Juliet Okonkwo: From Passion To Goldmine
When Juliet Okonkwo went scouting for some of the best human hair extension manufacturers abroad less than five years ago, she had no intention of floating a hair brand but to simply wear great hair.
Fate played its role and Julz Hair was officially born four years ago. Today, the Edo-born alumna of the University of Benin and the London Metropolitan University from where she bagged a first degree in International Relations and a Master of Business Management respectively, has built a multi-million dollar hair brand and topped the list of hair extension CEOs in Nigeria.
In this interview with Allure, the mother of two, multiple award-winning entrepreneur and alumna of the London College of Beauty & Therapy, speaks on her foray into the hair business, family and shares tested business growth secrets.
How did you get into the hair business?
I’ve always loved to look good and wear long hair extensions. Right from my days in the university, I’ve always had one or two inputs when I see people wear hair extensions. By my second year in the university, I had started traveling to buy hair extensions in Cotonou and reselling in school. I didn’t continue after school though, because I relocated to the UK immediately after my youth service; but fate brought me back in the line.
During one of my trips abroad, I scouted for good hairs and began buying for personal use. A lot of people kept coming to admire my hair extensions and commenting on their textures. So they would order and I would buy them of the same quality from the manufacturers. When the demand became high, I eventually had to turn it into a business and ordering in bulk.
With wigs and natural hair extensions being high in demand now, and with many hair entrepreneurs out there, what do you do to stay ahead of competition?
I maintain the high standard that I started with; I don’t compromise my standard. Also, in spite of the hike in exchange rate, I didn’t increase my price. Instead, I reduced my profit so that I can maintain the same prices. I also intensified my online marketing so that we are able to balance things up with our walk-in stores.
Would you say social media has been your greatest business marketing strategy?
Yes, it has been. In fact, I personally attend to customers on our online store and that has stood me out. When a lot of customers call and find out they are speaking with me directly and not a sales representative, they feel so happy.
It’s really challenging but I enjoy it because I get to know firsthand what customers want. The most challenging about any business is when you have customers returning your products; that takes you backward. But I have been able to eliminate such by running the online aspect of Julz Hair myself.
What’s the challenge of running a business of this nature, especially since you have to rely on manufacturers abroad for quality?
The biggest challenge is sourcing for the right manufacturer because you can’t just rely on sourcing online; manufacturers are going to send you bad products. I had to go myself abroad, find and establish a relationship with good manufacturers. So, with that, they know this is what they are giving to Julz Hair. Like I said, it’s not enough to view the product over the internet. You also have to fill the texture and strands, to make sure they are aligned and full. You look at the closure to make sure everything is in place.
The COVID lockdown period was tough for many businesses last year; what was it like for you?
The pandemic was, amazingly, like Christmas for me. I made more sales during the lockdown even though we didn’t open. Because everybody was working from home and was online, more people had time to see my products and make purchases. Wives were at home with their husbands and wanted to look good. So, I made a lot of sales during that period.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt since you launched the brand?
That’s never to give up. Also, that you must ensure you are passionate about any business you want to go into because without passion, when challenges come, the business might just come to an end. Third, you must make sure you are consistent in marketing. Have a growth mindset, and be determined to be a household name. That mindset truly works.
What is the best way to care for human hair extensions?
You brush regularly; some people don’t know how to brush their wig. Also, you should opt for water-based serum to prevent the hair from trapping dusts. Above all, you must keep your own natural hair clean so that your wig stays clean. And then you do your deep conditioning and shampoo regularly; especially for curly hair. If you do these for one hundred percent human hair, it can last you forever.
What inspires you in life?
I wake up to a lot of comments from customers and friends who are awed by how I started and the heights scaled already. This January for instance, from our December sales, we acquired two new stores. I’m inspired by all of these successes.
Tell us about growing up?
I’m from a family of eight, with seven girls and a boy. All the girls in my house look the same. Growing up was fun. My dad was very strict but looking back, I am grateful to God for all what I learnt from him. My dad will always say “what you can do now, do not leave till tomorrow.” He is late now.
What informed your choice of entrepreneurship over pursuing a career?
My mum actually did. She was working with NITEL Communications but also had other businesses. At some point, she was a Coca-Cola distributor, she had an egg farm and at some point too, she had a sawmill. She also had sets of cabs for taxi hauling service. My grandmum too was a very enterprising woman. She was a building contractor. So I’m sure I got my love for entrepreneurship from them.
How do you keep fit or stay healthy?
I eat healthy and do my exercises – but not regularly though. My husband is however very health conscious and does a lot of exercises. He jogs every day. I try these days to join him like three or four times a week.
When you are not attending to clients, what takes your time?
I’m always working; when I’m not working, I’m with my children. I love my quiet time with family. I’m not really the outgoing type. So, for me, it’s just my business and family. I also read a lot. My favourite books are history books such as, books on the old Oyo empire, and for movies, you will find me watching national geographic television.
You’ve been married for 12 years; how do you pull off running a business that keeps you constantly on the internet and running your home successfully?
I have a husband who is very understanding and supportive. He is a very good man and somehow, we’ve never had any reason to quarrel. He actually gave me my first capital when I needed to begin bulk importation; remember I was only buying hairs for personal use. On my part, I am deliberate about creating time for family amid my very busy schedule.
Your best holiday destination?
To me, it remains London. That’s because it gives me a nostalgic feeling. Maybe because I lived there for eight years. You know, I was young when I went to further my education and I had a lot of freedom which I didn’t have while at home in Nigeria. So, even though I’m an American citizen, my best holiday spot remains London. No matter what city I have to go to on holiday each year, I stop over in London for a while.
How would you describe yourself?
Shy, easy going, and I’m one who upholds a high standard at all times.
Briefly describe your personal style?
My personal style is simple and classy.
What is a typical day like for you?I wake up long before my children, join in preparing them for school and then drop them off at school. For me, that’s a bonding time for us; the journey to school. Also, I love to cook.