By Ayo Alonge [email protected]
Chinedu Ibekwe is the founder of a fast growing startup that strictly deals in shoes.
In this interview, the entrepreneur who studied Electrical/Electronics Engineering at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, discusses the myriad of challenges in the business, while inisting it’s a profitable business.
I am the founder of Jobgurus.com.ng which has been running for over six years now and also the founder of ShoePlace.ng which was established in January, 2019. I hail from a family where my father was a successful businessman and I grew up with a strong entrepreneurial foundation. This exposed me to learning the fundamentals and hard facts of entrepreneurship as part of life.
On the other hand, as an individual, it is in my nature to question the cause of most day-to-day challenges and problems and strive to proffer realistic solutions to them. This led me to develop my first software application, found Jobgurus and give birth to ShoePlace.ng.
In Port-Harcourt and similar to other demographics, there are lots of boutiques that sell different products, from clothes to accessories and more. It is difficult to see a boutique or shop that sells only shoes or only wrist watches. This mix of multiple options, most times, leaves the customer confused in making a choice and indirectly affects the competence and quality the business brand represents. Some years ago, I hosted an old friend who visited from Canada and during his stay, he needed to get a shoe for an event. We both visited several top boutique from door to door and could not get a footwear that could match his attire and taste. Rather, we saw several options that looked like the real deal but were not. This struck me and kept me thinking of how many other persons would have been in a similar scenario. From then, I started forming the ideas and strategies with additional research to start up an online and offline store for only shoes, that gave birth to ShoePlace.ng. It is a shoe shop that focuses purely on top quality shoes for every niche, delivered to Nigerians at an affordable prices.
I saved up funds. As I already had an existing business, I took a loan from my other business to fund the start up of ShoePlace.ng, after a detailed feasibility study and kickstarted the new venture.
The challenges are numerous and they include foreign exchange (forex) fluctuation: As the exchange rate fluctuates , it poses a challenge to us because most of our products are imported, and this directly affects the price. Next is dependence on third party logistic firms as we outsource our international and local deliveries of customer orders. Most of these delivery companies are not as efficient as they are supposed to be. Another issue payment methods. Payment on Delivery (P.O.D.) vs Payment Before Delivery (P.B.D.). We, most times, lose money through the payment on delivery option, because customers can place an order online via our e-commerce site and on delivery at their location, they realise they are not financially ready for the order, or they will claim they have travelled or no longer interested. In such cases, we bear the cost of delivery.
Access to forex is a critical part of our business, but because we don’t have access to FX, we pay agents abroad in naira and they help us pay for our goods in dollars. It is a bit expensive because of the service charge. On Payment methods – P.O.D vs P.B.D. – with our business fully active online, we strive to validate the credibility of each customer that places an order online, just to ensure we have confidence that the products are not shipped to persons with ill intentions. In cases where we are not comfortable, we insist on P.B.D. and apply our refund policy.
Generally, retail business is very profitable, and the shoe business is not an exception. We are currently planning on expanding with more outlets in top cities nationwide. This will give you access to top quality shoes at an affordable rate nationwide.
There are several other persons in this business, but we do not see them as competition. Considering how we have positioned our brand, worthy of mention is our unique strategy of being easily accessible to several customer segments (online and offline presence), prompt customer service, quality products, adequate advertising and very competitive prices. Our shoes are classy and affordable.
Like every other businesses, there was a decline in the sales during the lockdown as there was no movement. But immediately after the lockdown, we saw our sales rise fast, higher than the statistics we recorded last year. The main impact of the harsh economy and COVID-19 was the slight increase in our prices due to foreign exchange.
As a matter of fact, I am discussing with a few close friends to raise funds for the business expansion to other major cities within Nigeria, this year. This is part of our business development strategy.
Personally, I will say sustaining the basics is very essential to grow a business. These are regular power supply which will help to build more manufacturing capacities; good road network will also help for easy distribution. Another area where government can come in is in direct access to forex at CBN rates. More good policies that support SMEs, just like that given for business name registration by the government, should also be introduced. Building international trade and commerce networks that are validated by government is another way. This will help to boost the reputation we have internationally, as other organisations will be comfortable to relate with you.