How Ovon mints cash in dreadlocks

Louis Bismarck Ovon works on five clients on average per day. PHOTO | JOAN SALMON

What you need to know:

  • This journey started when Ovon returned from the UK and hoped he would get a salon that would help him maintain his locs. However, he failed to get one that could do his hair to his taste. “I moved to the so-called big salons and was not impressed by what they did.

As I peruse several posts about natural hair on Facebook, I see compliments regarding his meticulous work and amazing customer care. I first met Louis Bismarck Ovon in 2018 drawn by these comments and further when I saw his neat locs (commonly referred to as dreads or dreadlocks). Having dreadlocks myself, I hoped he would help me with repair for I was tired of enduring a painful repair session every three months. 

No regrets 

I must say, I did not regret the decision because at one time, I dozed off as he did the repair something that had never happened to me before.

Ovon is a loctician; one who establishes or makes locs. Generally locking hair into dreadlocks, sisterlocs and microlocs. 

How he started 

This journey started when Ovon returned from the UK and hoped he would get a salon that would help him maintain his locs. However, he failed to get one that could do his hair to his taste. “I moved to the so-called big salons and was not impressed by what they did. I figured it would be troublesome to get a good loctician thus decided to do my own hair. Moreover, I had returned with the equipment I needed to get the job done,” says Ovon. 

In the months that followed, Ovon met people who asked him who does his hair and the response; “myself” was a magnet. Many took his phone contact and birthed home visits for him. In the meantime, the chartered marketer, a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) was looking for a job. 

First client 

“My first customer was a good friend called Charlotte. She had known me from abroad and always said that when she wants to lock her hair, I would be the person to do it. Since I did my hair for £35 (Shs150,000), I figured charging Shs35,000 would be fair, and so that was my first pricing,” says Ovon. 

Since she was someone close, Ovon was able to get honest feedback which boosted his confidence. “I learnt that doing the right thing first makes a big difference. Through her, I was able to also do her cousin’s hair. That helped me build a close network of customers.”

Sales strategy 

Ovon’s philosophy has always been; “would I be comfortable paying the same price I charge?” He is also a believer of a sales strategy and his is, ‘the more sales, the better’ which translated into the lower the price, the more the customers. “So I started doing locs at a price lower than most people valued me. Along the way, I also learnt that you have to create a niche product that will sustain the business as well as a ‘cash cow’ products that pays daily costs. With that, I created my ‘cash cow’ products were manicure and pedicure while the niche product was and still is locs,” says Ovon.

Starting capital  

As Ovon’s clientele grew, an opportunity came up through his friend’s sister who was selling her salon in Nakawa below Makerere University School of Business (MUBS). “I must say I stumbled into doing hair because in June 2011 after failing to find a job, I branched off into this newfound venture. The salon cost me Shs15.4m which was from savings I had accumulated while abroad,” he says.

Slippery beginnings 

The start was extremely difficult as he had neither been to beauty school nor knew how to run a salon. “I never knew hair or its business. As fate would have it, two weeks into owning the salon, the workers I found at the salon deserted me. They moved to a neighbourhood salon with all the customers. I was dealt a huge blow because I had to start afresh yet was unaware of what to look for in terms of personnel. It was a very steep hill to climb,” he shares.

For the last 10 years, Ovon has run one salon in Nakawa; Louis’ Salon, near the MUBS hostels. “I tried opening a few branches and things just did not work out so I closed them. However, with fingers getting burned came several lessons and this year, I opened a new branch in Bukoto- Locs and More. While it is in its ‘building’ stage, I am glad to say that I can welcome more clientele,” he shares.

Marketing

Ovon’s biggest marketing platform is referral customers. “Word of mouth has worked for me because most of my most loyal customers have been referred by other happy clients. I also try to have a social media presence and have done a few paid adverts on Facebook,” says Ovon. 

Training 

Apart from his formal education which was mainly marketing, Ovon is a self-trained hair dresser which started with learning how to lock his hair. “I have also read extensively and relied on YouTube. Additionally, I employ several people who have done formal training in the beauty sector. Therefore, regarding training, I have minimised on costs,” he notes.

Clientele

Ready to serve whoever needs his services, Ovon’s clients include students, house helps, corporates, diplomats, and a few politicians. “I also get clients from abroad, especially during the Christmas holidays. So anyone is my client,” he says.

Expenses

While he does not have these off-head, Ovon makes it a point to pay his workers a decent daily allowance which is also hinged on performance. He also ensures that he gets quality products for his clients. As such, wages and products constitute his biggest expense. 

Challenges

The biggest challenges are competition and ever-increasing prices. He says the product prices have been going up over the last five to six years and yet increasing prices is a touchy issue. “Our clients are price sensitive. I once increased my core price by Shs5,000 and lost almost half the client number,” Ovon reveals.

