Growing up in Atteridgeville in Pretoria back when salons only focused on relaxers and being exposed to products like Black Like Me, Mabel Ledwaba wondered if whether the only beauty treatments black women needed in her community were just limited to relaxers and curls.
This curiosity led to her pursuing a career in the beauty industry, first as an employee for major personal care and beauty companies, later as an entrepreneur. Her journey was not an easy one.
Mabel Ledwaba was tasked with growing sales with her focus mainly on the black female market. At the time, the market rarely used makeup on daily basis and other related beauty products, they needed to be educated on how to use the products Mabel was selling to them. This was before the now popular Youtube beauty tutorials. She relied heavily on agents on the ground and her distinctive beauty knowledge.
"It was challenging at first. Perfumes were an easy sell as everyone used them, but makeup was truly challenging. First, the products had to match skin tones of the market we were targeting, secondly, we had to teach them the right way of applying makeup for different occasions", Ledwaba said.
A few years later in the corporate space, Mable yearned for better opportunities within the beauty industry. She knew the industry very well, however, she wondered if she could make it on her own. The best way to determine whether she was going to or not depended on research.
Most beauty business models she investigated didn’t excite her until she stumbled upon a nail bar one. Nail bars are not easy to set up and require a sizeable amount of money. With her savings, she managed to set up the business servicing the female black market – a market she knew very well, helping them with their nails and lashes.
"My career life in the corporate beauty space taught me a lot about the beauty industry. At first, I was mainly focused on the middle working class offering them the best beauty products the world has to offer, with that also learning the buying habits of this market.
This experience broadened my understanding of target markets, from what to sell to which target market to what each target market is willing to spend on a single product", Ledwaba added.
In 2013, while the economy was slow, with consumers cutting down on spending, the beauty industry continued to grow in leaps and bounds. Her business also saw growth expanding into a full-on Beauty and Spa establishment. Havillah Beauty and Spa had branches in various malls and centres while developing its makeup range and a training academy.
Who could have thought that a black woman from Atteridgeville could build a beauty business? Well, it was written in the stars for Mable. The growth presented its challenges, forcing Mabel to refocus and rework her business model. The makeup line went from producing variety of products to focusing on a single product line of foundations designed for black skin tones. The business was redesigned to franchise, thus empowering other entreprenurs.
Now with 10 years under her belt, Havillah Beauty and Spa is a beauty brand that offers just beauty solutions, it has expanded to training young makeup artist, some of the graduates placed in the television space and grew their makeup line sales.
Lessons Mable Ledwaba learned:
- From day one when starting your business, have clear goals.
- Do not grow too quick. Take it one step at a time.
- Know when to restructure and refocus.
- Check the numbers regularly.
- Spend on growth rather than just on everything and anything.