuff doesn’t make sense because they don’t cost that much where they come from. That’s why we came in. Our 50 ml goes for 1,200,” says Ms Njoroge, adding that there is something coming out of it.
She keeps on reinventing herself and learning the ropes to avoid making mistakes. To someone who is starting up, her advice is that it is important to research.
“Nothing ever will take over research. Who is your customer? What do they buy? Where? Before you bring in something, try and find out if it is allowed. Know the rules of the game before you start. Be humble. Be nice. Even if you know, listen. It goes along way. Also learn to be agile and take things as they come,” she says.