interviewBy omotola Itayemi
WITH OVER 20-YEARS EXPERIENCE IN THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY, OLUFUNKE ROBERT-QUADRI, OWNER OF PEACHES 'N' CREAM, A SPA and NAIL STUDIO in SURULERE, Lagos SPEAKS TO OMOLOLA ITAYEMI ABOUT THE GROWING DEMANDS FOR SPA SERVICES, AND THE AFRICAN SPA RITUAL
Spas on Sunday afternoons can be likened to a beehive of activities no matter how subtle these activities are. Peaches 'n' Cream is no exception and all the five massage rooms were occupied this Sunday afternoon, all facial corners and every nail station had a client that was being attended to, while other clients waited by reading magazines in the reception area. For others, it was the perfect time to purchase their beauty needs from the well-stocked shelf, where Quadri indigenously made most of the items. Dance lessons had taken place earlier in the morning and three other days in the week. If there's any doubt of the efficacy of spas, this is definitely an eloquent testament to that.
Peaches 'n' Cream Spa is true to its name with its interiors boasting a rich mélange of peaches and cream. Much more than a soothing colour co-ordination, it offers the right ambience for a spa; serene area, soft jazz music wafting from hidden speakers, professional and helpful staff, clean environment, trickling water from a mini-fountain, and relaxing aroma-therapy scents from candles and scent-dispensers.
From its lobby to the upper floor where most of the spa services are offered, the ambience is the same. Tucked in one of the quiet suburbs' of Surulere, the spa/nail studio opened to business in this new location six months ago, but it's been in existence for the past twenty years.
What started as a kit shop, selling ladies clothing and gifts from her father's garage when on vacation in Nigeria metamorphosed into a full-fledged boutique, (though the boutique aspect of the business will cease to be from next year). And the name, Peaches 'n' Cream is no co-incidence with the ice-cream flavour. During the registration of her business name she was in an ice-cream parlour in USA and behold, when a call came from Nigeria asking her what could be the business name, she blurted, "Peaches 'n' Cream."
Spa business is one business where owners are synonymous with the business. Such can be said of Quadri whose strong identity of short platinum hair has become synonymous with her brand name. A strong factor in her business, the Baruch College New York Mass Communication graduate knew she would never practice what she studied. Upon graduation from college, she enrolled in Long Island Beauty School, where she trained as a beautician, laying the foundation for her career in the beauty industry.
The daughter of a diplomat, the petite mother of three is widely travelled and studied in England, Russia and America. She doesn't suffer fools gladly and this is one line her employees have learned to toe. She can be likened to a perfectionist where business is concerned, but what do you expect from someone who has spent twenty years in a particular industry. A multi-taker, she juggles motherhood (she's married with three children), running her spa/nail studio business and will soon start a beauty training school. She's speaks fast, eloquently and for some, she can be too brazen but Quadri has no apologies for this.
She reminds me it's her nature and some things have to be said without clothing them in riddles. Gesticulating come naturally with her and it was a constant feature all throughout the interview with her. One thing was however very apparent, her passion for the beauty industry, from the challenges she has had to overcome to the joyful ring in her voice when she mentioned names of products or services rendered.
"Peaches 'n' Cream was born on January 9, 1992, which was two years after we took up the kit shop and the beginning of ladies boutique. Between 1994 and 1995 we introduced the male column. It went well until the Obasanjo-led government banned importation of clothing, we stopped running the boutique for a while and the nail studio was born, but it's what more people have known us for. Peaches and Cream is actually 20 years old, while the salon and spa is about six years old," she revealed.
Quadri says the spa came afterwards and it wasn't an easy venture. "The stress-related lifestyle especially in a city like Lagos has opened up people to the need for spa services. It's amazing but the demand for massages and other spa services are on the increase, from traditional spa massages to aroma-therapy or oil treatments. Also brides getting ready to walk down the aisle relish these massages and facials. Every-day people learn to embrace these services and the results are out-of-this-world. People walk in here looking very tired and harassed and you need to see the glow on their faces and the spring to their steps when they're leaving. The relief is instantaneous and that to me is priceless and all these are done at affordable prices," she says.
"People's perception to spa services has changed, and men included. Clients are keen on having their facials or massages done and keep to their appointment time. It has become part of their lifestyle. Our gym is always busy in the mornings and evenings, where you have workers working out. This is one aspect of their lives they take with utmost seriousness. We have people coming in to complain about their neck pain, backache, migraine, etc. A lot of people doing mental work have problems. When some cannot afford to go on vacation, they come in for massage to let off pains and stress. When you come to us, it reduces your visit to the doctor. You do not wait till you breakdown to end up in the hospital."
"Our clients vary, we have students, we have people who are already working, we a sizeable amount of men who come in without marketing. Even my own children come for spa services. You can imagine when they grow old, wherever they are, automatically they will understand they need a massage, a facial, etc. It becomes part of them. With massage, you find out a lot of men, depending on what they do, are under stress and all of that. They come for massage. We have men who come for pedicures. In a week we have on the average of between 30 and 40 clients."
For her running a nail salon/spa business involves a lot of knowledge, and Quadri is not resting on her oars either. She updates her beauty certificate every year by attending refresher courses in Long Island. This to her is very necessary in keeping up with innovations in the industry, which is con-incidentally a sore area for her as beauticians trained in Nigeria remain stuck in what they were taught in school some years back. There are no refresher courses done for them thereby limiting their scope of knowledge. To an employer of labour like Quadri, this can be very frustrating. "Nigerian-trained beauticians are stuck in a rut and this hinders our business as we have to start training them all over on recent innovations in the industry. Amidst other challenges we have to face such as honesty and professional conduct at work," she emphasised.
She also attended EDS (Enterprise Development Services of the Pan African University), where she learnt to run her business like a structured business organisation. According to Quadri, "first, you need the knowledge, basically the background knowledge of such business. You need to read a lot too, because you need to be involved in consultations, which is a major part of our work. For facials, you need a bed, a steamer and a magnifying lamp. Individually, depending on the spa, you add other things to it as the business progresses."
She's done all these and more at her new location and has even added a new twist to spa services in Nigeria. Away from the Turkish baths or Moroccan-like spas, Quadri is offering the African Spa Ritual. She offers the traditional African spa in a very afro-centric environment. Every element involved in this African Spa Ritual is indigenous, from the local raffia sponge to mini-calabash.
But what makes the African Spa Ritual different from other services I asked? "The African Spa Ritual is an embodiment of all the richness of African culture. It will become our own signature spa indigenous to us. Its something you should try, the taste of the pudding is in the eating," she said.
One problem that gives her sleepless night is the non-existence of an association for spas. "Nigeria does not have one for salon and spas. All that is available is a hairdressers association. And this does not say well of the industry that has to do with health and safety. I was talking to a colleague of mine about doing something about the situation," Quadri, in her mid 40s said.
"Some of the problems we have are that a lot of people just open up outlets because they have the money to do so when they do not even know anything about it. They run spas when they do not know anything about the sanitary obligations that come with it," she emphasised.