Self-employed since 2001, Olabisi Waller identified a major gap in the gift industry for unique useful gifts for special events and businesses. After consistently receiving inquiries from people wanting to make purchases for various items to send to Nigeria, as well as an increased demand for event styling, decorative lighting and event consulting services, she started the gift and souvenirs business, Elise Charles Company with her husband, Charles Waller, in 2007. A year later they launched EC Cosmetics with the goal of providing unique products that truly enhance a woman’s beauty. The companies moved online the following year. An astute business woman, currently enrolled in the Wharton Business Development Program at the University of Pennsylvania, she got her entrepreneurial inspiration at a young age when she would buy affordable goods at a local market and resell it for a profit to her schoolmates. In this insightful, exclusive chat with BN Editorial Assistant, Gbenga Awomodu, Olabisi Waller talks about growing up in Nigeria, her beauty and special events business, marriage, and relocating to the United States.
Meet Olabisi Waller
My name is Olabisi Waller. I was born in Delta State, Nigeria over 3 decades ago and grew up in Lagos with a large family of nine sisters. My mother is a strong, inspiring petite woman who constantly reminded us, her girls, to never allow anyone tell us we couldn’t achieve whatever we wanted. Because of this, I quickly became a very determined, strong willed person. No wonder my pet name while growing up was “manpower”! I had my primary education in Lagos, attended Federal Government Girls’ College, Oyo, and the University of Ado Ekiti, where I studied Business Administration. I am currently enrolled in the Wharton Business Development Program at the University of Pennsylvania. I run a company called Elise Charles. We offer Gifts for special events and Event Consulting services. We exclusively provide in Africa sophisticated lighting designs by Blachere who have created lighting for the Champs Elysees, and the Eiffel Tower, to London’s West End, Walt Disney, Cartier, and more. We also have a cosmetics company EC (Elise Charles) Cosmetics. An exclusive distributor of unique peak performance beauty products such as Divaderme Lash Extender, Brow Extender, Lip Extender, Stimulash Intenso, Model in a Bottle and a variety of other products.
What other various services does the Elise Charles Company provide?
The Elise Charles Company provides a variety of services with a focus on Special Events & Festivities (www.elisecharles.com) as well as the Beauty Industry via EC Cosmetics (www.eccosmetics.com). With Special Events, our services include: Event Styling & Decorative Lighting, Event Consultation, and Gift Solutions. We offer turn-key event consulting services which includes the total organization of your event or we can simply assist with the scenic elements such as decorative lighting, and more to make your event truly one of a kind. We are your Event Partners – Our team can provide you with as much or as little help as you need. Elise Charles (EC) Cosmetics is a distributor of peak performance beauty products internationally and exclusively in Africa through salons, independent sales representatives, beauty professionals, and select retail stores. Elise Charles started in 2007 with EC Cosmetics following a year later.
Why and how did you start the company?
The company started because we identified the gap in the gift industry for unique useful gifts for special events and businesses. I was consistently receiving inquiries from people wanting to make purchases for various items to send to Nigeria. Then came inquiries on event styling, decorative lighting and event consulting services. Elise Charles was created to cater to this increasing demand. We launched online about 3 years ago with a decision to focus on special events and named the company after my kids Charles & Elise. EC Cosmetics started simply from the desire to share effective beauty products that I use myself and are proven hits in the U.S to my fellow African women.
In what ways have your previous jobs impacted your business thus far?
To be honest with you I’ve only been employed twice in my life and realized very quickly that I was not suited to a 9-5 corporate job. I got easily bored and did not feel creatively challenged at all. Working as an employee served its purpose within that specific time frame and then it was time for me to move on. I learned about work relationships, teamwork specifically, and being somewhat structured. Running a business is challenging, but it’s a challenge that I look forward to everyday. Your brain is always working; you are continuously pushing yourself to learn new things about the business, learning how to interact with various people – that’s where the teamwork came in handy.
Giving gifts is an intrinsic part of the Nigerian culture. Did this influence your decision to launch your brands in the Nigerian market?
Yes, in Nigeria, everyone wants to go back home feeling appreciated with a token, something to take home as a memento after the event is over so… Yes it did influence my decision big time! That and the fact that I was also tired of seeing gift items that people basically did not appreciate or find useful at events.
Before the official re-launch in April, Elise Charles had been around in Nigeria for two years. What were you doing in those two years?
I couldn’t travel back and forth as often as I would have wanted to as I was mainly bringing up my kids in the U.S. We basically introduced our products and services into the market to have inkling as to what the response would be. We’re ready now.
How have sales and general client reception been since you launched in Nigeria?
So far, I would say that the Nigerian market has been very receptive towards our products and services for both Special Events and Cosmetic Products because of our unique offerings. We are successfully receiving orders for Gift items for weddings, corporate events, decorative lighting, and our event consulting services. Also, for our cosmetics, we have been getting inquiries and orders from various parts of Nigeria: Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt. From students to women in their 60’s, those who have tried Divaderme Lash Extender absolutely love it. It’s literarily changed the way women wear their lashes.
How would you describe your target clients, and in what ways are you reaching out to many more prospective clients?
Our target clients are people that want and appreciate something different. People who want to wow their guests with events that stand out through their decorative lighting or guest souvenirs. They are women who want to enhance their natural beauty with safe products that deliver results. No fluff, no gimmick. We are reaching out to prospective clients through agents, stores, makeup artists, advertising, referrals, networking, the whole works!
