By BOLATITO ADEBAYO
Remember the first time you saw female Arab belly dancers? And how you felt beholding their beauty as they swayed to the unique rhythm of Middle-East music. Their beauty routine to a large extent accounts for the exciting thoughts they have over time stirred in men. Among the Arabs, it is generally acknowledged that Moroccan women are more beautiful than their sisters in the Middle East.
Their skins are so supple – all thanks to the special bathing routine called Hammam which they regularly go through. Hammam is an incredibly important part of Moroccan culture. It is a long ritual for cleansing the body until it glows. Some years ago, Hajiya Halima Yahaya Kwande pioneered the Moroccan Hammam as a spa concept in Nigeria. In this interview, the chief executive of MB Hammam Limited talks about her passion for the special beauty bathe her company offers women, the challenges of doing business and also highlights how she has been able to surmount the odds. Excerpts…
First off, what exactly is Moroccan bath?
It is an exfoliating bath done with a glove of a particular fabric and use of special olive oil based soap known as saboul beldi also known as Moroccan black soap and rasoul, which is a mineral mud from the atlas mountains of Morocco used for body wrap in conjunction with steam or sauna that sloughs off dead skin cells. This leaves your skin de-toxed and flawless.
How did you get into this business?
I discovered it during a trip to Morocco. Immediately I saw that idea would succeed in Nigeria. On my return to Nigeria, I did some research and the feedback I got was encouraging. So I set up the business.
How long have you been in i?
It is going to the seventh year now.
What are the benefits?
With the help of steam, Hammam unclogs your pores while eliminating toxins from the skin, which is the largest organ in the human body. Other than the fact that it beautifies one’s skin, the detoxifying effect allows your inner organs to breath thus leaving you healthy and rejuvenated.
Does it have any adverse effect?
No, it doesn’t and shouldn’t but if it is not done by a professional it could leave the person with slight bruising.
What inspired you to establish the Moroccan bath service?
I guess it was my love for nature and purity of the Mediterranean and the need for spa culture in a stressful environment like ours. Spa is actually the Latin acronym for salus per aqua, meaning health through water. What more can one ask for if not a Moroccan bath?
How many people make up the team that keeps the business running?
We have 30 people in our team and this comprises of the General Manager of the three arms of the wellness centre, the Spa Shefitexpress ladies gym and Hair and Nail Lounge, One Spa manager, one customer service personnel, six spa therapist, four salon stylist, one janitor supervisor, two gym instructors, one gym consultant, one hair and nail salon manager, one maintenance personnel, seven janitors, one laundry man, two security and one driver.
What are the peculiarities of doing this business?
Having to employ Moroccans to ensure optimum results because of its special skill required to render the service. Only the Moroccans can do it satisfactorily. And now we are also expecting some Indonesians to join them to give special massages and spa treatments too. The other is because we are an organic spa that uses no chemicals we constantly need to replenish fresh produce for our treatments. You know we don’t get our products from Wuse market but from Morocco, which can be daunting at times.
What is the acceptance like here?
It has become quite popular, in fact Hammam maghribi as it is widely known has surprisingly existed forever in Morocco but it has only become a trend to even the western world. Everybody is looking for Hammams online as there aren’t that many but lately few are springing up in Paris. Nigerians have embraced it well too. It’s a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone thing because of its combination of beauty and health benefits. It’s no surprise because we give nothing but the best. A couple of years ago a friend of mine said she was at the hair salon when she heard a bunch of Igbo ladies talking about Hammam with ease. My friend said she was amazed. Hammam is an Arabic word. She was quite happy and proud that I had been to put the word in the mouth of people and integrate it into everyday conversation of Nigerian ladies within a short time. Some years back, it meant nothing to us, but now it is a must have.
How affordable is it?
Given that it is a prestigious treatment, I think it is quite affordable. We have treatments to suit different skin types and needs. We also have a longstanding promo that if you have done five Hammams, your sixth will be free. Alternatively, if you bring five people, you get one free. How much more affordable can that be?
What are the major challenges of running this business?
Our biggest headache is epileptic public utilities, the worst being electricity supply that makes us lose equipments from power surge and having to constantly repair generators. Then you have to contend with other people coming to poach my immigrant therapists in order to start Hammam services – this one is real nuisance. And lastly, there are immigration challenges.
What were you doing before you got into entrepreneurship full time?
I was into general contracting, trading with a branding and promotional company.
Was there a time you wanted to pull out?
Oh yes! Even though I am not one that succumbs to failure and giving up easily, it’s a fact that one can climb a small hill alone but cannot climb Mount Everest alone. You need a team to reach it. It’s been tough getting a dedicated team to smoothly run the place and it doesn’t get better but right now I am getting used to the challenges.
What was growing up like?
My growing up was most satisfying that I couldn’t ask for a better childhood experience. I was hopping from one boarding school to another from as early as six years old; this has prepared me to become an organized and extremely independent person.
Do you intend having this bathe in different locations in the country?
Naturally growth is good but the experience I have gained from running MB Hammam Spa and Wellness Csenter has shown me that to give superb services, certainly requires one to be on ground 24/7 in an environment like ours. And unless I find people that intimately connect with my passion to meticulous service deliver, I am just very happy to continue running only MB Hammam, Abuja. Right now I am enjoying the myth and exclusivity of the center because its authenticity and high standards are being appreciated nationwide. And as it is said, good things come in small doses.
Give us quick tips for a flawless skin?
Get a gentle cleansing, gently exflioate. Fortify with purifying mask. Our rasoul is amazing for this. Just having an organic facial will fulfill those three tips. Also nurture yourself with anti-aging and protective moisturizers like argan oil now known globally as gold oil and which is indigenous to Morocco. Don’t forget to eat well and take fresh fruits; drink plenty of water and green tea, exercise and do regular work out. Always wear a smile and it must be the last thing before you go to sleep. For instance, I retire by watching a nice television series. I never retire to bed watching news, such as CNN, especially with what is happening nowadays.
What’s your typical day like?
My typical day starts from 9am with a nice cup of tea. Then I call the spa, hair and nail lounge and the gym to find out how the day started. Naturally I take care of any peculiarities they may be facing and there is always bound to be one. I check and respond to emails. In-between juggling these and sourcing supply online, managing the staff that manage the wellness center, I try to feed myself if I can remember a thing called food. While at the spa you might find me sometimes demonstrating how to mop to a cleaner because I am a hands-on person. Also while rushing for daily prayers is on course, I try to rush in and out to take care of outside matters. I begin to slow down my momentum around 6pm while anxiously waiting for them to close at 9pm with another nice cup of tea in front of the television.
What legacy would you love to leave behind?
That would be love, honesty, respect and obedience to God.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
I will advice them to do what they love and know what they want. They shouldn’t be afraid to be radical with ideas as long as they are positive and follow the rules. They should learn to manage their time well, they should use school resources, exploit online resources, be good to themselves, and most importantly, they should stay focused.