While small businesses across the U.S. are reopening and adapting to the new normal, we’ll be highlighting stories of OnDeck customers who are facing these challenges head on. They share ways they changed their business operations to deal with new realities and how they used financing from OnDeck to help along the way.
We recently spoke with OnDeck customer Melissa Diabate, who owns NirvanaNour in Houston, TX. She has used her OnDeck financing to stock up on inventory to meet demand during the pandemic.
Tell us about your business. How did it come about?
I am originally from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, and I came to the US at 17 years old with the American Dream. I was pursuing a nursing degree, but that didn’t pan out – it wasn’t what I was passionate about. Hair is my passion. In my culture, I wasn’t allowed to get hair extensions until I was 21, and when I finally got them, they were expensive and low quality. I saw that there was a need in all communities – Black, White, Latinx, men, women, all ages – and I knew I could fill that gap in the market.
I opened my first business at age 25, and I had an online store and a storefront. I realized that the traffic to the online store was higher than traffic into my storefront, so after a year I eventually closed it down and focused solely on online sales.
What have been some of your biggest challenges as a small business owner?
There are so many. I don’t have a background in business, but what I did have was drive. I realized that had to rely on myself without help from mentors. I figured out how to take pictures because I couldn’t afford a photographer. Most people will use a manufacturer’s product photos, but I wanted to be unique, so I shot my own products. I learned my own bookkeeping and business taxes.
I also quickly found out that not all suppliers are created equal. After I made my first product, my friends loved it and I became confident enough to reach out to YouTube influencers. I got one to review and my product flew off the shelves. All the money I made later flew out the window because my suppliers’ products dropped in quality and customers were not happy with their purchases. I learned how to find out how to get better products with more consistency – that’s where positive cash flow helps.
Not only am I running a business, but I am a full-time mom and that is super hard. Not only do I have to sleep late and wake up early to take care of my 1 year old, I need to ensure emails are being answered and orders are going out, all with a pandemic happening.
Why did you choose OnDeck and what’s been your most memorable experience working with us?
When I was first looking for financing, I was rebranding my business and looking to grow. I went with my bank and they didn’t approve me. I found OnDeck online and the loan advisor I first worked with was great. Sarah made things so easy and since then I’ve never had any issues. We knew the cost would be higher than a bank, but the payback worked for me and everything is done when it’s supposed to be done.
I worked with Anthony on my last round of OnDeck funding because COVID really impacted my suppliers and sales. OnDeck helped me keep up with the competition as I was becoming known in my industry.
How have you used the money?
Mostly for inventory and making sure I have product in-house to reduce the time it takes to ship to customers. I’ll eventually hire a few people to help market the business, especially on social media.
How has the coronavirus impacted your business?
From February to July, everything was shutting down and people were spending their money on groceries and cleaning supplies, not hair. And when customers were buying my products, they weren’t spending as much as they normally would. On top of that, getting product was harder because the overseas shipping went from 2-3 days to up to 4 weeks at times. I tried doing made-to-order rather than having the product in stock and investing in all that inventory, but the length of time to the customer was insane. I went back to OnDeck to get the money for inventory after all.
What do you love about being a small business owner?
My mom was an entrepreneur, and I got the bug from her. She taught me how to make crepes and when I got good enough, I was making them and selling them. So, entrepreneurship comes naturally to me. Combining that with my passion for hair, I love helping everyone and anyone feel good about themselves: it could be a person recovering from cancer or someone looking to express themselves in a different way.