Lucy Kingori Tsalwa founded Bu.Ke beauty products to help heal her son’s skin condition. She speaks to Tori Kioko about turning this into a successful beauty business.
“It’s a play on my son’s name, Wabuko,” Lucy Kingori Tsalwa says. She is referring to the name of the beauty products line she founded, Bu.Ke. Her son’s nick name is Buki, and he is more than just the owner of the eponymous name.
“He is my inspiration for getting into skin products in the first place. He was born in 2014 with a skin condition that was untreatable without the use of steroids,” Lucy says.
Lucy is the CEO and key formulator for Bu.Ke, and besides her son, this name also has import for her country of birth. “The name also means ‘Buy Kenyan’ for me, hence the spacing in the middle of the logo. I am all about promoting Kenyan made products.”
A few years ago, Lucy decided to ride on the natural and organic beauty product trend that naturalistas and fashionistas worldwide were starting to take up. And so, in April 2014, Lucy founded Shea by Asal. “I started off with skincare products, and once I was able to manage my son’s skin, I decided to see what else I could come up with,” she says.
After six months of research, Lucy was able to come up with Kenya's first ever shampoo bar, which was her first hair product.
“I decided to formulate a shampoo in bar form to give my customers value for money. It was revolutionary at the time. Kenya has some of the finest ingredients that can be used to formulate amazing hair and skincare products. From there I came up with hair butters and oils.”
In February 2017, Lucy rebranded and registered the company as Bu.Ke, although she did not change the product line. Bu.Ke products comprise hair and body butters, shampoo bars, and facial soaps for different skin types with ingredients such as charcoal, honey, turmeric and sage. Among her favourite ingredients are shea butter from South Sudan, baobab oil and Bentonite clay.
“All our products contain ingredients mostly sourced from (around) Africa. Our products are stocked in about 20 cosmetic shops in Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nanyuki,” Lucy says.
RUNNING MY BUSINESS
Among the challenges the Lucy faces are increasing competition from a burgeoning local beauty products market, as well as distribution. Also, “running a business as a one-man show and being a mum and wife has not been easy. Attention has to be divided, otherwise one side suffers. At times it can be draining, though seeing happy clients is always satisfying and makes it all worth it,” she says.
There are also local economic issues. “Packaging in Kenya has become quite a challenge. Small businesses like ours are forced to settle for minimal packaging due to costs and volumes required and without good packaging, exporting the range becomes very tricky,” Lucy says.
To counter these, Lucy has resorted to bulk-selling as opposed to individual sales. “We supply to shops in bulk then they distribute to our clients. We are happy focusing on production,” she says.
Sales have grown organically since 2014, and the business finally broke even in 2017. “The support from the market has been overwhelming and we are grateful,” Lucy says. “We are however at a point where we need to scale up and we are therefore shopping for strategic partnerships. We are also hoping to expand our product range by end of 2018 and hopefully by February 2019 we will be able to start exporting.”
In order to make these plans come to fulfilment, and to effectively juggle her personal life, Lucy follows a strict schedule. “We open the workshop at 9am daily, take in shop orders between 9am to 11am then dispatch them all. Then we check our production schedule for the day and get right to it. We usually plan different days for formulating soaps or butters or oils. We then do a stock take for example for the new batches then close the workshop at 6pm. In between formulating, we have someone responding to clients’ emails and texts as they come in.”
Lucy’s words of advice for anyone seeking to enter entrepreneurship? “If passionate about your idea, turn it into a business. You however need a thick skin in business in this day and age. As women, we worry about balancing work and life but you know what, somehow, everything always falls in place.”
Lucy’s key goals and secrets to a successful business include
Passion should be at the top of your list when getting into business. You then turn your passion into profit. Without passion for what you are doing, you are wasting time.
Consistency is key. There is nothing customers love more that. Give them consistency and they forever remain loyal.
Grow organically. The journey is never easy but you need to go through all its stages in order to learn. Be patient, don’t climb your tree from the top.
Stay focused. It’s easy to lose track sometimes but if you have a good business plan, you will stay on the right track.
Own your idea 100 per cent, no matter how trivial or small it may appear to some people.