Uganda: How a School Dropout Built a Multi-Million Enterprise

Irene Nalubwama beams off an infectious smile as we exchange pleasantries after meeting for a scheduled interview.

Hers is a story that completes a tale of enthusiasm built from a humble background to become one of Kampala's most respected skin care products producers.

She has had a line that runs deep into the skin care business, producing natural skin crèmes, herbal soap, beauty soap and body whitening crèmes among others.

She is a perfect definition of an entrepreneur who has ridden from the low streets of Kampala to the high table.

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But how did she start this journey?

In 2002, Nalubwama began a journey that would later turn her life around having dropped out of school due to lack of school fees.

"I sold household items, especially beddings, until 2002 when I began working for some Lebanese who imported crèmes and lotions."

Hers was basically a sales job that required her to sell crèmes door-to door. However, business was slow because "what my bosses imported was too weak for the African skin" but was later given an African touch through addition of a mixture of local products such as honey, eggs, and ghee.

Therefore, with the knowledge and the market on her fingertips, Nalubwama resigned her job in 2005.

 "I had no savings. I knew I wanted to make skin care products but I had no capital. I just had a good-looking skin and a few tins of crème." As days went by, Nalubwama met her break through, through a woman who had stopped her in the streets to compliment her skin complexion.

"I told her I could give her the crème I use, for just Shs20,000, a fee that was relatively good in 2005."

A few days later, the woman called to thank her, asking if she could supply the same to her friend which she agreed but at an increased fee of Shs50,000.

However, as she says, after making some savings, "I rented a shop in the new taxi park, under the Mama Lususu brand where I began mixing the crèmes myself, with little additions of avocado and other fruits ingredients".

In a few years, the business had grown. She found more space on Galilaya Commercial Plaza where she has nurtured the growth of five branches in Seeta, Ndeeba, Masaka, Jinja and on Galilaya Plaza with a combined employment capacity of 37 people.

"The Masaka branch is run by a distributor. I visit the branches in Seeta and Jinja every last Saturday of the month, first Sunday of the month, respectively," she says, demonstrating that she keeps close watch of her business empire handling most of its core functions.

The products

 According to Nalubwama, the average price for a treatment procedure is Shs420,000 and its through such that the business can fetch about Shs10m in a busy week.
"Some weeks are better than others," she says, adding that but also, "our expenses are quite high. We spend a lot on furnishings, salaries and raw materials."

At Ndeeba branch where we held the interview, is the executive branch and the furnishing is indeed eye-catching.

Here is where you meet specialised hair treatment cubicles complete with all forms of trollies and medical examination beds (table).

The market

According to Nalubwama, much of her market is "by word-of-mouth which is spread through my clients who get the satisfaction from my services".

Her market goes beyond Uganda and she has clients in Juba, Sweden, USA - specifically New Jersey and Chicago - and the UK.

But even still, Nalubwama has not sat back as she has had to explore other avenues including social media, which she says, has helped her to expand her customer base.

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Future plans

"My dream is to get my factory, Raypercia Cosmetics company, running at full capacity. I registered and licenced it but we are still producing at a low scale," she says.

 With the factory producing in bulk, she plans to set up more shops both in Uganda and abroad with focus on putting up major competition with multinationals.

However, her advice to future entrepreneurs is to push through their plans and if, "that dream is fulfilled; you need to take extra care that you employ people who are qualified to see it succeed. Do not fall into the temptation of hiring relatives for cheap labour."

Importantly, she says, business can only prosper if the owners have strict observance of laws because institutions such as "KCCA and URA have the capacity to disturb the smooth flow your business, which could make hard for it to flow smoothly," she says.


But amid all this, the business has not been without challenges, specifically from people who duplicate their products with the intention of riding on their brand.

But beyond the duplication of their products is a harsh business environment, given that the company imports some of its ingredients form Kenya.

But with the constant need to be creative, "we have beaten some of these challenges", giving the Mama Lususu brand an edge.

"Sometimes, a competitor will buy all the raw materials from the supplier, with the intent of putting us out of business. But we have found solutions to this. We cannot easily give up," she says.

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