Sad moments also feature in business and one that comes to his mind was when a few months before the pandemic, some of his workers decided to leave and set shop next door creating more competition.  “Owing to that, loyalty was stretched as some of my long term customers decided to move with the team that left. Additionally, having invested a lot in people and having to start afresh can be very demoralising,” says Ovon.

The first four years were so difficult because he would pay wages, rent, pay for products and go home empty-handed. “I had to sell a few assets to remain afloat. It has only later that I discovered that one of my workers was stealing from me. Firing her was my turning point as I started making profits. Thereafter, I was able to take my children to school, and buy land. Those are victories I do not take lightly,” he smiles.

That said, with Covid-19, his biggest highlight is having gone through the pandemic successfully. “It was also beautiful to preserve my core team and also see my workers grow in my business. Being able to open another branch and develop systems that work was the cherry on my cake,” he says.

Regrets

With no prior knowledge about running a salon, Ovon has a few regrets such as relying on employees. “I made the mistake and it cost me a lot. I also wish I had known women are equally as good and actually as competent as men in the hair business. That is because I have found men to be the most unreliable people in this business.”

Future

Ovon envisions growth and more professionalism in the sector. Having taken a step to open another branch and leave all the workers in the old branch, he also sees himself training more people and entrusting them with the business. He also works towards being the best and most experienced sisterlocs loctician. “I have charged someone about Shs2.3m for a hair do. Only those who understand the hairstyle will understand,” he states.

How to make natural dreadlocks

So you have made a decision to embark upon the awesome journey of self-discovery that is dreadlocks. 

And even amidst the peer pressure that is so pervasive in our trend-chasing, microwave culture of instant gratification, you have further decided to go about cultivating your dreadlocks naturally. By naturally, we mean that there is no advancement of the locking process by artificial means such as chemicals or fake hair extensions. You are going about it au naturel. Time and patience will be your steady companions.

You can start dreadlocks yourself at home or with the help of a trusted professional by seeking a highly recommended loctician in your area.

Either way, once begun, the process will unfold as it sees fit. While you can guide the process, expect that your hair will have a mind of its own and will definitely surprise you along the way.

Generally speaking though, hair that is left to its own devices will matte and lock on its own eventually. Think your hair is the exception? Try not brushing your hair for a week and see how many twists, tangles and knots it forms.

All types of hair can form dreadlocks. It is just a matter of how long it takes and how they are actually manipulated to encourage the locking process.

The main variance affecting how fast dreadlocks form is your hair texture. Hair textures will matte and lock at different rates so the process and timeline will vary from person to person.

When it comes to your loc journey, although it can be similar to your peers, it will actually be 100 percent individual and unique to you. And since it’s also possible to have different textures on your one head, even your own set of locs may mature at different rates.

For example, you may have locs that tighten and compress very quickly around the sides and back, but the top always seems to unravel.

Step one

Allow your hair to grow at least two to three inches or more. Let your hair grow out naturally during this pre stage. The more hair you have to work with in its natural state, the easier it will be to start your locks off. And the straighter your hair, the more it will shrink when you install your starter locs.

Step two

Decide roughly how thick you want your dreadlocks to be. This is totally a matter of style preference. Pick out some images (or take pictures of friends) with dreadlocks that you admire and examine their size. Keep in mind that the longer you let your hair grow out in step one, the larger the sections you can achieve.

Step three 

Wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo. Dreadlocks form faster on hair that is clean and dry. There is a persistent myth that hair must be dirty in order to make dreadlocks. Although we do not really know how this rumour got started, it is simply not true and needs to be permanently squashed. In fact it’s quite he contrary because oils and residues actually delay the locking process.

Step four

Part your sections and keep consistent. A long ended rat tail comb is really convenient for this step. Create a pattern that alternates from row to row. Think in terms of brick laying, where the bricks are staggered from row to row, as opposed to, stacked right on top of each other. This will allow you more versatility in styling once your locs are mature.

Step five 

Finish with a palm-rolling session. After you finish the starter loc method that fits your hair type, finish off with a palm-rolling session. With your first installation/creation of the individual dreadlocks, this will not do much in terms of speeding up the locking process. However, it will help compact any loose hairs and start the cylindrical shape of the locs off right. Over time, each time you palm roll it’ll further set and help them keep their shape.

Step six 

Set the style under a dryer. Your hair may still be a little damp at this point, so go ahead and sit under the dryer for a bit to let the dreadlocks dry completely through. This will also help set them.

Step seven 

Be Patient. You will probably experience some unravelling after your starter session. This is to be expected because you’ve merely formed the locks, they are not actually locked yet.

But do not worry, if some of your dreads unravel, simply redo the method you used in step five to reshape them.  You will be training your young dreads for quite some time until they begin to tangle and matte.

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