BN Making It! is a BN feature focused on young entrepreneurs. BellaNaija.com launched BN Making It! in 2009 and we are hoping to spotlight more upcoming entrepreneurs in 2011 and beyond. We will feature young African entrepreneurs both at home and in diaspora who are making an impact in their chosen fields. Technology, Non-Profit, Fashion, Media, PR, Music and everything else. From those who are just starting their first company to young Africans who have their companies listed on the stock market. The purpose of this feature is to promote and encourage entrepreneurship among young Africans. We aim to inspire the next generation to be enterprise builders.
Ameera is the owner of The Nail Bar, a boutique nail spa in the heart of Abuja. For this edition of BN Making It!, we catch up with Ameera Abraham 4 months after the launch of her spa.
Ameera talks to BellaNaija.com about growing up as a girly girl, using mai shanu (cow fat) to deep condition her hair and customers who refuse to believe The Nail Bar has such a young Madame, amongst other funny stories and of course, challenges.
Here’s what she had to say. Enjoy!
Hi Ameera, please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Ameera Abraham and I am 22 years old. I am of Fulani and Yoruba descent, but I’m a lot more inclined to my Fulani side because I grew up mainly around my maternal side of the family.
Coming from two distinct Nigerian ethnicities, how did they influence your love for beauty?
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 moisturizing the hair, using shea butter as a daily moisturizer (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.
Where did you grow up?
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.
After spending 6 years in England, what differences did you notice between the Nigerian and foreign beauty scene?
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 salons 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 specialization, everyone seems to be a jack of all trades when it comes to beauty – I never quite understood the concept of selling bags or clothes or non related items at a salon – which seems to be a huge trend in Nigeria even ‘til this day. Lagos has definitely played a huge role in creating the platform for other specialized beauty service providers to open up in Nigeria. The success of such places also served as encouragement to set up my own nail spa in the heart of Abuja.
What university did you attend and where do you currently work?
I attended Royal Holloway, University of London where I graduated with a 2:1 in Politics and International Relations. I am currently doing my primary assignment for the NYSC year in the department of political affairs at the ECOWAS Commission. It is totally unrelated to beauty but I do also have an interest in world politics and human rights in particular. However, if I had to choose my first love is and will always remain beauty!
What were your hobbies growing up?
I grew up being the youngest girl around so many older female cousins; as a result I was constantly intrigued by the fact that they always had different colored nails, lips, eyes, whenever they felt it necessary. Being exposed to beauty trends at such a young age played a major role in shaping my love for it. I remember always wanting a mani/pedi every time I accompanied my mum to the spa. She’d always say no but being that I tend to always get my way she’d paint my nails the same color as hers once we were home and even let me put on matching lipstick as a bonus! I’ve undoubtedly always been a very girly girl – obsessed with doll houses and Barbies, the colors pink and purple, princess type dresses – so for a lot of people that know me venturing into the beauty industry did not come as a surprise at all.
Despite my very feminine nature, I dabbled in activities that other “girly girls” wouldn’t typically take an interest in. I spent a lot of time with my extended family and I think it is safe to say we were all very into horses and polo. Growing up I was constantly at the polo club and I was pretty good at horse riding but not so much at polo as the mallet probably weighed a lot more than I did. I had a bit of an athletic side during my school years, swimming, tennis and netball to be precise but there was always a feminine touch/balance to everything I did – in this case it was ballet. Despite being into sports I think it’s safe to say I was always a lot better at dressing up as my Barbie and having tea parties with my dolls.
Talking about the spa, why did you go into nail beauty amidst all others?
The idea for The Nail Bar came to me during a very casual conversation with my family; we all seemed to be complaining about how Abuja lacked anywhere that catered solely to providing professional nail services. Seeing as I had intentions of setting up something beauty inclined I thought to specialize in the nail care industry.
However, before then I think a lot of my friends and family saw me as the “go to” girl for quick beauty tips and tricks (especially natural remedies). I was always playing kitchen beautician; playing with numerous nail lacquers for the pure excitement of it and so I decided to take my hobby a little further and sign up for several beauty courses, I then decided to get professional qualification.
After discovering all the wonders and amazing secrets of the professional beauty industry I took it upon myself to share this with everyone and anyone who cared to listen.
