THE ART & SCIENCE OF RELAXING
Sandy Osei-Agyeman is founder of SLID Industries Limited. Groom of MVP, a Hair and Skin care manufacturing and distribution ensemble incorporated in Ghana. Since 1998, Most Valuable Product’s have been sold in Ghana and other African countries including the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Togo and South Africa. It’s a great industry, gives you free creative expression by combining Science and Management know-how to advance hair care.”
Sandy started off an avid sportsman, an athlete gunning for Ghana in the ‘72 and ‘76 Olympic games.A few years later, he co-founded AFAM [African American] Concept Inc. in Chicago, USA: Introducing a chain of successful hair products ELENTEE, VITALE and MO’ BODY. The critics raved and this built
excellent track records for AFAM while Sandy garnered hands-on experience in the industry. For 21 years, Sandy and his partners at AFAM pioneered concepts in hair care for people of colour. They included the “Never Greasy” and “Moisture Retention” approach to hair care.
After earning a Masters in Business Management from Northwestern University in 1977, Sandy worked at a couple of prominent banks including the Continental Illinois, once the biggest bank in Chicago. He began a banking career as an operations analyst, putting prices to products given to the banks by would-be loaners, before being issued a letter of credit. “It was hard work, involved time management and a lot of standardizing…” just some of the skills that help in pricing his own products today. After a management training program at Harrods Bank, Sandy was put in the International Banking sector to study credit analysis. In 1979, he quit to pursue dreams of self-employment.
THE CONSULTANT [HOLIDAY]
He delved into Management Consulting with his partner, propositioning Harrods Bank to do business in Africa. Their hopes of a sponsored vacation back to Africa were thrashed! Although the Bank liked and took up the idea, they replaced the officers. Undaunted, they decided to try something else.
At the time, the hair care business was in infancy and there wasn’t a lot of competition in the market. As a vertical market, this niche industry blossomed in Chicago where several development, manufacturing, distribution, and marketing companies opened their doors to the market. Products from these companies initially addressed the general population. However, a large sub-category could be found serving consumers of African descent. This market provided opportunities for African-American business people to start successful companies of their own. AFAM took advantage of these opportunities, they sought advice and motivation from various people and market leaders, but the best motivation came from a business partners’ friend, who gave them about USD$3000, the contact details of a contractor and suggested they make their own products. AFAM Concepts Inc. was birthed soon after.
The profit margins in the black hair care business have increased year by year since the earliest days of the twentieth-century. Today there are thousands of black hair care and beauty aid products available for the African and African-American consumer. Over the years, companies that produced black hair care products either relocated to other cities, or were acquired by other organizations. Such was the case with VITALE, another of Sandy’s successful brands. With the sale of VITALE to another entity in the US, Sandy freed himself to return to Ghana and start MVP.
MVP [Most Valuable Product] Hair Care products have certainly made moves to make the brand synonymous with black hair care, since it first hit salons and store shelves. MVP combines superior research and advanced science with the natural, botanical and herbal resources of Africa, to offer a range of products to care for African hair.
RELAX YOUR KINK
MVP prides itself on years of constant innovation whilst providing functional balanced hair products. “In the AFAM days, when people had issues with oil from Jerry Curls, we came up with the “Non-Greasy” Look and Treatment. When their hair got damaged from heat, we created “Moisture Retention” products that would prevent the curling iron and blow dryer from damaging the hair. We also developed the ‘Inner Care Technology’ in hair relaxing. Our relaxer came boxed with a shampoo and conditioner, and in using them together as per user instructions, you harnessed its full power. In effect, you relaxed the hair, conditioned it through the Inner Care Technology; right away strengthening it from the inside out. The cortex, middle layer of the hair is where all damage occurs, and our product is designed to go inside and condition it. The outer layer or cuticle is then sealed to prevent dust and filth from destroying your hair. When you see ladies with all manner of damaged and faded perm, their products fail to seal the hair follicle’s cuticles, allowing harmful UV rays to damage the hair strands. We solved that problem.”
