Her name may not readily ring a bell as her brand name does, but Alhaja (Mrs) Olubunmi Agbeni is big in the Cosmetics business. She presides over a flourishing cosmetic business called BISMID Cosmetics when she started 16 years ago. She started very small, as a very young girl but today she runs a beauty company with close to 100 beauty products branded in her name. In this interview, she spoke about how she started from ground zero and built her business into the big beautiful place she has just completed in Surulere, Lagos where close to 1,000 customers troop in every day to not only do facials but also come to buy their creams. She spoke with City People Magazine Publisher SEYE KEHINDE, a few months back.
When you started off 16 years ago, did you think BISMID Cosmetic would be this big?
No. Honestly, I didn’t mean it this way when I started off. I didn’t have any big thing in mind. I didn’t have anything doing. I just wanted to do it to make small money. When I started off, I was collecting N200 from people. I started with just facial treatment. That was about 16 years ago at No 8 Salawu, Surulere-Lagos. That was where I started from. I started very, very small. People will come to me then and asked how much do you do your facials, I would say 200 they would look at me as if I was sick? But for me 200 naira was ok. If I could do for 4 persons that’s N800. I would eat, my children would eat.
I keep asking myself, why am I contented? People kept telling me BISMID why are you like this. They are doing it N4,000, N5,000. That is me N200 was then ok. After a while, the demand increased, 20, 30 persons could come. They wanted to do facials. It got to a stage, I couldn’t cope any longer. But I still didn’t change my price. People started asking what kind of woman is this? I didn’t change my price until 9 years after, when I moved to Bank Olemoh Road. They said “ah BISMID, Noo.
You should be ashamed. Don’t bring N200 to this place again. Be doing it at N500, I said no problem. I changed it to N500. When I moved again, I changed it to N1,000. Then, we moved here. We spent so much on this place. Some people said with the amount of money BISMID spent on the new place, she wouldn’t take N1,000 again.
I shocked them. I retained N1,000 and I told my girls, don’t sell face towel to anybody separate. Let everything be N1,000. That is the secret of my business. I keep my price reasonable. The service I am giving you is second to none. You’ll have value for your money.
You have so many beauty products branded in your name. How many do you have now?
We have more than 200 products.
Many people are surprised about your deep understanding of the business despite your educational level. How did you do it?
It baffles me much also. I am not a highly educated person. I didn’t go to the University. Even when I started this work, the only challenge I had then was how to talk to clients in fluent English. Immediately I meet a patron, I will panic, I will be shaking. It got to a stage that I wanted to quit because of the Communication problem. How can people buy cream from a person who can’t even express her self?
But I surmounted that problem. How did I do it? There is a lady in my house, who was a student of UNILAG. I now called the young girl and explained my problem to her. She used to called me Auntie Mi. I told her my predicament. She now told me to start reading novels and books. One of my daughters was in Primary 4. So, I took one of her, English language books and started reading it. I would face the wall and be reading.
If I went out, I would be cramming. I nearly left this my line of business to go and do other things because of my inability to speak English. It was that lady who advised me that the way to learn to speak English is by speaking it. She said I should keep speaking it. I should make my mistakes and let people correct me. She said if anybody laughed at me because of the mistake I make, I should tell the person to correct me. That was how I perfected my English. I used to read my daughter’s Macmillan English language Book. After work I would take my time for about 2 hours, I would read. So, I was self taught. I read everything in that book on past tense, noun, verb, adjective.
That was how I started picking up gradually. Today, I can express myself. What baffles me most is that all these 200 products of BISMID, to God be the Glory, I created all the wordings on the pack such as BISMID Night Face Cream, Extra Whitening Night Face Cream, I give God all the glory. It’s destiny. I have been destined to do what I am doing. I am the one doing 95% of packaging of all the products from the wordings to the ingredients, the quantity.
I now read many books on the internet about vitamins, extracts, collagen. What it does, the content. I was a stark illiterate when I started my business. But the stark illiterate lady of those days has now stepped up her game I used to be naive. It’s God. If God could elevate me to this level, I will beg many people not to lose hope. Lets encourage ourselves. When I started off years back, I never knew I would grant an interview as this in English. I have done series of interviews over the years. Honestly the way of God is not our way. I don’t know why I have been receiving this favour from God. Favour beyond favour. You don’t know what I went through not to be able to speak English.
Tell us about your range of products?
I have many beauty products here. I do go to France to produce. I stock other products such as CLARINS products. Apart from that, you would see my branded products. I don’t believe in other people’s products. I stand on my products and defend my products.
I have more than 200 products, with each one different from the next. My products lead others follow. We have bath, hand cream, body scrub, face cream, night face cream. We have creams for dark complexioned people, who want to maintain their complexion.
Do you treat Acne and pimples?
Yes. That is my area of specialty. That is how people would know if you know what you are doing. I treat Acne as if someone is using groundnut to drink Garri. It is as easy as ABC. I need to test that person’s complexion, whether the person has a very tender complexion or not. Once I know the kind of complexion you have I would know what kind of treatment I will give you.
To God be the glory, ever since I have been treating Acne I have never had any challenge.