When Hilda Kemunto dropped out of Class 8 over a decade ago, friends and neighbors in her small village whispered that she was throwing her future away.
Unable to afford secondary school fees, 14-year-old Hilda left academics and took up odd jobs to support her family. The work was backbreaking and pay dismal.
“Many people looked down on me for lacking proper education,” Hilda recalled.
Yet today, 10 years later, a very different story is unfolding.
Hilda is now the proud founder of a salon, a thriving chain of 5 hair and beauty shops across Nairobi employs over 50 staff.
She has risen from high school dropout to successful self-made entrepreneur. This is the story of how Hilda proved the naysayers wrong and overcame immense odds to build her beauty empire.
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After leaving school at 14, Hilda moved to live with extended family in Kawangware. Lacking qualifications, she washed clothes, sold vegetables at the market, and worked other informal jobs.
However, Hilda had always been fascinated by hair styling and make up application. She couldn’t afford beauty college, so she learned via YouTube tutorials and practice on willing friends.
Bit by bit, Hilda saved up enough capital from her odd jobs to rent a tiny space in Kawangware to open her first salon.
She named it and did all the hair styling herself along with reception duties.
“Those first few years were tough. I worked 7 days a week sometimes up to 15 hours a day just to keep the business afloat.”
But through word of mouth, Kemunto’s Salon started gaining popularity in the neighborhood for quality service and Hilda’s vivacious personality.
Within 2 years, Hilda had earned enough to open a second branch in Umoja. Her empire was starting to take shape.
Expansion Through Marketing and Customer Service
To attract customers from farther afield, Hilda leveraged social media and various marketing strategies:
- She ran competitions and discounts on Facebook to stimulate trials.
- She optimized Google My Business listings for each salon branch.
- She hired high school students to distribute flyers across neighborhoods.
- She offered referral rewards to existing customers.
Hilda also became obsessed with over-delivering on customer service:
- All staff underwent rigorous training and evaluations.
- She sent SMS updates to notify clients when stylists were running late.
- Handwritten thank you notes were included with finalized invoices.
- Loyal customers got surprise birthday discounts.
Through savvy marketing and exceptional service, the number of salon branches swelled to 5 within 3 years. Hilda also launched an e-commerce hair extensions store.
Dominating Through Diversification
In addition to diversifying locations, Hilda expanded her initial service range:
- From only hair styling to also manicures, pedicures, facials and massage.
- She onboarded specialized stylists for natural hair, locs, braids and more.
- Her salons hosted makeup and hair workshops.
- She started selling branded hair products.
Catering to a wider array of beauty needs allowed Hilda to serve her clients more holistically while increasing revenue streams. Paired with consistent customer care, Kemunto’s brand loyalty swelled.
Impacting the Community
As Kemunto’s Salon grew, Hilda made sure to open employment opportunities specifically for others who lacked access to higher education like herself growing up.
Her salons now employ over 50 staff in roles like hair washers, assistants, front desk, and operations.
“I make a point to hire young women from disadvantaged backgrounds. I can provide the training they need to earn steady incomes. Being able to uplift others is the greatest reward.”
Additionally, Hilda uses the brand’s visibility to advocate for issues impacting girls’ education access in Kenya. She speaks frequently at schools and women’s groups.
“I share my story to motivate girls to dream big regardless of circumstances. You can achieve anything with passion and grit.”
Key Takeaways from Hilda’s Journey
Hilda Kemunto’s against-all-odds rise from high school dropout to founder of a thriving salon chain offers inspiration and powerful lessons:
- Start small and reinvest – She poured early profits into expansion.
- Leverage social media – Hilda reached new demographics through digital marketing.
- Obsess over customer service – Her focus on client satisfaction built loyalty.
- Diversify services and products – Catering to wider needs enabled growth.
- Don’t fear being underestimated – Use it as fuel to prove doubters wrong.
- Give back when you can – Uplift others once you achieve success.
Despite the challenges of starting with minimal education, Hilda demonstrated self-belief and relentless drive.
Her story is a testament that circumstances do not dictate a person’s destiny. There are no limits to what can be achieved with passion and perseverance.