“Before I decided to come to Ghana, we had been selling my old brand here, but we soon found out that the environment here needed something more specific. Now our products are designed to moisturize, condition, repair, revitalize, and rejuvenate to shine the hair – all the hair needs under the tropical sun. On our professional platform, you cannot skimp on ingredients; you have to go with the best quality to formulate your product; because if you don’t, the hairdressers eventually reject your products. We do very well here because of the quality and innovation we bring to the industry.”
“We also do a lot of bazaars, educating about 800 to 1000 hairdressers at our facilities yearly. We believe in education and sharing knowledge, one reason why we’ve been successful. We teach the chemistry of hair, proper application of chemicals, and tell them what each product does. We ask questions – ‘what would you like the product to do for your hair? It gets dry sometimes so it needs moisture, what kind of moisture? Do you want it shiny? Greasy?”
“Product formulation starts with a concept [you do not copy someone else’s product]. Hairdressers tell us what they want, and then we do extensive research on the products and the chemistry involved. Then I sit with the chemists [some I’ve been working with for the last thirty years] and we decide on the type of product we want to make and what is best put together to make it a premium. Once the prototype is made, we take it to the testing salons with an evaluation schedule. Only when the products have received high commendation do we then introduce into the market. One does not go ahead with a product until the chemistry is right. We combine advanced research with our local herbs, like Shea butter, avocado and jojoba oils. Combining science with these natural ingredients gives you a balanced product that is friendly to the hair and scalp. I’m proud of what we’ve done at MVP because the art of Relaxing hair and creating total product awareness is extremely important.”
“When it comes to Conditioning, less is more. If I were going to style, I wouldn’t want to put in many products. I may leave out the Nourishing conditioner and switch it up with the MVP Hair Polish. Our type of weather and environment [especially the humidity] can change the way hair looks. You might want to Spritz to hold the style in place.”
THE SALON PERSONNEL
“The Hair Care Industry in Ghana is fairly huge: the population tops about 22 million, and women make up about 53% of that number, giving you about 11 million women. Out of that figure, 55% are under the age of 18 so they are out of the market. That leaves us with about 4.5 million potential consumers, but let’s assume only about 70% of these women actually do their hair. This brings us down to about 3 million women.”
“These 3 million women go to the salon twice a year minimum, although its obvious they go many more times than that. If you multiply two yearly salon visits by 3 million women, it gives you 6 million visits to the salon a year, and in reality I know the numbers are much higher but this is just an example. If you have that many people visit the salon and multiply it by the amount of money paid for a simple relaxer application [which is needed about every 6 weeks and a woman might have to purchase a relaxer kit about 6 to 8 times a year].”
“If you pay about GHC8 [Eight Ghana Cedis] for a relaxer and you have that many people using it, you can imagine the profit generated. This gives you a small idea of just how big the Hair Care industry is. The challenge in Ghana is, [although a lot of good hair care schools are popping up helping to educate our stylists properly] the apprentice never really gets the opportunity to learn how to do hair. An apprentice should know about Salon Management, Money management and how to take care of your books and it’s simply not done here.”
“My banking knowledge helped me exponentially because I can now sit down with a hair stylist and educate her in all aspects of her business; for example: salon management, how to manage your salon? Is it organized, clean? What are your prices? Ghanaian stylists do not price their charges right. I feel sorry for some of them as they can do their hair for years and yet never make what they deserve because they are grossly undercharged.”
“They forget that they use water; they use electricity, and the transportation it takes to get to work. All of these are cost factors that need to be standardized and penciled into the final cost. You are a professional and as a professional you should pay yourself well. So why should people do hair and charge only GHC5? It just doesn’t make sense. The average price, in reality, should be about GHC20. These are some of the things that we try to point out. What about your customer care service? Do you retail products in the salon? — That’s another way of making an income. Hairdressers are after all looked upon as hair doctors, so if you display the products you use on your customers hair and make them available for sale you will automatically generate a larger income for your salon. You can even utilize the idea of a tip jar, and put something like a cookie jar at your work station and the appreciative customer will of course endow you with some extra remuneration.”
NATURAL OR RELAXED?
