Former Waitress, Now Natural Hair Entrepreneur, Shares Lessons Learned - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

Ten years ago, Rochelle Graham-Campbell was working as a waitress, had a part-time job, and a newspaper route. “I was also a YouTube Beauty vlogger, posting several vlogs per week. I did not have a lot of time, but I made the time by sacrificing other things in my life,” said Graham-Campbell. With a $100 investment, she purchased the materials and ingredients needed to make her very first natural hair product, an Essential 17 Hair Growth Oil.

Now Graham-Campbell and her husband Demond are operating Alikay Naturals, a beauty and lifestyle natural hair brand available at Target, Sally Beauty Supply, Bed Bath and Beyond-Harmon, Rite Aid, Kroger, Meijer, Face Values, and CVS stores nationwide. She also has her own manufacturing facility, and the Alikay Naturals line is sold in 150 independent retail locations worldwide, including France, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Jamaica, and Bermuda.

Graham-Campbell shared her best entrepreneurial lessons from the last 10 years.

Just starting out in business, what were the realities of what you were faced with in your life?

Lack of capital, support, and time. Being an entrepreneur is a very lonely journey. There are a lot of things that you have to get done and you have to depend on yourself. Initially, I was by myself before my husband became my partner. He was and still is such a great support system. It wasn’t easy getting the support of family while bottling products and packing orders while we were in college. It was stressful getting things done when you don’t have the money. We would have to depend on the goodwill of some family and friends who wanted to help. Initially, I lost some friends because they did not support my vision. I lost other friendships because I did not have the time to participate in extracurricular activities like other college students.

What challenges did you face and how did you work through them?

One of the biggest challenges that I faced was hiring the right people. As an entrepreneur, you are so dependent on yourself, you know your mindset, so you automatically assume that you attract like-minded people. Human Resources is a major challenge for me because our headquarters are not located in a major city, therefore, finding the right people with the right skill set can be challenging.

Another problem that I am faced with is that I am a triple minority—I am a young black woman and that has caused challenges while hiring and employing others as well.

My biggest challenge now is scaling my business. We are at the point where our sales are growing exponentially. We have been operating 10 years debt free-No loans or investors. Taking our business to the next level is somewhat challenging due to this because a great amount of capital is needed to implement the expansion. My husband/ business partner and I have deemed to remain debt free for 10 years to prove that we had a sustainable business model in place before we take our next steps. Alikay Naturals is here to stay.

natural hair

What’s the most underestimated or overlooked tactic that has enabled you to close deals with retailers?

Being authentic when I go into meetings with major retailers is key. Rather than focus on competition, I make sure I show up as my authentic self and share my story truthfully. Although there are hundreds of beauty brands, I know there are no other brands like mine. I know part of this is because of me. I am the secret sauce to my brand’s success.

How do you avoid comparing yourself to others?

I find that comparison can be the killer of all credibility. Specifically, with social media where everything is always in your face, it is in our nature to have things distract us and make us feel as if we are not enough. I do my best to eliminate these distractions including social media. I take breaks from social media as often as I can, especially when working on new projects. I want to find inspiration within myself and no one else. I constantly remind myself that I am a pioneer, a leader, and innovator in the industry, therefore, I cannot compare myself to others. So those entrepreneurs who have stepped into the business after me may seem as if they are moving faster, I know that I must stay focused on my path, my goals, and sustain longevity.

Other Tips From Rochelle

Develop a Strategy
Constantly innovate. Understanding customers’ needs and continually being a solution to those needs.

Develop a Business Mindset 
Businesses do not just pop up. A success story is not just a post on social media. Real business is what people don’t see when you are working behind the scenes. You will have time to slow down but you must work like you never worked before.

Trust Your Instincts 
Always trust your gut. While you are growing a business, it is very easy to allow outside influencers and opinions to skew your vision for your brand. It is important to hold on to that vision before it turns into something you don’t even recognize.

Stop Making Excuses 
Execution over excuses. There is always a list of excuses that we can come up with for why you can’t get started or accomplish a goal. It is not about just focusing on the problem. No matter what I am trying to accomplish, I write the problem down and I come up with solutions so that I can achieve my goals.

Gather Resources
A great resource for me is Asana, which is a project management app and tool. With running multiple brands, it is imperative to see the status of my projects. I need to know if my team and I are on target to achieving tasks and goals in real time.
 

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