Being a nail pioneer in Nigeria isn’t easy. But Adetokunbo Awogboro is blazing trails right and left, with a little help from loyal clients, and a friendly customs officials or two.
In addition to keeping her technicians happy, Awogboro must also face the constant challenge of keeping them well-supplied. Getting the right polishes, buffers, and oils for The Nail Studio is one of her biggest challenges, she says. “Our laws in Nigeria regarding the acquisition of foreign currency change almost every year,” she complains, noting that before she can shop for supplies in other countries, she first has to be able to exchange the local currency for the other country’s currency.
And the frustration doesn’t stop there. “Upon acquisition of the required dollars, one then has to contend with the customs officials in Nigeria when the goods arrive,” she says. It takes about two months from the time a product is purchased (usually from Europe or the U.S.) until it is received in Nigeria. Awogboro then mentally adds another week to the schedule – time to get the product cleared at the port. “It all makes things a bit stressful,” she says.
But Awogboro has found a way around some of the challenges of doing business in a developing country. A certain amount of local fame has helped smooth the path when she travels to other countries for nail shows or to learn new techniques to bring back to her salon. “When traveling out of the international airport, security is very tight and you are put through so many checkpoints,” she explains. “All kinds of questions are asked.” But Awogboro’s reputation as “Mrs. Nail Studio” has helped her speed up the process. “Since we have quite a few female immigration officers and customs officials, they immediately recognize me and vouch for me so I don’t have to go through all the unnecessary aggravation!”
Awogboro’s frustration over getting supplies may lead to a very positive step for the nail industry in Nigeria, however. “I’m looking into becoming a distributor,” she says. “After going through all the hassle required to bring in products, we might as well distribute them.” She explains that the procedure is the same no matter how large the quantity of the shipment.
That International Touch
All that experience dealing with immigration and customs hasn’t gone to waste, Awogboro admits. In fact, she attributes much of The Nail Studio’s success to her willingness to tackle such hassles and to travel around the world where she attends nail shows, researches new products, and furthers her education. But it’s not easy, even with a little customs help from her “fans.” To attend a nail show in the U.S., for instance, “I have to fly 14 hours, with a stopover in Europe,” she says.
But her exposure to new ideas has paid off. “In Nigeria, the name ‘The Nail Studio’ is synonymous with excellence. Every woman seems to know me, and most of them compliment me on a job well done,” says Awogboro. “And when the compliment comes from a non-Nigerian woman who has traveled far and wide, yet rates us the best, it puts in perspective all the traveling time, adjustments to changing weather, and hassle from customs officials.”
“I look back to when I started more than eight years ago,” she says. “I had a very tiny shop with only two manicurists. Today I have a whole ground floor with six manicurists and seven technicians.” Despite the hassles, challenges, and frustrations inherent in starting a new trend in her homeland, Awogboro says, “It has been worth it.”