She is big in the Cosmetics business. She presides over a flourishing cosmetic business called BISMID Cosmetics. When she started over 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 beauty place she just built in Surulere where close to 1,000 customers troop in every day to not only do facials but come to buy their creams.
That BISMID Cosmetics is the clear leader in the Beauty and Cosmetics business in Nigeria is unarguable. Just mention her brand name among many celebrity women and you will be told she is No 1. That is why every day no fewer than 500 customers throng her newly opened Beauty palace at 32 Randle Avenue Road, Off Akerele road in Surulere, Lagos. It's a big complex that has a Spa, Cosmetic shops, treatment clinic. And of course, the owner Alhaja Olubunmi Agbeni is always around to attend to all those who have beauty challenges from Acne or Pimples, to all manner of skin problems. The only thing she does not do is to encourage a woman to bleach. Yes, you can tone or moisturize your skin, she says, but I will never encourage any woman to peel her skin or become white.
That she is one of the biggest beauticians in the business can be seen in her wide range of branded products she stocks. Though she sells all the big labels, she has over 200 types of BISMID branded products all made in Paris or Italy. She also has good soaps made in her name from Bangkok. The packaging of her brand is superb and her latest product the new Lady B is in high demanded.
One thing Alhaja Olubunmi Agbeni has going for her is the fact that she has been in the business for close to 20 years and Surulere has always been her base. So good is Bismid that all her clients don’t want to leave her. And they have followed her over the years as she moved from one shop to another. Her last base was at Bank Olemoh. Though she still retains the place she has settled into her new imposing structure.
What many of her clients like about the lady they all call Bismid is the fact that she’s down to earth. She will readily tell you that she’s self-trained and that she had no formal education. But over the years she has brushed herself up so much so that if you are not told you won’t know that she taught herself all she knows. Recently, City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE spent an evening with her. For the 45 minutes, we waited to see her, over 100 customers came in to transact business, whilst a few more waited to see her personally for consultations. Outside the complex are all sorts of exotic cars and jeeps of her customers who have come to buy products or do facials.
Yet her prices are still very, very, affordable. What is the secret of her success? She told City People her story.
When you started off over 16 years ago did you think BISMID Cosmetics will 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 over 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 ask how much do you do your facials I will say 200 they will look at me like is she sick? But for me 200 naira is ok. If I can do for 4 people that's N800. I will eat my children will 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 is ok. After a while, the demand was getting increased 20 people can come, 30 people can come. They want to do facials. It got a stage I can’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 here she won’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 over 200 products.
Many people are surprised about your deep understanding of the business you do despite the fact that you are not learned. How did you do it?
It baffles me a lot also. I am not a learned person. I didn’t go to University. Even when I started this work the only challenge I had then was how to talk to clients in fluent English. Once I meet a client I will panic, I will be shaking. It got to a stage I wanted to quit became of the Communication problem. How can people buy cream from a person that can’t even express her self?
I surmounted that problem. How did I do it? There is a lady in my house who goes to UNILAG. I now called the young girl and explained my problem to her. She used to call me Auntie Me. I told her about 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 books and started reading it. I will face the wall and be reading.
I will be cramming. I nearly left this my line of business to go and do other things because of not been able to speak English. It was that lady that 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 it that was laughs 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 that my daughters Macmillan English Book. After work, I will take my time for about 2 hours I will read. So, I was self-taught. I read everything in that book on past tens, noun, verb, adjective.
That is 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, like BISMID Night Face Cream, Extra Whitening Night Face Cream, I give God all the glory. Its destiny. I have been destined to do what I am doing. I am the one doing 95% of packaging of all these products from the wordings to the ingredients, the quantity. I now read a lot of 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 can elevate me to this level, I will beg many people not to lose hope. Let's encourage ourselves. When I started off years back, I never knew I would grand an interview like this in English. I have done a series of interviews over the years. Honestly, the way of God is 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 a lot of beauty products here. I do go to France to produce. I stock other products like CLARINS products. Apart from that, you will see my own branded products. I don’t believe in other people’s product. I stand on my products and defend my product. I have more than 200 products, with each one different from the next. My products lead others follow. We have a 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 will know if you know what you are doing. I treat Acne-like when someone is drinking Garri and Groundnut. It is as easy as ABC. I need to test that person complexion, whether the person has a very tender complexion or not. Once I know the kind of complexion you have I will 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.
