Alali Hart is the Managing Director of Montaigne Place, Nigeria’s foremost luxury skincare, cosmetics, fragrance, and well-being retail company. Here are 7 lessons entrepreneurs can learn from her journey:
1. Education matters. When it comes to education and entrepreneurship, there are 2 major misconceptions; first that it is not necessary, and second that it refers only to university degrees. The truth is that it is important to learn about business from those who have that knowledge, and if it happens to be in a classroom, apply yourself to learning all the same. Knowing that she had a desire to start her own business, Alali Hart decided an MBA would boost her skill set and exposure. She received her MBA from French business school Insead, at Fontainebleau, France, specialising in International Strategy and Marketing.
2. Know your industry. When setting up a business you must go in armed with the knowledge of who the key players are, their markets, their strategies, etc. At the time she started her MBA, Alali Hart was undecided as to whether it would be better for her to start a media business or a cosmetics business. During one of her courses at Insead, a basic requirement was originating a new business idea, developing a business plan, putting together a management team, packaging the business, and presenting it to a panel for evaluation against other business projects. It was in the course of doing this that she discovered her interest in the cosmetics industry was greater, and proceeded to invest time in research so as to understand the cosmetics and skincare industry globally.
3. Embrace partnership. It is very common to meet entrepreneurs who insist on going it alone and are closed to the idea of partnership. However, it is wise to figure out if a partnership is for you. Alali Hart made the smart decision to seek a joint venture with an existing cosmetics company to carry out research and development for the project she had in mind, and she prepared a proposal which ended up on the table of the President of the International Division of Clarins.
4. Be flexible and adaptable. An open mind is vital in business. Alali Hart’s proposal was for an existing company to partner with her for the execution of her projects; developing a new skincare line for women of colour. However, when she was told that the company did not want to go in a new direction but rather focus on developing Clarins, she keyed in and accepted to represent them in Nigeria.
5. Starting small is not a bad idea. You wouldn’t know it to look at the various Montaigne Place outlets now, but when Alali Hart started her business she had no shop, no outlet, and just a few cartons of Clarins products. At the time there was no internet in Nigeria, and having no huge capital from which to open a shop, she had to work her way up, talking to people, consulting, doing product demonstrations, etc. It paid off, and eventually the first outlet was opened to shoppers. Montaigne Place now has a brand portfolio that includes BlackUp Cosmetics, Clinique, Elizabeth Arden, and Murad.
6. Be passionate. Starting and growing a business from the ground up requires hard work which is best driven by passion.
7. Know your product. Determine whether yours is a mass market product or a selective distribution product. Knowing that Clarins is a luxury brand and as such, not for everybody, Alali Hart focused research on the “premium segment” of the industry to determine if there was a market potential for Clarins.
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