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The straight road not taken leads to success

For Fort Myers entrepreneur Rochelle Graham-Campbell, a hairstyle choice has made all the difference.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. May 18, 2018
  • Entrepreneurs
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Rochelle Graham-Campbell has been steadily building her hair and beauty products company, Alikay Naturals, since first gaining traction with it via YouTube a decade ago.

It all started when Graham-Campbell decided to stop straightening her hair and “go natural.” But at the time, she couldn’t find suitable products for all-natural, kinky hair like hers — so she created her own and started posting videos to YouTube. She used the handle BlackOnyx77, full of styling tips and advice.

The videos attracted legions of viewers who wanted to know where they could buy Graham-Campbell’s products. Today, her YouTube channel has more than 100,000 subscribers and has logged more than 15 million views, while Alikay Naturals products are sold by some of the nation’s top retailers, including Target, Rite Aid, Kroger and CVS.

• Don't overthink: Graham-Campbell was in college when she created Alikay Naturals, but she was on a path toward law school, not a career in chemistry. She credits her Jamaican grandmother, a skilled herbalist, for inspiring her to take $100 in tips she’d earned via waitressing and experiment with natural ingredients. “She would just pull herbs and make a treatment for things like tummy aches,” Graham-Campbell recalls. “I think if I had had a background in science, I would have overthought it. Me being naïve allowed me to be successful.”

• Your roots are showing: Alikay Naturals’ early success story — more than $2 million in e-commerce sales, with no external investors — was an easy sell for Graham-Campbell when she began to look for retail partners. But that required knowledge and awareness of the market. “We approached Target because we knew they were looking at grassroots brands like ours,” she says. “We told them my story and they loved it. That first pitch went well and they started us in 100 stores; now we’re in 1,100. Due to that success, other retailers have approached us.”

• Demand excellence: Graham-Campbell says a big part of her leadership style is empowering the people who work for her to find their own solutions to problems. “You can’t lead people who don’t want to be led,” she says. “You can have the best idea, the best product, but if you don’t have the right team, you can drown. That’s why, if you come to me with a problem, I ask that you have at least two possible solutions. I don’t have time to troubleshoot everything that goes wrong. Come to me with some solutions, we’ll talk and then you’ll be empowered.”

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