‘My twin babies gave me a business idea’

…the making of Laam Shea Products

Michelle Ayog-Nying Dassah (Laam Shea butter)

It is interesting where business ideas can come from. Imagine that giving birth to twins opened a business opportunity for someone. You want to know how? Read on as Michelle shares her entrepreneurial journey with the B&FT’s Inspiring Start-ups as to how it all began.

Michelle Ayog-Nying Dassah is a native of Chuchuliga, Upper East Region of Ghana but grew up in Tamale, Northern Region. She is a product of St. Luis Senior High School in Kumasi. From there, she went to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology where she studied Mathematics. She has an MBA in Banking and Finance from the same university.  She has worked with an investment company in Accra where she was assigned the role of portfolio analyst. She has also worked with USAID on a project at the School of Medical Sciences, University for Development Studies (UDS).

From such an impressive profile, it is obvious that Michelle lived an accomplished career. She really didn’t have to look further to make a living. But the birth of her twin boys became somewhat a blessing in disguise.

The twins come with business

In 2012 Michelle welcomed into the world her lovely twin boys. However, they came with a worrying condition. They had an extremely sensitive skin. Whatever soap or ointment she used on them reddened their skin. She kept trying different types of oils and creams to see if they could solve the problem for her, but to no avail. She read widely on the Internet about how to treat sensitive skin. Then, she came across neem oil.  But it had a pungent smell and so she decided to mix it with shea butter and smear on their skin to see if it will help the babies. It worked like magic! The babies did not react to it.

With excitement, she told some of her friends and they asked her to make some for them.  After making several samples for them free, she realised the interest shown in the products was growing, so she thought of commercialising it.

The beginning of Laam Shea

After getting a great feedback, Michelle was convinced the business idea was great. But for someone who is particular with quality and does not like settling for mediocrity, she didn’t want to rush introducing the business onto the market.

“I realised there was a big market for what I was doing, but I wanted to come out with the best product as much as possible. I didn’t want to just do what everybody was doing.”

So, she enrolled in a business plan competition organised by Technoserve Ghana – and that built her capacity for fine-tuning her idea and making sure she had the needed structures in place before entering the business full-time.

Last year, when the project with USAID was completed, she decided not to look for job anywhere but instead start the cosmetics business. With just GH₵4,000, she bought some tools, machines and raw materials into her living room and began production. After making some sales, she rented a bigger place and moved production there.

The progress

It is worth noting that a business started in Michelle’s living room with just a few customers now finds its products in major shops of the Northern Region. And not even there alone but also the capital, Accra. All the Nallem Clothing outlets have Laam Shea products displayed for sale, and plans are advanced to get them into the various shopping malls in Accra.

Not only has the market size increased but demand has also followed the same trend. She has a unique business strategy of not producing to flood the market but producing according to order. And even with that, on a very good day she is able to produce 500 units of her products.

Laam Shea Products now produces hair creams, body oils, shea lip-balms, African black soap shower gel, a nourishing facial serum, and will soon introduce washing soaps from oils such as palm kernel.

Vision

“In the next two years, Laam Shea should be known within Africa; and in the next five years I want the brand to be globally known. And I look forward to establishing a large factory that will be the vehicle to take me there.”

Challenges

Michelle’s main challenge is the Ghanaian mentality about made in Ghana goods. The long-standing perception that goods produced locally are of less quality than those imported, she says, is hurting many businesses.

“It is hard to convince the Ghanaian that products we produce are of better quality than those imported. In most cases, when the person sees it she admires it; but the moment you say it is made in Ghana, Tamale for that matter, she begins to ask questions about quality. Until the person uses the product and gets the results, it will be hard for them to accept it is high-quality because it’s locally made.”

Another challenge she has to battle with has to do with the hurdles in obtaining the needed certification for the business. The lack of decentralisation and low capacity of some of authorities which issue the certifications means she has to, sometimes, travel to big cities like Accra or Kumasi to get certain things done. This tends to increase her cost of operations.

Again, another challenge is the unwillingness of players who have taken the lead in the industry to mentor budding entrepreneurs – as most of them consider the entrepreneurs a threat to their business.

How women empowerment is important to the economy

“I think economically empowered women are able to cause a lot of change. If women are economically empowered, they channel it to projects that impact on many people—both in the family and society.”

How education has impacted her business

Education, Michelle says, has helped her to appreciate being meticulous and researching before coming out with any new product. As someone who has background in finance, she has knowledge in book-keeping and corporate governance. This, she says, has helped her manage her business well and not just rush to introduce products onto the market.

How government should support entrepreneurs

For Michelle, the best way government can help entrepreneurs is to make it easy and simple to attain certain certification required to start a business, as it has become increasingly frustrating to get them.

She also suggests government should assist SMEs to attend expos and other conferences organised to provide market linkages platform for them, which will expose them to the outside market as some countries do.

Advice to the youth

“I would say that business is just a solution to a problem around you. Once you identify a solution to a problem, start small and you will get someone to support you. Don’t try to cut corners to be successful. Follow the right processes and you will get there.”

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