Funlayo Alabi
Funlayo Alabi, founder of Shea Radiance

When Funlayo Alabi began creating shea butter-based skincare remedies in her kitchen, it wasn't necessarily with the intention of starting a business. She was simply trying to be a good parent.

Alabi's children suffered from severe dry skin and eczema. In her search for a natural solution to these issues, she discovered that shea butter worked like a charm. She and her husband soon began creating more shea butter-based beauty products for the hair, body and skin. Eventually they launched Shea Radiance, a Maryland-based natural beauty brand that sells products made of fairly sourced, organically produced shea butter.

Over the last decade, Alabi has built up a business that not only meets the growing consumer demand for natural and organic products, but also supports and empowers women in developing countries. According to the company's website, Shea Radiance sources its main ingredient, shea butter, from women-run cooperatives in West Africa, which gives them the economic power they need to care for their families.

From the kitchen counter to retail shelves

One of the biggest challenges many consumer brands face is simply building up their initial base of retail buyers. This is especially true in the crowded beauty and cosmetics market, and Alabi had her work cut out for her in finding retailers to carry the brand.

"I had to go from store to store, talking to the buyers to see if they would be willing to bring the product in onto their shelves," she said in a CO— interview with C-Suite Network's Gregg Greenberg.

Alabi admitted she didn't realize how time-consuming this growth process would be, and wishes she'd had a more realistic view of how long it would take when she started out. Had she known, she said she would have paced herself and conserved her energy.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," Alabi added.

We've had to be really creative in raising finances.

Funlayo Alabi, founder of Shea Radiance

Grassroots growth

Shea Radiance has grown a lot since its humble beginnings 10 years ago. Alabi attributes this growth to her company's strong grassroots marketing efforts. Aside from being very active on social media, Alabi and her team put in a lot of face time with their potential customers.

"With consumer ... goods like beauty products, customers want to experience the product and they want to feel like they have a connection with the brand," she said. "I ... go out to the stores to do demos [and] rub shea butter on customers' hands. We do farmers markets. We are out in the community letting people know that we're here."

This "in-the-trenches" approach applies to the internal culture at Shea Radiance, too. Because of its small size, the entire staff wears many hats and rotates through various roles. Aside from financial tasks (which the company outsources to a CPA), everyone at the business gets an opportunity to experience almost everything. This type of delegation and workload distribution lends itself to what Alabi describes as a "familial feel" among their staff.

"We started [the business] as a family, solving a family's problem," said Alabi. "As we've grown we've brought more people [whose] ... vision is very much in line with our vision, and they've become part of the Shea Radiance family."

Making the 'big-box' leap

Alabi's vision for the future of Shea Radiance is to take the brand beyond natural grocery outlets and into the mainstream big box stores.

"Right now, natural is becoming the normal," she told CO—. "All the customers are reading the ingredient list ... even the customer buying from Walmart or Target is expecting natural, clean products. We want to be the brand on the shelves in these stores."

Making this leap won't be easy: Alabi says that as a woman, a person of color and an immigrant, she's experienced some difficulty in getting the funding she needs to achieve her growth goals.

"We've had to be really creative in raising finances," she said. "As more doors open up, we need more financing, [but] we'll always figure out a way."

Watch our full interview with Funlayo Alabi for more of her lessons learned while running Shea Radiance, as conducted by C-Suite Network's Gregg Greenberg.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Funlayo Alabi interviewed for CO— by C-Suite Network's Gregg Greenberg.
Published February 25, 2019