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I started my business with car boot sale -Awa-Ibraheem, beauty industry entrepreneur

The Chief Executive Officer of Perfect Scents Designer Perfumes and Glamour Lounge Salon and Spa in Lagos, Mrs O.J. Awa-Ibraheem has revealed that she began her business selling from a car boot.
Driven by the desire for accomplishment, Awa-Ibraheem’s business has blossomed and is now housed in a gigantic edifice at Aromire, Ikeja, Lagos.

In this interview with The Nigerian Xpress at the launch of her Niche perfume the businesswoman, who has been in the beauty business for over two decades, talked about her passion for creativity, the crunching challenge of foreign exchange and how it has been a major bottleneck in her kind of business.

A lot of fake and substandard products are being manufactured in the country. What are your views on that? What is the way out?

For me, l wonder why people will go into the production of substandard products or copy other people’s creativity instead of doing something that could be called their own. l know it is difficult to compete with established brands that already have names by a newcomer but there is no need to go through the stress of trying to establish such brands as your own. The truth is that such an individual will only succeed in killing his own business at the end of the day. My advice is that they should produce something that is uniquely theirs.

There are some products l cannot buy. It is difficult for me to buy some brands because there is a lot of fake in the market. l am not talking about perfume. l am talking about other products in general.

Interestingly, now in the market, there are a lot of young men that are making shoes; they are making them well, and it is becoming their brand. l do not know about the women but the men are producing shoes and sandals and, for me, that is something to be proud of.

Unfortunately, the manufacturing and sale of fake and substandard products have to do with the demand. Many people want such products and that is what those who produce imitation take advantage of. l do not support it. A lot of the big brands have fought over the faking of their products in the years past, but they are not winning the battle. We just try to make buyers understand that what we are selling is authentic and then it is left for them to make their decisions either to buy original or substandard products.

 Who is your mentor?

My husband is my mentor. He is a chartered accountant and has been in business for many decades. l have learnt a lot from him. He has also been a source of encouragement to me.
Besides, l read a lot and have garnered useful information that has helped me in running my business.
So, l will advise those in business or those who desire to venture into business to read business-related books. It is not as if they should take in all that they have read from such books. They should only extract useful information and apply it to their businesses, but the books that are not useful, they should drop and move forward.

What is your advice to women who want to venture into business?

I disco


When you are young and starting a business and at the same time you have children to take care of, you should lower your expectations. It is difficult to be a mother taking care of children and also running a business successfully. So, l do tell women that while they have a dream of owning a business, they should not expect much until their children get to a certain age that will enable them to focus fully on their businesses.
They can engage in something profitable that will also give them a chance to look after their children until they have grown up. Such women can then venture into business of their choice and l am sure they will do better.

As an entrepreneur what is your advice to the new administration?

We should aim to produce most of the products we consume locally. We are not producing enough now and there is high consumption for these products and this is creating a huge need for foreign exchange for importation.

When l started the business, a dollar to naira was 150. l know each administration has its challenges, but if this administration can get things right, businesses in Nigeria will boom and entrepreneurs will make profits. Consumers will also spend less in purchasing goods produced locally and everybody will be comfortable in the country.

How has your journey into the business of beauty been?

I studied Political Science at the university and when l got married, my husband felt that the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job is not going to be easy even though l had my mother taking care of the children.
He wanted me to do something flexible enough that would give me the chance to keep my eyes on the children and still do what l wanted to do.

But l needed experience. So, I started bringing products from the UK and selling those goods at the back of my car because l did not have a shop. So, the best way to get experience is to suffer a little.

Originally, l brought into the country an Italian brand known as Nouba. Unfortunately, it came in before the boom of make-up artists, where now if you want to go to a party, you will call make-up artists.
At that time, l had a chance of meeting with a supplier in the United States and when l realised that the Italian brand was not moving as I wanted, l introduced perfumes then but, not on the scale l am doing it now. I established contact in the US for the supply of perfumes. That was how the perfume business started and that was about 15 years ago. Recently, I unveiled an array of niche perfumes into the Nigerian market.

Tell us about life growing up.

I grew up in Surulere, Lagos. I had my primary and secondary school in that vicinity. My dad is from Owo. My mum is from the riverine, a Kalabari. I went to university and read Political Science. I sacrificed the time to have babies and now that I have the time I started life as an entrepreneur.

What are the problems you face as an entrepreneur?

The major challenge is the unstable foreign exchange which is currently killing a lot of businesses in the country.

It is making the importation of goods into the country difficult. Even if you are going into the production of goods, you still have to buy raw materials such as fragrances. You still need to use foreign exchange. So, that is the major problem l see. Otherwise, it is just reputation, trying to get the right supplier and trust. The fact is that the reputation of the country outside is poor and it is affecting business transactions at the international level.

The foreign countries where you are importing products from will not do any business with you unless it is on a cash-and-carry basis, unlike before where you will get credit facilities. Now, they will know you and they will do business with you but it has to be on cash payment. You will pay them and you will get your goods.

l was lucky because l have made contacts before things got out of hand. I have established relationships with suppliers years back. Now even if you are sending them a mail, they will think it is spam or something else. So, l had established contacts with some suppliers years back and l had maintained the relationships, so, l did not have a problem in that respect.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to get a good perfume?

I could put 20 different perfumes and we’ll all have different opinions of the perfumes because we perceive differently. You could pick the flowery smell, another person may pick the musk because that is what appeals to them. You could say this perfume is masculine, and another person would say the perfume is flowery. It’s a personal choice. That’s why I encourage anyone going to buy perfume to make sure the shop has testers. If they don’t have testers, don’t buy the perfume. Unless you have used that brand before and you have confidence in it, if you are buying something new, buy something you can smell. Get the testers to smell it and buy. Don’t buy because someone tells you it’s a good quality unless they give you a very good guarantee on it. Then, if you don’t like it you return it.