Ghanaian entrepreneur Gwyneth Addo went from crunching numbers at a bank to counting on her customers with a successful hair brand catering to the affluent.
Entrepreneurship, it seems, comes naturally to Gwyneth Addo. It’s in her genes.
Her father was one of the first entrepreneurs to start selling media and entertainment gadgets and used goods in Ghana. And Addo started early, watching and learning. Her dad once even helped her bag powdered milk into sachets and sell to her friends.
“He was always an innovator and trailblazer who changed the way I looked at things from an early age,” says Addo, speaking to FORBES AFRICA.
Her mother was also a trader in one of Ghana’s most popular markets, Makola. Every holiday, Addo and her six brothers would take turns opening and closing the shop and serving clients.
“Most of my character traits were picked up from my mum. We learned about customer service in Makola and how to deal with different customer characters,” recalls Addo.
Little did she know that training would pave the way for her to create her own entity, Hair Senta, one of the most sought-after hair brands in Ghana, and deal with myriad customers herself.
Hair has traditionally been associated with social status in Ghana. Africa’s hair market was estimated to be worth a staggering $6 billion back in 2014, according to Reuters. And Addo, like most players in this sector, has banked on the growth.
“Hair is a booming market in Ghana now but it has not always been like this. Weaves and extensions have become popular I would say over the past decade as more and more Chinese products have begun to invade the local market,” offers Josephine Boateng, a beauty consultant in Ghana and a customer at Hair Senta.
But before Addo would find her love for all things weaves and extensions, her professional journey took her into the world of banking – a far cry from the career of an air hostess she had always wanted as a young girl.
“I wanted to travel the world and explore and I loved how they looked in their uniforms. I majored in philosophy at the University of Ghana and then got an MBA with CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) but I found myself in banking and loved it,” says Addo.
Here, she began laying the foundation for what would give her a competitive advantage. She picked up the importance of customer service and how to deal with people without being intimidated.
“That helped me to get a different way of running my business. I didn’t learn how to sell hair from the bank but I learned how to serve. And that helped me when I transitioned into my calling. I don’t call it a business, I call it my calling.”
And that calling, according to Addo, is to serve women. To realize her dream, however, Addo would go through some very trying times. Firstly, she had decided the best way to serve was to provide quality hair products. However, she ran into issues where a lot of people were buying her products on credit and not paying back leading to serious cash flow problems.
“The hair was out there but there was no money to account for it. Something had to change.”
She drew on the early years working with her mother at Makola market for ideas.
“We were there when she started her little business but we knew the challenges that she was going through. So, it made me respect humble beginnings and understand that even though I am not making money now, I see an opportunity.”
But if only life was as simple.
“When I left the bank, I was embarrassed because things didn’t work out as I thought. I had to lie to my friends to say everything was ok but deep down, I was suffering. I traveled to China to buy machines because I wanted to prove to people that I could do it in a big way. I wanted to show off and let my colleagues at the bank feel like they are still working for other people but I had branched out and was following my entrepreneurial dreams. But I realized it is a process.”
And Addo decided she would trust that process. In order for her to achieve the sales figures she wanted, she knew something more had to be done. She began to notice an interesting trend in the hair business in Ghana at the time.
“I realized there were a lot of people bringing in hair but nobody had sat down to brand it. So, they had no name, logos or any kind of solid branding or identity that made them easily recognizable.”
Addo spotted the gap in the market and set her eyes on it.
“I always talk about the gap and need philosophy. People talk about starting a business because there is a gap, but the gap and the need must align.”
And align they did. Addo decided to create a brand name and logo for her products. Hair Senta was born and the brand would be known for its quality hair.
“We chose to be different because we had a global agenda all along. We focused on building the brand from day one. It was all about the logos, our brand colors etc. We were not interested in just selling the hair and making a quick buck.”
She started with virgin hair, which had the market perception of being too expensive.
“Instead of making the business about what the client wanted, I was more interested in what I wanted and for five years we did not grow, until we decided to listen to our customers and then everything changed. I made the mistake of making the business about me.”
The next thing she did was to get her products to her consumer. Addo would step out of her shop and physically meet people to makes the crucial sales pitch.
“We assumed that just because we were in an [affluent] area, it was going to be good but we were in for a surprise. People need hair, yes. Do they need good hair? Yes, but they needed something they could rely on and something they were confident in.”
The stars finally aligned when Addo decided to listen to her target audience.
“Imagine recording zero sales week after week and there is no single buyer and then one day people just queue up in your store and come the night before just to buy your products because we decided to listen to our customers,” says Addo.
“I spend on average GHC5,000 ($680) a month at Hair Senta because they are consistent with their products unlike other suppliers,” says Boateng.
Addo’s newly-refurbished flagship store in Ghana’s upmarket East Legon area caters to clients not just in the region but also in the Ukraine, United States and United Kingdom.