Congrats on your new BISMID Beauty Palace. How does it make you feel?
I feel very happy. Honestly, I feel great. I am one of the happiest women on earth. It is something I had never dreamt about. It is still a miraculous thing in my life. For me to have this place its Gods wish. God will still do more for me.
Tell us how you divided the complex?
We have a SPA section. We have Cosmetic Section. We have Facials Section. Beauty is all about relaxing. If you come for the beauty you have access to the SPA section, you have access to the Cosmetics, and to facial treatment also. If you are coming to any beauty palace, you have access to a body treatment. That is how it should be. We have a variety of options. If you are coming for facial, and after the facials, you might want to relax your body. For body massage, if you have a problem with your skin you can exfoliate and make your skin shine. Apart from that if you want any product you can go for any of the product. Everything has been done section by section.
Your former shop was very small. How did you cope with the huge turnout of customers?
It's my good customer relations that explains this, turn out. People have come to take me for who I am. I am very patient with them. I have been very honest with them. And my prices are affordable. I don’t lie to my customers. And they know me for that I tell them as it is I can be brutally frank with them. I tell them straight don’t bleach, don’t feel your skin. I become their friends to enable me to tell them not to do what they have in mind. That your friend has bleached does not mean you should bleach. They are always very patient too. They take their time. They insist they must see me and when they see me I ask them all the vital questions. They always leave me with a smile. What I have built so far is honesty. I don’t lie to people. They know I sell good quality products, top of the range. Good service delivery. I have branded products that have stood the test of time. All our products are all authentic. We don’t deceive customers.
If a customer walks in and I know there won’t be a solution for her problems I will tell her straight away. I won’t deceive you. I will tell you, Madam, don’t let people take your money there is no solution for this your problem. But this is what you can use to maintain what you are having. Another thing I do is I make friends with them. All my customers are my best friends. The reason is simple. I exist became of them. Without them, honestly, I can never exist. I rely so much on them. I love them dearly. I put all my life in them because customers don’t come what will I do. I am nobody without them. So I value them a lot. And they see it in me. Once they walk in I give them a warm embrace. They are BISMID. I am not BISMID.
How do you cope with having to consult every day with all the huge number of customers?
It's tough. It's a big challenge. The number keeps increasing. My doctor has told me to slow down because more and more people troop in daily. I see more than 200 people a day and I take my time with each customer. By the time I get home, I will be so tired. I just go home to sleep. Free time to gossip I don’t have. From morning till night I keep receiving customer. You can see how my phone has been ringing since.
Why people keep coming is once I consult for you, we relate far. I test you. I will tell you about your skin. I will tell you the products to use and the products not to use. We centre people. We advise them. We tell them what is right. Some customers complain that I spend a lot of time with each customer I always beg them I am sorry. When you treat a customer well, they bring in more customers.
What are the mistakes women make with their skin?
A whole lot. And they have been making some of these mistakes for years. And some of the mistakes still persist. Bleaching is one of it. It is the major mistakes. Some of my customers come in and they will tell you I want to be a half-caste. I want to be white. I always tell them. You were not born half-caste so how can you become half-caste. You will give them mild creams that will give them like 3 shades, yes they are not satisfied. They want to be white. We try to lecture them that it's not done that way. But no matter how you tell them, no matter how you lecture them, no matter how you plead and persuade they will tell you, leave all that. Please, I have my money to spend. They will say BISMID here is N20,000, here is N30,000. Give me what I want. Do it for me. There is a problem. There was this woman who told me she wanted to bleach. I tried to talk her out of it. So I kept giving her mild creams to just tone her complexion.
After a while, she told me. This is not what I want. I said I want to be white. I told her no I can’t go beyond this point. I can’t give you a harsh cream. I told her the implications. I don’t want anybody to spoil my name. I don’t want a customer who will go round town and say BISMID just spoilt my skin. I told her there is no harsh cream that does not have disadvantage. You will have problems at the end of the day. You either get burnt with no remedy or suffer skin discolourations or you have patches or blemishes all over you. But they won’t listen. It is to help them that we introduced. That is why we introduced some glowing packs. People now appreciate it because once you are glowing you won’t want to bleach. You won’t bother that you are not fair. It's better to maintain your skin well and let it glow than for you to damage it. We’ve been trying to change that orientation of wanting to bleach. Bleaching is bad. Bleaching damages the skin. Bleaching has side effects. Once you bleach and your skin gets spoilt that is the end.