The dwindling fortunes of hair brand, X-Pression; how Nigeria is singlehandedly killing it

For more than 15 years, X-Pression enjoyed huge demand in Europe and America. X-Pression’s growth was driven by its market positioning, suited to all classes regardless of pocket size. But this one-time ‘goldmine’ is now struggling to stand on its feet.

Manufactured by Solpia Nigeria Limited and sister-company, Linda Manufacturing Company Limited, X-Pression is the most popular hair extension brand in Nigeria with attachment and weave-on types. It is the revenue driver for Solpia and Linda despite the array of other products produced by them.

X-Pression was a source of pride to Nigeria and Africa at large, as though rooted in Africa, its branches spread across Europe and America, as demand surged. Despite being an African company, its revenue is driven by demand in Europe and America.

Nigeria is the problem of X-Pression

The beginning of a decline-: The companies began to hit financial difficulties about two years ago when export to its major markets, Europe and America, began to drop due to a fall in demand. Buyers of X-Pression started seeking alternative hair products because Solpia couldn’t meet demand on time.

This failure was mainly because of a failed system in Nigeria’s port. The raw materials for manufacturing X-Pression are sourced from Japan and Malaysia. Purchasing these raw materials was not a problem, but getting them across Nigeria’s port was like passing a camel through the eye of a needle.

While the European and American buyers expect to receive the X-Pression products within one month after demand, the raw materials take six months to leave the port. Nairametrics had previously reported how extortion by NPA officials and task force – comprised of Navy officials, Custom, Civil Defence and Army– stationed at Apapa port road, is behind the gridlock and delay of loading goods at the port.

“What is affecting us right now is mainly the port congestion and the unfriendly atmosphere of the economy in Nigeria now.

“And most times, our raw materials are stuck at the port, sometimes for six months, they will not come out. And you can’t produce if you do not have raw materials to produce.” Azubuike Onyekwelu, X-Pression’s company secretary, told Nairametrics in an interview.

That was how X-Pression lost its revenue driver. The port delay caused export to fall drastically within a short period. That was the beginning of the financial problems of Solpia and Linda. X-Pression’s biggest markets have resorted to alternatives due to untimely supply.

“It dropped by 80% to 90%. Because most times, when people in America or Italy place order for goods, they expect you to supply within a month, but due to the fact that we don’t have raw materials to produce items required by them, they have to seek out alternative,” Onyekwelu disclosed.

African market doesn’t offer much help

Presently, Nigeria is the goliath standing between X-Pression and its revenue driver. Asides the port which has been the bane of most manufacturers in Nigeria, the closure of land borders has also blocked Solpia’s alternative revenue source.

While X-Pression is only exported to Europe and America, buyers from other African countries come to Nigeria to purchase its products from the companies’ distributors and export to their countries. Although Onyekwelu said the revenue generated from the Nigerian and African market is nothing compared to the western markets, it still provides a soft landing for them.

According to him, buyers from Cotonou, Togo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali come to export X-Pression products to their countries, but since the border closure, it has been difficult for such business transactions to occur.

This means that X-Pression which used to enjoy patronage from Western and other African markets before now has only the Nigerian market as a revenue source. Such drastic decline in clientele list is expected to have a negative impact on a company. And that has begun to take effect, with the downsizing of its workers.

Knockoffs taking over Nigerian market

40% of X-Pression products in the Nigerian market are fake. This is another way Solpia (producer of X-Pression attachments) and Linda (producer of X-Pression weavon) are losing return on investment. The only market remaining to salvage a future for the companies has been taken over by the Chinese.

Most X-Pression products are shipped out of Nigeria to various markets offshore because the products are manufactured within Nigeria, however, some Chinese have found a way to import fake X-Pression products into Nigeria.

According to Onyekwelu, Onitsha, Aba, Port Harcourt, Benin, Kaduna and Lagos have been saturated with fake X-Pression, but unsuspecting customers buy the fake X-Pression products nevertheless because they can’t differentiate the original from the fake.

Also according to Onyekwelu, some Chinese nationals and Nigerians now leech off the brand’s revenue potential by sourcing for cheaper fibre.

