By Evangeline Anumba eanumba@financial freedomng.com
The thrilling story of how Bruno Oaikhinan, a former banker, became chief executive of a multimillion-naira salon Business.
• Cut his teeth by using a blade and comb to cut his hair before trying to run a magazine business.
• Decided to learn the ropes of salon business after learning that salonists at the time were in it to move on to something else afterwards.
• Spent his weekends and vacations studying salon business while still working at a bank.
• Decided to leave the bank to do his own thing after a trip to the office turned grey with a heavy traffic delays.
• Worked with the biggest and best in the business after investing in a private teacher that tutored him for a whole year.
• Went to a branding school to learn the best way to package and sell himself in the business.
When I was much younger, I used a blade and comb to cut my hair, but I never envisioned at the time that I would one day own a salon. During my NYSC, I discovered that I could write very well and started a magazine.
It was in the course of running the magazine that the then managing director of Prudent Bank found me and hired me to work in the bank’s corporate affairs section before I was moved to marketing.
While working in the bank, I discovered that there was so much pressure and fear of the unknown.
The bank gives you a target and the target is increased when you meet it. This constant fear of the unknown made me consider a plan B.
Vested interest in salons
Working in the bank made me understand that SMEs are the engine of the economy. But I was confused about what kind of business I could do. I used to accompany my girlfriend to the salon and knew all the major salons in the city. Seeing how salon business was run stirred the interest of owing one in me.
When I looked more closely, I discovered that the cash-flow was good too, so I began to ask questions. This led me to discover that most salon workers only wanted to work, save up some money, go to school and after school, find a job in a bank; same place I was desperately running away from.
I began advising them to take their job seriously because there are people who are doing very well financially who are not working in the bank. As expected, they didn’t listen. So I decided to learn the ropes of the business.
I began by taking time outs at weekends from bank responsibilities to work in a salon. I eventually partnered with the owner of the salon I learnt with after I was fired from the bank. While working with him, I helped set up three branches before deciding to step out to do my own thing.
Running a salon provided me with a platform to express myself. Truth is, I can pretty much do anything. It is not about what you do but who is doing it. Customers do not buy what you sell first.
They buy you; so it’s about you.
I can boldly say that what I did before salon business prepared me for the task and challenges ahead. I am now expressing myself through my saloon business because it’s easier.
Yes, working in the bank made me some money but I was looking for something that will allow me express myself, have time for myself and at the same time make money, and this came in handy.
Juggling a job and learning to be a stylist
This had to do with passion. I started off using a comb and a razor to cut my own hair and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While at the bank, I used my weekends and my vacations to understudy salon business.
Each time I got my vacation allowance, I would stay back, instead of going abroad, to learn the nitty gritty of salon business.
So I devoted my weekends and holidays to learn because it was something I believed in.
While working at the bank in Lagos, I would usually wake up at 4am every day to get ready for work. One day I woke up at that time, dressed up but forgot to carry my shoes when I left the house because it was easier to drive with slippers. I got to the office at 6:30am, slept in the car for a while and when it was time to wear my shoes, I realised that I had forgotten them at home.
I had to drive home to get them but on my way back, I was on the road for hours because of a traffic jam.
That was when I stated asking myself if this is what people experience every day and if I wanted to be a part of it. Until that morning, I never experienced that much traffic jam because I always left very early for work. I told myself, this not what I want to do for life. Wake up very early to go to work, come back after your kids have one to bed, and this can go on for as long as the whole working week. You get paid but before the money comes, the bank would have given you all kinds of loans, so much that if you are not careful, you get carried away, and once there is a problem and you are laid off, you are gone.
I could have gone to another bank when I resigned for the second time in 2011 but I decided to do my own thing. My wife did not support the idea of entering the salon business initially. This was largely because of the general perception that people who run salons were uneducated. Plus the fact that I had been earning 500k monthly, hence she didn’t see how I could meet up with my family financial obligation running a salon. I finally persuaded her. Today, she is happy that I made that decision.
Being an entrepreneur
I believe that starting your own thing is the best thing that can happen to anybody and I’m not just looking at the money angle alone. Now, I have the opportunity of doing something I had always wanted to do that is, being a motivation and role model to people. While at the bank, it was just me and my family and maybe colleagues and friends. But today, I have over 55 staff who work at Bruno’s Place. I look forward to the end of the month when salaries are paid because I get to see the smile on their faces and this makes me very happy. It gives me great satisfaction when I see people happy. To think that I can conceive of an idea and put it to work, put food on my table and that of other people gives me joy.
