Name: Ameera Abraham
Country of Origin: Nigeria
Current Location: Abuja, Nigeria
Tell us about your background?
I was born in London. I spent a lot of my primary school years moving around, I went to 4 or 5 different schools in Lagos, Jos, and Kaduna respectively. After primary 5, I moved to England where I attended an all-girls’ boarding school in Kent. After 3 years, I moved back to Lagos where I attended Atlantic Hall Secondary School for 3 years. In 2004, I moved back to England where I was for 6 years and it was during this time I discovered my love for professional beauty. I hold a BA in Politics and International Relations from Royal Holloway, University of London and I am also a qualified aesthetician.
Culturally, growing up in a fairly Hausa-Fulani set up I was exposed to using natural products for the beautification of the hair, skin and nails. I remember having my hair deep conditioned with mai shanu (cow fat) which is amazing for strengthening and moisturising the hair, using shea butter as a daily moisturiser (and guess what I’m not ‘dark’ skinned after all these years), beautifying my eyes with tozali (a very fine eyeliner) and tinting my nails with lalle (henna dye for the nails, hand and feet). These very natural beauty routines have been a major influence in my fusion of professional spa treatments with organic beauty remedies to produce a unique experience with long lasting healthy results.
What made you decide to go back to Nigeria, or was that always the plan?
I was only in England to study, I never really considered living anywhere else but in Nigeria. I just had too much to look forward to in Nigeria and that made living in England very unappealing for me.
My family is based in Abuja. If I lived in Lagos I would have most likely ended up working 9-5 and doing “something on the side” for myself, simply because I find the Lagos market is highly saturated. However, the Abuja market is perfect for up and coming entrepreneurs as the city is still young and growing.
What would you say are the main differences between life there and here in the UK?
The work ethic and culture of business in Nigeria is completely different. In the UK you could comfortably predict the outcome of many things whereas in Nigeria everything you do requires a prayer and a miracle because of the numerous uncertainties. Simple things like delivery of mail or even making a deposit at the bank can become a very frustrating ordeal/experience. However, being in Abuja has taught me patience, building relationships and efficiency. I am always on my toes, prepared for the worst and one step ahead in every situation. It’s built my character and toughened me up much more than I would be if I remained in the UK. If you can be successful in Nigeria, you can be successful anywhere in the world!
What, if anything, do you miss most about the UK?
I miss the ease and convenience of everyday life. Getting my mail on time, not having to worry about electric or water supply, being able to walk down to the grocery store and finding everything I need and want. The simple things really.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about making the move?
Do not underestimate Nigerians, a lot of Nigerians living abroad are under the impression that Nigerians are backwards or are not so exposed. This is very wrong, any service you can find in London, you can find in Lagos! Despite the government’s backwardness in terms of development and infrastructure, the people are very advanced and very discerning. If you have anything to offer make sure it is something that will blow even your Western counterparts out of the water! Nigerians can be very hard to please.
Tell us a bit about your business.
The Nail Bar is an upscale destination that promises to deliver unrivalled luxury nail treatments that go beyond the classic manicure and pedicure.
Our mission is to successfully provide a high-end nail, hand and foot care, therapeutic massage, hair care and aesthetician services in a caring, upscale, professional environment. We tailor the clients experience based on initial interview information and feedback during treatments to ensure utmost comfort and satisfaction.
Why a nail salon in particular?
I’ve always been a beauty enthusiast so I knew I would want to set up a spa at some point. Moving to Abuja I discovered there was no spa dedicated to providing professional nail care treatments. It was my cue to start up a nail spa. I already had all the necessary qualifications so I decided to focus on nails unlike my competitors who focused on beauty in general and this enabled me to capture a huge chunk of the market.
What do you feel are the main differences between the beauty industry in Nigeria and Europe?
There is quite a huge difference; my moving back to Lagos for secondary school definitely opened my eyes to the ‘Nigerian way’ of providing beauty services. I always felt the hair salon should be a totally separate entity from the nail salon but in many salons in Nigeria you find that there is no main area of specialisation, everyone seems to be a jack of all trades when it comes to beauty. In Europe you find that there are specialised and qualified aestheticians, the quality of service delivery is second to none due to their work ethic and the level of education and training provided. The beautician takes great pride in their profession and this is an attitude that needs to be adopted by Nigerian beauticians. They need to treat their jobs as something they are passionate about and not just a means to pay the bills.
What are the main challenges the business faces?
I would say that my major challenges were at the start-up stages of TNB. I struggled finding the right staff, with strong skill sets and work ethics. The constant challenges however will have to be the lack of constant electricity and water supply – having to substitute these can be rather costly.
Running a business in Nigeria can also be a costly venture in terms of time also due to the inconsistency and uncertainty in various aspects of operation. For example when I started TNB initially I waited for a container that was meant to be delivered within a month for almost 7 months. You can’t begin to imagine the setbacks that caused me financially and emotionally!
Lastly, my age seems to be an issue for a lot of people. I come across people who feel I am too young to own the business I own and question my abilities and whether or not I am qualified for the job. I find that this motivates me to prove myself more and more every day.
How long has it been in operation, and how did you fund its establishment?
The Nail Bar is 2 years and 2 months old exactly. I sourced the funds privately – my family were readily willing to invest in my vision and I am extremely thankful as I know most entrepreneurs aren’t fortunate to raise capital with such ease.
What is your proudest achievement to date with the business?
Winning the Abuja Young Entrepreneurs Award for the Beauty Establishment of the year 2013. It’s an amazing feeling to get recognised for all the hard work that has been put in to establishing a business and running it.
What are your ambitions for the business?
The Nail Bar recently launched its flagship store in February 2013 after being open for less than 2 years. This was a vision I didn’t see coming to life for at least another 5 years. Now that I have accomplished that I would like to start training aspiring beauticians/aestheticians into professionals that can be compared to their Western counterparts. We are also looking to start our own line of organic cosmetics in the near future. My dream is for The Nail Bar to become a household name, and that dream is fast becoming a reality.
What advice would you give to someone seeking to make the move to Nigeria to start a beauty business?
There are several spas and salons in Nigeria, study your market, understand them and provide them with a unique alternative. You must stand out from the salon/spa across the road. Outline your brand values and be prepared to stick by them until you gain the markets trust.
Are there organisations that you have come across that aid start-ups?
Thus far I am only aware of the YouWin initiative which is by the Ministry of Finance. I haven’t heard much about other (private) organisations that aid start ups.
Destination: Africa! aims to inspire our readers to make the move back home, through a series of interviews with others that have recently made the move successfully.
We are always on the lookout for inspiring stories of individuals that have successfully made the move to West Africa, so do get in touch with us via our Nominate section, if you know of any such people.