“People are now leveraging on scarcity of raw materials to now source for cheaper fibre – maybe made in Nigeria fibre – then get our labels, print on the nylon and start selling as the real X-Pression in the market.”

The original X-Pression label has unique features (a Hologram and also a hole through which the texture can be felt) which the fake products don’t have.

Electricity and CBN problem

As if the aforementioned challenges are not enough, the makers of X-Pression spend about N4 million weekly on diesel generator because the factory has to be powered for 24 hours.

He also stated that the company is unfairly treated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as regards foreign exchange. According to Onyekwelu, they often get far less than the FX they request, “Another problem we’ve been having is the Central Bank in the foreign exchange.

“Most times, if we are applying for foreign exchange, we apply for maybe, $1 million, we will be given maybe $1000. It’s not even encouraging. We have to source for the balance outside.”

Ripple effects of X-Pression’s dwindling fortune

Impact of X-Pression’s challenges on staff: With the companies’ revenue source being hit, it’s only a matter of time before Solpia and Linda are brought to their knees, and the clock is ticking already, as the company has begun to downsize in large numbers.

The companies used to boast of about 13,000 workers some years ago, but now, it only accounts for about 7,000 employees. The growth of Solpia and Linda is dependent on the growth of X-Pression despite having other brands in the market.

Aside from these companies being vital contributors to the employment numbers in the country, they are employers of women, who make up almost all the workforce in Solpia. But sadly, thousands of them will have to bid their colleagues goodbye by the end og October; two days away from now.

Due to its financial difficulty and the state of Nigeria’s economy, Solpia terminated the contract of Amalya Consults Limited. The recruiting agency had employed 1126 workers to work for Solpia and Linda, but these employees will be aced in the downsizing process.

Although Onyekwelu confirmed to Nairametrics that some of the workers sacked will be recalled after the company find its footing, he isn’t sure if the recall will happen this year or next year.

Nairametrics learnt that the company had tried to hold off the downsizing of its workforce for close to two years, sending workers of a department on technical leave every now and then – depending on which raw material is delayed at the port – rather than sack its workers. But it can no longer maintain the financial strain.

Linda Manufacturing is winding up: Although the sister company of Solpia is still in business, Linda is gradually winding down, as workers are resigning and being sacked. The company which is located in Mushin, Lagos State, now has an operating arm in Solpia’s factory which is located along Iju Road, Agege.

Amalya Consults shutdown: The termination of contracts also affected Amalya Consults as the outsourcing agency shut down its operations and relieved its workers of their duties. During a visit to the company at Fagba, Ifako-Ijaiye, Lagos, Nairametrics was informed by sellers around the company that business will not commence until later next year.

Efforts to reach the company by phone proved abortive, as its contact wasn’t reachable.

Last resort to save X-Pression

Collaboration with relevant agencies: According to Onyekwelu, there are plans to collaborate with Customs and Immigration to put an end to importation of fake X-Pression products into Nigeria. Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the Nigerian police have been assisting in the fight against the fakers.

Nairametrics was informed that a Federal High Court order had also been granted against fakers, and one company involved in production of fake X-Pression products has been raided in Ikotun. However, it was learnt that the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) hasn’t been of help much as they require logistics to be taken care of by the complainant.

X-Pression’s future in FG’s hand: Onyekwelu said government intervention is urgently needed to keep Solpia and Linda on their feet and prevent the manufacturers of X-Pression from shutting down. He said the border closure should be reconsidered because other manufacturers who are not rice producers are being affected.

Onyekwelu isn’t far from the truth, as Nairametrics had previously reported that other businesses are being affected due to the border closure. Producer of fruit drinks, So Fresh, had told Nairametrics that its revenue had been hit by the closure.

According to Onyekwelu, the decision of the government to close the border might be for the good of producers of rice, but it simultaneously has a negative impact on X-Pression and other businesses.

He also suggested that the government should ban importation of hair products in order to protect producers in Nigeria and lure foreign importers to establish their operations in Nigeria. Onyekwelu said that this is more favourable than allowing them import into Nigeria because it will help reduce unemployment in Nigeria and boost Nigeria’s industry.

He added that government should make foreign exchange accessible for raw material and review the port charges.

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