Immigrants at work: Hair salon and cosmetics shop in Parow

Prince Ikenna’s salon and cosmetics business. Photo by Tariro Washinyira.

Tariro Washinyira

25 July 2012

Prince Ikenna came to South Africa from Nigeria in 2010 and has set up a successful salon and cosmetics business.

He originally wanted to establish a clothing business, the industry he specialised in before leaving Nigeria. “During my business research, many people told me that clothing businesses would not flourish in South Africa, especially those from China because South Africans have their own type of dressing. I discarded the idea and approached the owner of Phily Chi Cosmetics and Salon, which is opposite Vasco train station, for business ideas. I liked the way he was running his business, and I adopted it and set up the same business here in Parow. Everything is the same as the way he operates there, combined hair salon and cosmetics,” Ikenna explained.

He added, “At one time, I almost closed down because of a money crisis. I expected the starting capital I brought from Nigeria to be enough, but it turned to be too low. The place is too big, and I could not manage to fill it in with the cosmetics for sale. I then rose above those circumstances, and learned to work very hard and to be more committed to the business. For instance, I started opening the shop from 7am and closing at 11pm. I am still operating the same hours, and I am open seven days a week. I established and maintained a big client base. Some of the clients would ask for some products I did not have in stock. So I listed them down. Then when I go to buy the business products at the wholesaler I add them to the list.” Aside from cosmetics, the shop also sells things such as nappies, brooms, toiletries, and hair extensions.

When asked if there were clients coming in as late as 23:00, he said Parow is a busy and a very good area for business. Sex workers also come to buy things, such as sprays, at that late time to impress their clients. If he closed early, he would miss all the money he has been making since extending his business hours.

Ikenna said supermarkets such as Shoprite, Pick ‘n Pay and Spar are his competition. He tries to make his products cheaper than these big shops. He employs six people who are paid commission. A challenge is the building rental fees of R8,000 per month. He said this is too high and most tenants are complaining. Some tenants have approached the landlord individually, but it has not helped.

He has a problem with thieves and has installed cameras and a bell door. Some customers pretend to be prospective buyers, but intend to steal. Ikenna complains that they are so sharp and tactful that one does not even notice if something has been stolen. There also other criminals who just come and hang around, some being drug dealers. The drug dealers are the reason Ikenna wrote a poster on the wall with the message, “If you are not here for business, please leave. Thank you.”