Building a beautiful business ethic
Sharon Senthu Moloto runs Botlhale Distributors, the sole distributor of Avlon Hair products in South Africa. Avlon is an American-based company which makes hair products for Caucasian and African hair. The married mom in her 30s describes herself as ambitious and passionate. Her mom, whom she describes as the strongest woman she knows, taught her, by example, how to thrive in trying circumstances, bringing up eight children. Senthu does not mind not taking time off during the holidays as it is the busiest time for her business.
Two and half years ago, when Avlon pulled out of the market after it was experiencing serious challenges with its previous distributor, Senthu stepped in as she used the products and was saddened by their unavailability. After lengthy negotiations, Avlon agreed to bring the line back with her as a partner.
What type of training does this require?
I had to be trained in the products.
What sets your company apart from others in the same line of business?
We are more hands on and place great emphasis on professionalism. By this I mean that because our relaxers are not freely available at retail outlets it means we ensure that every stylist using our products is trained by us in order to make sure that they understand how and when to use the different products.
What challenges did you face at the start and how are things now?
Obtaining start-up capital was one of the greatest challenges. Because we import products, the costs are high. The rand-dollar exchange rate is a challenge. How I wish it was not at the level it is now. It makes the products expensive.
When is business good?
Business is good in summer, when people want to look great and visit their hair salon frequently. In winter, we experience a decline in sales.
What advice would you give someone seeking to start this type of business?
It is not easy. Do not expect a quick turnaround. It requires a lot of patience because you deal with people who believe that they know everything.
What are the lessons you have learned, including regrets?
Like most people, I have burnt my fingers. The lesson I have learned is to always make it your business to know the ins and outs of the business. If you do not know, make it your business to learn.
Are there any milestones that you would like to mention?
I recently exported products to Botswana and Zambia and am hoping to grow in those markets.
What is most fulfilling thing about your job?
Hearing clients tell me how happy their clients are as a result of introducing our range of products in their salon. The fact that the products are proving their worth, producing healthy-looking hair.
What are your long-term goals?
To see more interest in the users of our products about what is being applied to their hair and why; to educate them. Some customers are willing to overlook quality and compromise on a lot of things because their sole focus is on results.
What are some of the things people do not know about you?
I used to enter beauty pageants as a child. I played tennis for many years and had aspirations of going professional. I love speed for the adrenalin rush it gives me.
List some dos and don’ts we should know about this line of work?
• Always know your products and what you are talking about;
• Make an effort to understand your clients’ businesses so that you can advise them accordingly;
• Always follow up;
• Do not always believe what you hear;
• Insist on meeting the decision maker or owners at least once to establish a relationship;
• Do not underestimate your competition;
• Treat your clients with respect, no matter what;
• Never take anything for granted.