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I started doing business with my lunch money at the age of nine – Kudirat Fashola

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By Ebun Sessou

Mrs. Kudirat Fashola is the CEO of Kuddy Cosmetics. From her small beauty shop located on Lagos Island in 1986, she now has 17 shops and centres all over Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Abeokuta with over 100 staff strength. She ventured into business at the age of nine. Now at 60, Fashola takes us through her journey into beauty products, challenges, her lifestyle and lots more.

Background
I was born into the family of the late Alhaji Mustapha Ade Kasunmu and the late Alhaja Idera Kasunmu. My father was the popular Alhaji Oyinbo Onipanla (White man selling stock fish). I hail from a family of 54 children. My father had six legal wives and other women. Only one of the wives is alive today. In a year, my father could do six baby naming ceremony. So, all of us had our set. While my parents were alive they did very well and after their departure, their legacy lives on. All the children are into business. I studied secretarial studies in London and returned to Nigeria after my graduation.

Life after school and at the National Supply…
After my college years, I got a job as office receptionist but I lost the job because I couldn’t discharge my duties. When I came back to Nigeria, a job was already waiting for me. I got a job at the office of an Ambassador in Nigeria but I turned it down because I felt the environment was not conducive.

My dad offered me a job as his Personal Assistant. He was doing business with the National Supply Company. At the National Supply office, I met my dad’s friend, Alhaji Dabur Mohammed, who offered me another job at the National Supply without application. Although my certificate was not ready, immediately after I got it, I was interviewed and the job continued.
In National Supply, every worker had the opportunity of getting stock fish at subsidized rate. So, we were told to place our order but none of the workers was interested that month. So, I collected all their slots and added it to mine and paid.

I decided to do business with the stock fish. So, I displayed it outside and started calling customers to buy. One of my sisters, Sikirat, saw and scolded me not to insult the family by my attitude. I did not understand what she was saying, then, she told me to count the fish and tell her the worth. She paid me and promised to buy the stock fish from me henceforth and warned me not to display it again.

…And Unipetrol
I had a friend who was working at Unipetrol, Funmilayo. She introduced me to her boss, Mr. Olarinmoye, and said some pleasant words about me. The man decided to offer me a job at Unipetrol without application. I was interviewed immediately and I resumed work the following week. My salary then was about N5, 000. At Unipetrol, I started my business again. My boss had a friend, Mr. Akinyelore, who was MD of Mobil. He saw the way I was passionate about business and told me that he was going to help me to register my business. He did. I was supplying goods to people both in and out of Unipetrol.

Life as an entrepreneur…
The story of Kuddy Cosmetics started with my lunch money at the age of nine. Not knowing what was going through my head, I had everything to myself and I did not need to hustle to get money. I saw children on the road who were selling water, helping their mothers by the roadside, but mine was different. I grew up to see people count money on daily basis. So, it became my desire to make more money aside from the lunch money given to me. I am from an enterprising family.

My father was the Life President for Stock Fish Importers in Nigeria. My mother had the biggest medicine store in Balogun area of Lagos and, after school, we were always there to help her out. I started selling without my parents knowing. I always have this idea of making more money. I went as far as selling oranges but I never made money from it. But I was not discouraged. I tried selling coconut too as a child. I have always loved to double whatever money I had as a child. I created a small shop inside my mother’s shop and started from there.

When I started the business, I was still a worker at Unipetrol but, every Friday evening, I was always on a flight to New York to return to Nigeria on Sunday evening. I was always on that flight bringing in beauty products. I did not have sales representative. I started a business with Macy’s in New York where I bought fashion fair products. Once I arrived, customers were already waiting. I was the only one doing that business then. I continued like that until the business got bigger and bigger.

Story of Madam Beku and creation of Kuddy Cosmetics

It was during Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s regime. Madam Beku owned a fashion store in Balogun area of Lagos where my mother had her medicine store. I had an ugly encounter with her. Eight months after, she decided to retaliate. Then, I was already pregnant and I was passing through her store when she pounced on me. She held my dress and threatened to beat me up. I was dumbfounded but I didn’t know she was joking. She hugged me and said I was fantastic and that she had taken me as her friend. She introduced me to beauty business. She told me that I could start the business with as little as N1, 500. In 1979, I started the business with N1, 500 and that was the breakthrough. I created space in my mother’s store and was selling my goods. In one day, I made a profit of N1, 500. I paid back the N1, 500 I borrowed to start the business and used my profit to continue my beauty product business. I was still at Unipetrol but was on maternity leave.

So, I had the opportunity to explore my potentials. After my maternity leave, I was traveling to New York every Friday evening and coming back to Nigeria on Sunday evening. At a point, I stopped selling beauty products and moved to other things. When I had my third child, a friend convinced me to concentrate on my business; so, I resigned from Unipetrol and faced my business. In the US, I was introduced to places where I could get those goods at cheap prices. I faced challenges on the job but those challenges strengthened me. I was able to address whatever difficulties I had on the job. I was carrying cartons in London but later I discovered that the profit in buying goods in cartons was lesser than buying goods with brand names in shopping bags. Nigerians were also interested in buying goods with brand names; so, I opted for it. Someone told me to buy black Opal soap, that it was a good American product. She said she used to buy the product from a woman but that she had stopped selling.

So, I did research on it and bought some products as sample. When I got to Nigeria, it was the product that I first sold. I am the sole distributor of that product today in Nigeria. Each time I give a souvenir, I brand it with Kuddy Cosmetics. Meanwhile, my company was not registered; we only had a business name but there was no trademark. One day, a man advised me to register the name so as to have a trademark. This was as a result of the business we did together and he saw that I had some features that would make business to excel. I heeded his advice and immediately registered the company and that was how the name became a household name. He said the name is peculiar and that he heard about it in Ghana and that I was able to prove my potentials within few minutes of coming in contact with him.

Do you manufacture your products?
Not in Nigeria. We are called contract-manufacturer. We give the contract to another company to manufacture for us.

When you were struggling with business as a child, what was the reaction of your parents?
None of them had an idea of what I was doing. At a tender age, I saw money in cartons, rice bags and people carrying money on their heads lining up to the bank for my dad. And once my dad entered the bank, the bank would not attend to any other person throughout the day.

Did you bring your children into your business?
I learned it from my parents that you need to involve your children in whatever you are doing. I have six children and they are all graduates from the US. They have brought innovative ideas to the business and it is helping us to grow.

Side Attraction
I do not joke with house fellowship. Every Sunday, even if I travel, I will ensure I come back on Saturday. I enjoy house fellowship more because God is using it to comfort me. I work with children.

Advice
Do not despise your little beginning, work with what you have. With little or no capital, you can achieve greatness in life.

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