Undoubtedly it is a highly competitive industry but what sets The Nail Bar apart is exclusive nail treatments that go beyond the norm. I have been able to come up with treatments that target specific problems and those that just make the whole nail pampering experience a lot more fun by appealing to all five senses!
“Bringing the dream to life”- Business Stuff
Who inspired you and helped you take the concept of The Nail Bar from dream to reality?
My mentor is my mother, although she has no experience in the beauty industry, she knows all there needs to be known about setting up and running a business as well as all that the law requires – being a lawyer. She’s had many years of experience in various business sectors and I wouldn’t have been able to set up The Nail Bar to the standard that it is today without her being there every step of the way.
I’ve also learnt a lot of life’s lessons from her and the other female figures in my life. I come from a long line of extremely independent women and it shows clearly in the decisions I take in regards to my choice of business and how I run the nail bar.
Without sounding like I am only inspired by women, my uncle plays a major role in my day to day business affairs – especially the aspect of people management. I see him as my database of never ending knowledge. He’s an incredibly intelligent and gifted man and is one of those people that is the best in anything he sets out to do, he is a marine engineer, amazing at building ships, fabulous with computers, I could go on all day! He provides me with an alternative perspective to whatever my mother may suggest. I feel incredibly blessed to have my closest family members guiding me at this critical stage of the business and sharing their years of experience and intellect with me. I learn something new each day and it’s amazing how quickly I’ve matured since the start of the Nail Bar.
How did you execute your business plan?
The funding for the nail bar was sourced privately. I didn’t have to go through the process of applying for any government grants or loans; I did however have to put together a very detailed and well thought out business plan that was worth investing in. I’m thankful for this because I’ve been told that it’s extremely difficult to get financial assistance in Nigeria even before the current global financial crisis.
How did you find all the skilled nail technicians? Did you get them from a Temp agency, by word of mouth or did you ‘take’ them from all your favourite salons?
Most of the staff were referred to me, while others simply responded to my adverts. I didn’t “poach” any staff so as not to have the same thing happen to me a few months down the line. I’m a strong believer in “doing unto others as you would want them to do unto you” so I try to be as “clear” in my business decisions and dealings as possible, despite the fact that every other customer could be a potential “poacher” and it being a “dog-eat-dog” world out there. I am extremely confident in my abilities and ideas for the nail bar. Thankfully my staff share my vision which is a very essential aspect to the success of any business.
“Already a Pioneer”
Are there any services unique to your spa?
I can comfortably say the nail bar is a pioneer in the nail care industry particularly in Abuja and dare I say Nigeria as a whole. I’ve focused in creating treatments that go beyond the average mani/pedi. We offer very high-end spa treatments for the hands and feet that allow you to have a truly relaxing and uplifting experience at the same time targeting specific problem areas.
In addition to our bespoke luxury treatments we have also introduced Tom Bachik’s “21 Day Manicure” – a favorite for the likes of Victoria Beckham, Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez. It’s a gel-based color (with 36 shades to choose from) that lasts up to 21 days and doesn’t take as much time to cure as the traditional gel overlay. It is the perfect treatment for ladies who usually wrap their long nails and those who generally hate the sight of chipped nail polish! There are several benefits to the treatment that go beyond long lasting color, e.g. stronger and healthier nails.
In order to also enhance our clients experience outside of the spa, we have recently just launched the nail bar blog which can be found on our website. We basically have a range of beauty tips and tricks and quick-fix remedies available to our clients and people who are just in need of this information to keep them looking good in between their regular spa treatments.
We also have an exclusive treatment arriving later this year that is bound to take nail care to a whole new level in Nigeria as a whole so watch this space *wink wink*!
With the luxury services you provide, which can make every woman feel special, can every Nigerian woman – from the average Nigerian University student to a working woman – afford to feel special at The Nail Bar?
The services we provide at the nail bar suit a wide range of pockets. Our classic services start from N500 and go only as high as N2500 (for our classic pedicure – which is a 9 step treatment). Our luxury services are equally as thorough in the sense that its also a 9 step treatment for the feet and a 7 step treatment for the hands. These treatments start from N4000 depending on what products are being used and what problems are being remedied.
Our hair services I would say are competitively priced. Again our classic services are very affordable. The treatments that would be considered on the high-end are our custom made organic hair treatments and this is because of the in-depth consultation process that takes place before hand.
