Nigeria’s largest haircare manufacturing company, Natures Gentle Touch (NGT), which celebrated 25 years of operation in the country at the weekend, plans to list on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NGX) and expand its manufacturing footprints to different parts of the world.
The company which set the pace for made-in-Nigerian products at a time when buying foreign signaled class and the best option, and created an uncommon marketing by targeting women and youths across Nigerian universities, said it has paid off as it helped many ladies to discover their unique personal styles.
Speaking to journalists at a virtual event, to mark the 25th anniversary of the company, an industrial chemist and founder/CEO, Natures Gentle Touch, Chika Ikenga, said a strong desire to help each woman express, sustain and stamp her unique personal style and identity on her environment drove a Nigerian 25 years ago, to create the required hair care and beauty products.
He noted that the take-off was rough but they were determined to weather the storm and defeated the initial resistance and sabotage from middlemen or distributors. The company created personal care solutions to enable each woman to unleash her unique style and individuality but was greeted with doubts from the market including hairdressing salons, a situation which distributors compounded.
But NGT defeated both by raising a platoon of influencers from an army of youths at universities across Nigeria. The ride between the brand and the young elite has developed into something which can be described as jolly and charming over the years, with the trust built seeing the solutions provided by Natures Gentle Touch earning global appeal and acceptance.
“Our competitors had big advertising budgets which we didn’t. What we did was to go to higher institutions like UNILAG, ABU, UI, IFE, UNIJOS, and other public universities in Nigeria. We went and knocked on their doors, we encouraged them to embrace Nigerian products. We had icons like Oluchi Onweagba, Agbani Darego to advertise for us. Many people still believed we were a foreign brand.”
According to Ikenga, Natures Gentle Touch is focused on replicating its unique service offerings in other markets across the world, having discovered that many, particularly Africans use their hair to express their style and identity.
This has seen the company acquire a cosmetic company in the Republic of South Africa with sights firmly set on other African countries and other parts of the world. “We are at a point where we want more and more people to be able to access the solutions we offer across the world.
“The acquisition in South Africa is a signal of intent. We want to set our footprints in other African countries and other continents. “We might also consider availing members of the public the chance to be part of ownership by issuing and listing our shares,” Ikenga added.
While many may be contemplating success for a business that has survived for 25 years in terms of balance sheet or bottom line, Ikenga’s contentment is in redefining the personal lifestyle segment, a feat his efforts have delivered in Nigeria.
He said, “We take pride in being the wholly Nigerian brand, which stood firm and took the bold step to empower Nigerian and African women with the knowledge required to express themselves through both their hair and personal lifestyles.”
“People normally think it is a foreign brand. We wanted to change the attitude of Nigerians of not believing in made in Nigeria, that’s why we started Nature’s Gentle Touch. We decided to create a product that is better than foreign. Secondly, was to address the hair scalp Nigerian women had.
“I started researching in 1993 and by 1995 I had to resign from paid employment and that was how we started fully in 1997. We commercialized in 1997. NGT started as a Relaxer and not really hair scalp.
Today more people believe in made in Nigerian products. We laid the foundation that has seen more people owning made in Nigerian products. In the beginning we met several roadblocks. Many people believed that foreign was better. Many people were leaving Nigeria as well but I said to myself that I won’t leave Nigeria.
Recounting the early days of the business, Ikenga pointed out that when distributors appeared set to constitute a stumbling block for the brand’s market entry, they avoided them and took on the market directly. “Our story cannot be complete without mentioning Nigerian tertiary institutions, particularly the University of Lagos,” Ikenga noted.
He calls to mind that budget constraints would not permit them to add conventional marketing to their strategy. However, they found a way around this by using word of mouth, person to person marketing at Nigerian universities. The University of Lagos served as a launch pad from where other universities were added.
Convincing the teeming population of youth at tertiary institutions was always going to be tough. They were already used to foreign products and “our branding made them think that Natures Gentle Touch brands were imported,” Ikenga pointed out.
However, once they were convinced about the quality, they embraced the solutions NGT brands were offering with both hands. Ikenga trained as an industrial chemist. In the course of his work, it dawned on him that many African women were having challenges discovering their personal lifestyles and flaunting their identities as strongly as they would have liked.
He was inspired to create an organic solution for each person. This was how Natures Gentle Touch set out to develop and deploy customised lifestyle solutions in the areas of haircare and skincare.
According to Ikenga, “We discovered that up to 80 percent of Nigerian and African women required tailor-made haircare solutions, because of the weather, the diet and other things, so the passion to solve these gave birth to Natures Gentle Touch.
“Our core offering is in personal styling solutions. In our business model, this is best delivered through our hair institute. We had just one at Isolo. We have added two others at Victoria Island and Ikeja GRA.
“Often we speak about the hair institute more than the products because we want people to experience it and discern for themselves. I cannot remember any hair or skin issue that was tabled that we Natures Gentle Touch has not solved,” the GMD highlighted.
The success story of the NGT is that the personal style solutions it is offering have charmed a number of high-profile celebrities, beauty queens, and discerning ladies. The brand serves those who can afford it but delivers on all promises on a consistent basis.
The United States of America-based Nigerian supermodel, Oluchi Onweagba was among those to have been associated with Natures Gentle Touch. She showcased the customised style solutions delivered by the brand with pride. Another notable beauty queen who endorsed the NGT is former Miss World, Agbani Darego.
Those who know Onweagba and Darego proclaim that for these icons to put their names and personal brands on anything, personal style, it must be worth it. On the global stage, beauty queen and supermodel, Leila Lopes is also known to have proudly embraced the marketing of Natures Gentle Touch’s personal lifestyle solutions some time ago.