“What natural hair needs is simple: natural hair needs to be washed and cleaned, and care is also dependent on the individual: the hair might be dry and needs moisture, some hair needs to be detangled, etc. Natural hair is just like any other hair except that you just have to groom it more. The hair style or type is not really that important because either way you have to groom it and take care of it. And natural hair is just as fragile as relaxed hair so it still needs proper care.”
Sandy is irritated when you ask him if it is fair to women with kinky hair to say that it is easier to manage relaxed hair? “What do you mean by people with kinky hair? Kinky hair is just coarse hair, and coarse hair is just that. Coarse hair can be straightened and that’s why women like to straighten it, because the coarse hair doesn’t give you flexibility. You can only style coarse hair one way. I just believe that with relaxed hair, as I stated before, there is far more style versatility.”
But he is adamant in his believe that people should do what is comfortable for them, in regards to their self-perception. “It’s all about beauty isn’t it? So whatever you can do to enhance your beauty why not? It’s only temporary, hair grows and you can get tired of it, so you can cut it and do whatever you want with it. If someone was to cut his or her permed hair it would of course grow back naturally”
CHEMICAL DAMAGE; WHO’S TO BLAME?
Although [some] people from a very young age start to relax their hair and provide more revenue for MVP, Sandy insists that relaxing still comes with a great deal of responsibility. “Relaxed hair takes a lot of maintenance; if you’re going to relax your hair and you can’t do the proper maintenance then it’s not a good idea for you. You need to maintain it regularly because if you continue to relax it, it gets very dry so you need to keep up with moisturizing. Even when brushing or combing out your hair, if you use excessive force, you will cause damage to the hair shaft and it will break. Too much tension causes the hair to becomes thin and before you know it, you start losing your hair, and no one wants that”
“But even with the best of products there remains a margin of error in the hair care business. “Improper application can cause damage. For instance, if you fail to apply a relaxer correctly you can damage the skin of your scalp and you will in turn lose hair. And maybe even your ability to grow more hair. Sometimes, hairdressers will buy just any shampoo for the post-relaxing wash; you cannot safely mix chemicals of such caliber with other brands. One of the things that they teach well in countries with an advanced Hair Care industry is that when you style hair you have to look at the face shape, and pick a style accordingly. A woman’s hair should complement the type of face she has. Her hair should be light and shiny, and not dull, styled neatly, nothing tacky. Less is more. I can’t do hair, but I know a lot about the science behind hair.”
MVP also employs the use of organic ingredients in some of their more popular products, but it’s their ingenious approach in melding both chemical and organic together that gives them such success. “One can’t say organic alone is good or better than inorganic because sometimes it needs something like a catalyst to better complement its original purpose. Within the formulation of a product there is a trick, it’s all about melding advanced science and organic ingredients.”
With the quick growth of MVP, Sandy firmly believes that his brand in comparison to his competitors not only match their effectiveness but surpass them entirely. “You know what I’m going to say already, and it’s true. We make the best hair care products. I have a joke that I used to tell friends “Hey, be careful using my brand, because it’s like a good lover, you try and it once and you’re hooked for life” In all honesty, all you have to do is ask people that have used MVP you will receive an overwhelming wave of support for our product. It speaks for itself. I believe in utilizing every available resource to market your product but of course in the end if the quality is not good it will fail.”
In the near future, Sandy plans on expanding his company and delving into a male grooming product line, he has high hopes within the market he has played in for years and is confident in his success. “Even though men in Africa do not pay that much attention to self-grooming, I strongly believe it is important. Sometimes you see men walking around and the hair is just so dry and looks unhealthy because they use normal soap and don’t apply moisturizer. Everybody needs moisturizer to soften the hair and make it look groomed. If you put on a nice suit and your hair is not right, it takes something away.”
Men only really need two products, a shampoo and moisturizer, always to look neat and nice. The men product line will be done in success too.”
PULL QUOTES: “I like the hair care industry because it’s timeless: from the time of Cleopatra to modern days, ladies have always adorned their hair with different ornaments. Even in the olden days, henna was used to colour the hair and to give it a different appearance so it’s a very dynamic industry.”
“A woman’s styling options are limited with kinky hair… with relaxed hair there is far more style versatility.”
“My brand is like a good lover, you try it once and you’re hooked for life.”