Talking about the hair salon, word on the street tells us this section attracts a lot of customers. What sets The Nail Bar apart in hair? Please tell us where you get all the fabulous hair extensions from?
The unique aspect of the hair section at the nail bar is the organic treatments we offer. A lot of customers feel that natural products are just for natural hair but that isn’t the case. We have shea butter treatments, hair loss, anti-dandruff, itchy scalp and deep moisturizing treatments using a range of carefully sourced organic products. In addition to that we also offer a custom product service where we create products exclusive to the client that addresses any hair concerns she may have for use in between professional treatments.
Although we focus on promoting healthy treatments for healthy natural hair (both chemically and non-chemically processed hair) mainly, we also provide services and retail goods that cater to the demand for human hair extensions, braids, etc. Our human hair collection is of extremely high quality and is sourced from a well kept secret destination
Despite our high level of quality and service we have also tried to keep our prices very affordable and I think this plays a major role in setting us apart from our competitors.
Since you opened your business, have there been any funny stories or incidences you would like to share with us? Any cases of mistaken identity perhaps?
I find that the most recurring incident would be people not expecting me to be the “Madame”. I’ve had instances where people ask to see the owner and when I’m pointed out they say “No, your ACTUAL madame”. A lot of the older and surprisingly even the younger customers seem to find it difficult to believe that The Nail Bar is all mine – the décor, ideas, treatments, etc.
A lady once walked right past me and asked to one of the staff to see me, she wasn’t so much shocked by my age but more my race, she said “I expected you to be white or mixed-race at least”. I’m still trying to get my head wrapped round that one! Some people are a lot better at hiding their shock while others not so much.
Without sounding like it’s a negative reception more than a positive one all the time there are people who love what I do and commend me for doing such a great job running a place like The Nail Bar at such a young age. If there’s anything I love the most in all this, it’s being an inspiration to like-minded young ladies and men who just need that extra push to make their dreams a reality.
What challenges have you faced since you opened your business?
First of all being a sole owner of the nail bar – as much as I love it – has its downsides, mainly that it’s a lot of hard work as all the weight is on your shoulders, it’s very time consuming and tiring as I’ve had to train myself in all aspects of running the business which doesn’t come to me as easily or naturally as the nail and beauty treatments part.
My biggest challenge at the start of the business was the staff. It took a lot of time and effort to train them and get them to understand the importance of customer service and professionalism. The Nigerian work culture does not in any way centre around the importance of customer service and this I feel is what makes or breaks a business like mine. I consider my team of nail techs and beauticians a success story thus far, they are my pride and joy and without them delivering “the ultimate nail spa experience” would be a nearly impossible task.
The ongoing challenges I currently face is nothing short of what other private business in Nigeria face, the lack of constant electricity, water supply, and all those other basic amenities that we are all very aware of. As a result of this the running costs for a business like mine are ridiculously high. I am thankful that I have the financial capacity to provide these services privately, however it is a disadvantage for those who are looking to set up small businesses in and around Nigeria as the start up and running costs end up being extremely high.
Where do you see The Nail Bar, and yourself, in a few years?
The Nail Bar is a boutique nail spa that is centered on providing luxury nail treatments as well as catering to the total wellbeing of men and women – spa treatments, facials, massages, waxing, hair treatments, etc. I intend for the nail bar to be a chain of boutique nail spas around Abuja and the major cities in Nigeria providing the very best and up-to-date treatments in nail care with unrivalled levels of quality and expertise.
I have had a lot of advice from family and friends, suggesting that it’s best for me to have some work experience in my related field of study (Politics & International Relations). However I believe that once you have found that one thing that you are truly passionate about its best for you to pursue that until you become the very best you can be in your chosen field. I love what I do and this is what drives my passion and zeal for The Nail Bar to stand out as the best in its field.
Address: 124 Aminu Kano Crescent, (Opposite Glo Head Office. Beside Oceanic Bank), Wuse 2, Abuja, Nigeria.
Contact Numbers: 08168680860, 09-8707648.
Opening Hours: 9am-8pm
Kindly note, The Nail Bar is closed on Sundays.
Photo Credit: Attah “The Canon” Switch
Nkechi Eze is an Editorial Assistant at BellaNaija.com. You can visit Nkechi Eze’s photography website at inksimages.com