If you ask me now, the only regret that I have is that, if I knew I was going to where I am today, I would have ensured that I enjoyed the process. I wouldn’t have been worried about the disappointments, heartbreaks, rejections, etc. These days, I tell people that whatever you are passing through today is part of God’s plan to cook up a story for you, because people buy stories. Ultimately, it is your story that is converted into a product.
Stages of being an entrepreneur
There are processes and stages you have to pass through in whatever you want to do in life. The first thing is to define a purpose because it is not just about what you want to do but the reason for doing it. Then you will need to have a connecting factor for you to have a platform to express your purpose. For me, I am using the platform I created to empower hair stylists, serve as a role model to them but being a hair stylist is the connecting factor. It is about building relationships with your stylists and your customers. Then pick up a trade where you have an interest and identify a need and learn it. After learning it, don’t just jump into starting but first look for people who are succeeding in that line of business and try to partner with them. This will enable you get to know the key success factor in the business and the process flow. Then you can move up to set up yours.
I won’t tell you how much I earn, but I can tell you when I was working in the bank I earned about half a million naira, but today I pay over N2m monthly to my staff.
Advice on money, business and ideas
With money, you have to be disciplined. I learnt a lot of things in banking. While some of my colleagues were travelling abroad, buying expensive cars, designer suits, etc, I used my money to invest in myself. You have to be disciplined to do that.
SMEs build the economy
It is small scale businesses that build the economy. I learnt while working in the bank that banks collect money from small businesses and lend to bigger businesses. SMEs also create more employment for people and bring you closer to the real people who make it happen for the economy to grow. I decided to be a part of that.
Coming to Abuja
Ikeja City Mall, where I started from in Lagos, was once the biggest mall in Nigeria. And as a business man, when you want to set up a business, it’s not just about your creativity or what you are doing. It is also about who your target audience is. I realised that my target audience naturally migrated to the mall to transact one form of business or another. Even though the mall was expensive, I convinced myself that it was the best location for the business. As a brand person, I also knew that malls were trending. Plazas and supermarkets were in vogue in the past but malls are trending and to be successful, you must move with the current. We did Ikeja Mall successfully and now we are at Jabi Lake Mall in Abuja which is Nigeria’s biggest shopping mall in Abuja. If you want to be big, you have to dream big.
The truth is that I can’t see the challenges. If you do your homework well, everything will fall in place. I believe in the universal law that ‘a dull axe means you have to swing it harder and many more times to do the same work.’ If you want to clear the bush for instance, you refuse to sharpen your axe, you will dissipate a lot of strength but if you know how to sharpen your axe it will be easy. I did my home work very well. How? I got a private teacher who taught me for a whole year and when I finished I went to look for somebody who is the biggest and the best in town so I can learn what is special about him. I got to know the key success factors. Then I went to a branding school to know how to package and sell myself. I also did further research to find out what is being done in other climes. This was evident when we started.
If I have to start all over again, these are the four steps I will follow:
First, have a purpose. It’s a must. My purpose is to glorify God and add value to people. Second, look for a platform, a right platform where you can express purpose. Third, you must package and brand yourself, you must understand what is personal branding, because people do not buy what you sell first, they buy you first. If I am dirty, my salon will be dirty, if I am clean, my saloon will be clean. You are the one that will work your idea to work out. Lastly, you must be passionate about what you do.
The next big thing for me is to see my staff owning their own Bruno’s Place franchise. It is not enough for people to invest in my business. I also would like to raise money and sponsor my staff to have their own place. That’s my greatest dream and that’s what you’ll be seeing in the next five years. You can be working in Bruno’s Place, earn your salary and commission but will also own a branch. My dream also is to employ at least 1000 staff from the current 55. Imagine if each of them is able to replicate this and employ 1000 staffs.
It is about relationship because if you have a good relationship with your customers, they will speak on your behalf, mention your name and follow you. My focus is really on the internal customers i.e. my staff. They in turn focus on the external customers. The way I treat them is the way they treat external customers. That is the structure we run at Bruno Place. The customer is king here and members of my staff make sure it stays that way.