Oluwasegun Abiona left his banking job to establish a sock production business, helping men, women and children of all age groups in Nigeria look classy and taking care of their legs for different occasions. Making the business a true success at the beginning was a real struggle for him, but he didn’t give up. While making frantic efforts to overcome daily popping challenges from combining bank’s duties with running of the business, the young and allure entrepreneur said his wife became handy. “The inspiration returned after a brief conversation with my wife and I decided to give it a push. So, I eventually quit my job at FCMB to concentrate on my business.”
What made you decide that you wanted to start a business?
I wanted to create something out of the ordinary. I have always been involved in entrepreneurial activities and my desire for change and influence grew to the point where I could no longer ignore it.
From FCMB to Nicole and Giovanni; why?
I have always had the desire to create something unique within the Fashion Space. The vision for Nicole and Giovanni was birthed when I was working at Barclays Bank, UK. I moved back to Nigeria with a mission but no unique business model. Within a month, I secured a job at FCMB. I got so engrossed in the job and all it entailed that I almost forgot my initial mission which was to set up a Coloured Sock Brand. The inspiration returned after a brief conversation with my wife and I decided to give it a push. We launched the Nicole and Giovanni Brand as an Online Store with an automated sales process. The reception was very encouraging. After 18 months of endless hours in traffic to and from work at FCMB, daunting work schedules at night coupled with the midnight review of the web store to ensure continuous engagement with our target audience, I could no longer resist the pull so I eventually quit my job at FCMB to fully concentrate on my business.
What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
Writing! I have a great interest in the stock market and writing so I wrote articles about the stock market. After 10-15 different write ups, I approached publishers and I secured a column in the Daily Independent Newspapers in Nigeria where I wrote about making money in stocks. I got noticed by stockbrokers who encouraged me to join an Asset Management Firm. I did and this formed my career foundation.
Can you take us through the process of establishing the business, launching and marketing it?
Research: As an entrepreneur, you need someone who shares your passion and love for what you do; a trusted person who understands your vision and mission. I found that in my wife Aderonke Abiona who is an Online Business Coach/ Start- up Adviser, Engineer and Entrepreneur. She is an extraordinary woman. I was able to leverage on her technical experience, bounce ideas off her and launch the business in a strategic and objective manner. She is also my accountability partner. We carried out an intense research on the Fashion space in Nigeria, sock production, retail and marketing and came up with a workable project and business plan.
Branding: Choosing a name required a lot of brainstorming and mind mapping. We worked together to ensure that the brand name, logo, vector files all carried the brand message.
Manufacturing: Selecting the perfect manufacturer to produce the best quality socks was an intense process. We explored various companies and factories within and outside Nigeria and eventually settled for the ideal one outside Nigeria. They have been in the business of sock production for over 40 years and we share similar core values.
Retail Strategy: The sales strategy was to take advantage of E-commerce. An interactive web store was designed and developed to handle product orders. This was capital and time intensive but we were determined to deliver the best. Website development, manufacturing, product testing and quality assurance were all managed concurrently
Launching: We launched the business in 2014 via the website www.nicoleandgiovanni.com with a commendable reception. The entire process was completely automated as I was actively involved and committed to my day job. Majority of the orders came in through the website. Product sorting was done when I returned home from work and door-to-door delivery was handled by a courier company. The process worked perfectly but now I am fully committed to the business and the processes are undergoing continuous improvement to provide even better service.
Marketing: We engage in social media marketing – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Our strategy is consistency and our awareness campaign is highly successful at no monetary cost. We have also had to partner with seasoned Brick and Mortar stores to provide a walk in platform for our customers. Every month for the past 12 months, we have set up Pop-Up-Shops at Lifestyle Exhibitions to facilitate sales and one on one interaction with our customers.
What did you learn from your biggest failure?
That capital is not everything. Great ideas coupled with the right strategy attract great attention.
What is the potential total market size for your product today? And what is its growth rate?
The current population of Nigeria is approximately 173 million. Our products are designed for Men, Women and Children of all age groups. We provide customised socks for pre-school, primary and tertiary institutions. We have also received commendable interest from the wedding space. We are the Go-To option for Wedding socks. Our products are currently available for sale in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and we have been approached by stores outside Africa who are interested in stocking our products. Socks are basic essentials and the demand cannot be denied.
What risks are you facing?
Cost of importation is a major risk. However, we are working on turning the idea downside up. We are here for the long haul so local production is in the works. We believe we make it happen.
Have you considered any alliance or partnership?
Yes we have. The initial business model comprised of a strictly online store. However, as the demand for our products grew, the need to get our products within the immediate reach of our customers was imperative. We have a lengthy list of companies who want to partner with us and they are currently undergoing our selection criteria and procedure. The list of our current partners and stockists is available on our web store.
How quality is your products?
Our products are made from the finest combed cotton and we are proud to say that they are produced by one of the best in the industry. We take absolute pride in the fact that the production material mix is perfectly in line with the African man who is our prior concern. The weather, daily activity, and skin sensitivity are all considered in the production process and we engage in several rounds of quality control to ensure that the products are delivered to the customer without defect. The N&G Promise as stated on our web store guarantees the user 100% satisfaction.
What is the single most important reason for your success?
100% Godspiration, 90% Guts and 90% Hard work.
What unique selling propositions do you offer that other manufacturers do not have?
Unique Designs Our products are designed in-house and we receive inspiration from the modern man and his ethnicity
Customer Service/ Delivery One area that can’t be over emphasised. Meeting up with customer expectations is vital to business sustenance. It is a major key to success. We are known for highly commendable customer service, product packaging, and timely delivery
Advocacy We devote substantial amount of time to our customers by engaging in quality conversations. We leave them with an ecstatic feeling and the confidence of a possible repeat purchase in the horizon
If you had the chance to start your career over again, how would you do it differently?
No. I will change nothing about my journey. I have absolute trust and belief that every path I took till date has been for a reason. It has shaped me, and given me a relatively soft landing into full time entrepreneurship. You can never buy experience no matter how rich you are.
What would you say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business in Nigeria?
- Passion and faith in your line of business
- Knowledge of your market
- An effective support system