You grew up in Nigeria, but relocated to the USA. In what ways do both environments compare, in terms of business opportunities and ease of doing your business?
Yes, I relocated to the U.S in 2002 but have increasingly gone back and forth between both countries since then. What I have seen is that business in the U.S. is much more structured and everything has been put in place for the business owner to easily navigate through the system. For example, you need to register your business; you can do this at the click of a button in the U.S. In Nigeria, though, it’s a whole process. Doing business in both environments are two different ball games. Recently I went for a meeting in Lagos and was apologizing for being too early, lol! The person I met with said to me: “this is a first!”, but in the U.S you have to be on time for everything. I will tell you though that Nigeria has more opportunities in terms of business, as we are a developing nation. The U.S market is oversaturated and competition is really high. In both environments though you always have to be at the top of your game and very sharp!
You come across as a very entrepreneurial person. How have you developed your business savvy over the decades?
(Smiles) With my eyes wide open or as my people would say “shine your eyes” lol. Really, just by being observant and learning from various experiences with clients. I’ve been fortunate enough to deal with people in various spheres of life, from various backgrounds, cultures and countries. I am still learning how to adapt to the various business environments and dealing with people and complex situations the best I can.
What are some of the challenges you have had to tackle in your business endeavours?
Last minute requests from customers. There’s a lot of pressure to meet deadlines, but I have learned to manage them and deal accordingly. Even as we pride ourselves in going out of our way for our customers, we are still upfront and realistic about what can be accomplished within a specific time frame.
How do you effectively manage business alongside the home, considering the (frequent) trips that your business may entail from time to time?
It’s not easy, I miss my family very much but you have to do what you have to do. Skype is my best friend when I’m away; I get to call back and e-connect. Technology has been of great value to my business and staying connected with my loved ones.
What are some of the key lessons you have learned in these years you have been married?
You need to take action to create the life you really want, otherwise you will keep getting what you’ve gotten if you keep doing what you’ve done until now. I’ve been married for almost 10 years and I’m still learning about patience, tolerance, communication and a whole lot.
What qualities do you like in people, and which traits put you off when dealing with people?
It’s very difficult for me not to get along with people unless you are rude, and not nice to people regardless of who you’re speaking to. I like people who are funny (not in your face though!), genuinely nice, polite, hardworking (whether anyone is looking or not) and focused. I like people who mean what they say and say what they mean.
Of course, you’re not that old, but how have you been able to keep your shape and youthful look?
You’re right I’m still young & fresh! Lol. It’s in the genes… my mum does not look her age and she also does not look like she popped out 10 kids! Practically, I watch what I eat and try my best to do some form of exercise when I get the chance to. Here’s a secret though, to keep your youthful look focus on your eyes and use our Lash Extender for beautiful flirty lashes.
To what length would you go to keep your beautiful looks? What would you not do in order to enhance your beauty?
It’s simple; you are what you eat. I am very finicky about the food that goes into my mouth and would ask about its contents; e.g. is this made with palm oil, or is there a low fat version? At the same time though I’m a chocoholic and when I go overboard it shows so I try to eat my sweets in moderation. What would I not do to enhance my beauty? Hmn…. I don’t think I’ll ever do plastic surgery.
What do you think about extreme measures taken by many young women to keep a trim figure, like starving themselves or undergoing high-risk beauty enhancing (surgical) procedures?
I guess that works for them, but it’s exactly as you have said; to me, it’s “extreme” and unhealthy. Beauty is only skin deep. What’s the point in you looking “perfect” on the outside, but it doesn’t even come close to matching who you really are on the inside. I guess it’s all good if you look in the mirror and still recognize yourself and you are happy. For surgical procedures, I believe a little nip here, a little tuck there easily spirals out of control. Try regular, healthy measures first.
How would you describe your normal daily routine? How do you de-stress after a rather busy day or week? What activities do you engage in during your leisure time?
Regardless of where I am, a typical day for me starts really early in the morning. I have to go online to check my emails constantly because I try to reply to emails as quickly as possible. I respond to emails regarding processing orders, product inquiries, event consulting, price quotes, etc. If I have meetings scheduled for that day, my handy BB reminds me 1hr ahead of time (if I am in Nigeria) – that is so necessary! I eat on the go. I do not like heavy meals at all so it’s mostly salads or a light meal. I run any errands and do house chores in-between work. My day typically ends between 7PM and 8PM. To de-stress at the end of the day, I listen to good music on high volume – I think to myself, the lyrics and beats sink in more then, but my sisters seem to disagree; they think I just like noise! lol My latest is to drink a bit of red wine (it so calms me!). I try walking, and also sometimes go to the spa for a good massage. Now I’m relaxed!
Any other things you’d like to share with our esteemed readers?
Stay focused. Always believe in yourself. No matter what obstacles you face, the sky is only your beginning. Stay beautiful inside and out!
Thanks for your time, Olabisi. I’ve learnt a whole lot!
Gbenga Awomodu is an Editorial Assistant at Bainstone Ltd./BellaNaija.com. When he is not reading or writing, Gbenga is listening to good music or playing the piano. He believes in the inspirational power of words and pictures, which he explores in helping to make the world a better place. He blogs at Gbenga’s Notebook (www.gbengaawomodu.com).