Tuesday August 19 2014

How Samona grew into a multimillion business

Mr Ssalongo Michael Kasawuli (C) takes part in

Mr Ssalongo Michael Kasawuli (C) takes part in the packaging of Samona hair relaxer. (L) Mr Kasawuli explains the process that their Samona jelly products go through. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI 

By Stephen Otage

When Ssalongo’s children suffered an itchy skin problem, the last thing on his mind was finding a solution that would later turn in profits.
According to Ssalongo Micheal Kasawuli Mukasa, the proprietor and chief executive officer of Samona products Ltd, while living in Nateete in 1994 where he operated a number of businesses including a cosmetics shop, his children developed an itchy skin condition—scabies.
Their torment was ended when Ssalongo’s auntie asked him to try out herbal medicine which, to his surprise, cured the ailment and has since inspired a successful business.
“I used to sell second-hand and brand new Japanese electronics, I used to record cassette tapes as well as take pictures. I owned a salon. I used to sell radio spares and I had a cosmetics shop but all these collapsed and I remained with only the cosmetics shop,” he shares with Prosper magazine during an interview.
He recalls how at first, he despised the concoction but when it worked, his perceptions about it changed. That is how he started making it on a small-scale, scooping just a little for the customers.
Very soon, the demand for the concoction began growing from Namasuba, Kawempe and Bweyogere which inspired him to raise the level of the product by providing an appropriate name.
His first attempt in naming the product was to abbreviate his photo studio Sanyu Moving Studio in Nateete where he ended up with the acronym SAMONA. When he tried Ssalongo Mukasa Nalongo, he also ended up with Samona with coincidence. This gave him the confidence to package the product.
“I had a challenge of convincing people to use the jelly because they had never seen brown Vaseline. Others called me a fool but I persisted because I was convinced by healing ingredients in my products,” he remembers.

Finding market
With determination to popularise his products, Ssalongo Mukasa who invested more than Shs100 million says he traversed the country to distribute his products to agents for free. He was rebuked on several occasions; something he says made him feel like giving up because his capital was almost depleted without any returns.
“I remember in Lira somebody told me to leave them alone because no one would ever smear such Vaseline on their body but I persisted for another two years, though I had lost hope because all my capital which was about Shs270 million was finished,” he says.
He narrates that the frustration he encountered in 1997 made him start processing for a work permit for kyeeyo (working abroad) in Japan through a friend called Tom. But as he was left with two weeks to depart for Japan, he received a phone call from a customer from Mbarara telling him to collect his money and take more supply.
“I decided to pick that money as pocket money for Japan but when I reached Masaka, I began receiving phone calls from all different corners of the country to collect the sales and deliver more products,” he says.

Demand picks up
He recalls that shortly after, he received a phone call from Japan telling him to prepare to travel to Japan but he told his colleague to hold on because the business was picking up.
“The demand was immense. Soon, I needed more trucks to transport the goods. Worse still, the people who despised my products soon became the biggest advertisers of herbal medicines,” he narrates.
required for a successful business.

The products

Ssalongo Mukasa who makes 4,000 cartons of herbal jelly and soap in a month, says the Samona herbal soap and jelly comprises of 14 local herbs which include honey, Mugavu and Kanzironziro. The products which have natural extracts have been found to be effective in treating chicken pox, heat rash, rash, dandruff, ringworms, cracked feet, and other skin disorders.
“Once you start using our products, however much you get into contact with people suffering from the skin diseases, you won’t contract them. You can ask from any school, they can attest to this,” he reassures the writer.
He attributes the success of the herbal soap and the jelly to the phone call he received from Mbarara after he had lost hope in recouping the Shs275 million capital he spent on advertising the products on television and radio and transporting the products countrywide without any returns.
When the business picked up, he decided to make the formula a business secret which no one knows.

Blackmail is Samona’s biggest problem

Ssalongo Mukasa who started the business by testing the market and getting the feedback, boasts that today, the brand Samona is a household name beyond borders. Its popularity is attributed to the healing power of its products which have been advertised by word of mouth.
“One time, we went with one of our agents from Tanzania to a cosmetics shop masquerading as customers who wanted to get a jelly to treat a specific ailment and we were equally shocked when the shop attendant recommended Samona above all lotions in the shop,” he reminisces.

Soap manufacturing business
Ssalongo Mukasa explains that Samona which started due to public demand did not have the machinery and equipment to make standard quality products. But he was supported by a would-be rival company Sleeping Baby which helped it make soap as they looked for their own soap making machines.
“I approached Sleeping Baby who had the machine and the owner advised me to take his formula. Then, I would mould the soap since I did not want it to hit the market in a manner that would attract ridicule,” Ssalongo shares.
Ssalongo Mukasa who employs about 100 Ugandans directly, 400 indirectly and 50 expatriates from South Africa and United Kingdom to maintain quality, says he looks to add new skin care products such as Samona hair relaxer super and regular, and Samona hair food.
“The rest are still being kept under wraps waiting for all the tests to be conducted before releasing them to the market,” Ssalongo Mukasa says.

Asked about his monthly revenue, he is cagey to reveal it saying he needs to consult with his auditor but says the monthly working capital is to the tune of about Shs2 billion.

He says competitors are his biggest nightmare because of the blackmail and sabotage of some of the products.
“Taxes are not a problem but the competitors because there are those who hire people to go and de-campaign some of our products,” he says.

Future plans

About his future plans, Ssalongo Mukasa says most of the ingredients have been tested in the UK and they have been confirmed to have some of the best preservatives in the world.
He plans to shift the current factory in Ndeeba to a bigger area they have already secured to employ 3,000 people. He plans to make Samona a world-class product since National Drug Authority has already put the products on notice awaiting registration having already secured the quality mark from the Uganda National Bureau of Standards. In addition, the factory is working with Makerere Department of Pharmacy and the Mulago Department of Health Sciences for research.
According to Fred Kyanjo a chemical engineer employed by the factory also doubling as the quality controller, most of the losses the factory is registering are coming from evaporation and theft of the goods. He, however, says the products cure scabies, round worms, skin irritations and others kin disorders.
“The products cure most symptoms on the skin provided the user follows the instructions. If they do not clear within 14 days, then it means the problem is not in the skin but the blood,” he says.
He says as proof of efficacy of their products, recently they selected four Karimojong girls with known skin disorders who were subjected to using their products and were monitored for two weeks and their skin disorders cleared.
“These are the only products in Uganda with a dossier and we have been put on notification by NDA and soon we shall be registered by NDA. UNBS is already doing its annual audits on us which we have already passed,” he boasts adding they are working with expatriate dermatologists to give the products global consumer confidence.

numbers about samona skin care

Number of people he employs at his factory.
Initial capital he invested in the herbal jelly and soap making business.

Number of people he plans to employ after relocating the factory from Ndeeba to a bigger area.