Following the launch of She Trades Kenya by Barclays Bank, we met one of the many aspiring beneficiaries at Kempinski hotel. Her name is Mary Munge of Maycols cosmetics and we sought to know from her how her entrepreneurship journey has been, the challenges she has faced and what advise she would give to someone who wants to start out.
How long have you been in cosmetology?
It has been 4 years now since I joined the cosmetic industry whereby I started as a wholesaler. I was bringing in beauty and skincare products from abroad and selling locally. 2 years ago I opened a retail store and spa at Ad-life plaza and that’s where I’m operating from to date. We also make handmade jewelry and handmade wigs.
What made you venture into entrepreneurship?
As much as I’ve been a jack of all trades over the years, cosmetology has always been my strongest passion. I like making women beautiful and flawless. I like to make them look edgy, fashionable and confident.
Tell us about your journey in entrepreneurship
I was first employed as a hotelier which is actually my first initial line of training. I was doing customer service in one of the big hotels in Nairobi. But all through employment, I used to contract printing jobs which I would do mostly during my lunch breaks. But I would always get busted for not being back to work on time because every day I would be at River Road (Downtown Nairobi) picking jobs and delivering to clients. I tried juggling but after 2 years I decided to quit and concentrate on business. After all, I was making more money from my side hustles than from my salary.
My entrepreneurship did not start at that time though. Even as early as in high school in Loreto Convent Msongari, I would buy clothes from Mutindwa and Gikomba and bring them to school. I used to bring clothes of good taste at cheap prices and my then clients really liked them.
All said and done, here we are. Though business has not always been a cup of tea, cosmetology is a satisfying line of work for me.
What challenges have you faced in your journey?
The biggest of them was capital. The cosmetics industry is capital intensive especially if you want to deal in good quality products. Another challenge is that as a business person, I want to make all my clients happy but some cannot afford some of the products I stock. I want to retain all my clients but at the same time I do not want to stock the cheaper fake products. That has challenged me to a point of wanting to open another store in town for the clients who will only afford lower grade cosmetics. It feels bad to see them walk away because they can’t afford stuff.
Competition is also fierce in this line of business.
Another major challenge in this industry is the flooding of fake products into the market.
How do you deal with these challenges?
I have created my own niche market where I understand my clients and they trust me. My clients are average to high end and these are people who are ready to pay. Just give them quality and they’ll pay. To deal with the counterfeiting challenge, I’ve learnt to deal with original products only and with time my customers have grown to know me for that. My clients are well traveled and they understand what they’re looking for.
How did you get involved in she trades:
I’m a member of Women in business under Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and industry and that’s how I got connected to She trades. Women in business is a platform whereby women are brought together, connected, and trained in different fields of their lives and businesses. Women in business has been very empowering and has helped up scale up our businesses a lot.
How does one join?
There is a a website, wibkenya.org. That’s where you apply and pay a small fee. There are individual and corporate memberships. It’s a wonderful platform to be on for women entrepreneurs and right now we’re over 1,000 women members. We connect even through whatsapp groups and telegram. We have a market day (Thursdays) where members market their wares to a huge audience of other members.
How do you see she trades helping you to move ahead in business?
She trades will certainly help open up international trade boundaries for women. For example, most times its difficult for people who are starting out to even go to an embassy and get a visa. She Trades will connect women to markets in other countries and in some cases even eliminate the need to travel. Even if one travels to another country, they’ll go with extra prior knowledge of the markets they’re going into, as well as prior connections. Foreign markets can be intimidating and this will go a long way.
In my case, the cosmetic industry is changing very rapidly and keeping connections with other players abroad will keep me abreast with new developments. With time one will be able to have goods sent over without having to travel. That saves air fare which can then be used to buy additional inventory.
What word do you have for women who want to start out in business?
Start from somewhere. Do not wait until you’re in a position to start big because that may take too long and you’ll give up before your entrepreneur journey even begins. If you’re not able to start big, start small and grow upwards. Wherever you start, give your clients good service and good products and you’ll have a loyal following who will keep coming back to you for more.