By Ayo Alonge [email protected]
Francis Okonkwo is the CEO of El-Classico Phones and Gadgets, a fast growing start-up which deals in phones and other computer gadgets in wholesale and retail. He describes the startup as ‘the number one tested and trusted phone brand in Africa and the world’.
In this interview, Okonkwo reveals his business model, while discussing challenges and competition.
We started our business from the scratch. It was from noting to something. We started with one or two phones and we started in one small shop here in Computer Village before we moved to a very big place. We actually started with Blackberry phones. I am taking about 2013.
The phone business is one of the most capital intensive businesses. Phones are expensive in Africa but affordable in other other parts of the world. You need a lot of cash to go into this line of business. For example, the iPhone 11 Pro Max costs about N500,000 and that means if you are buying 10, that is N5million. The cost prices are very high. This is due to the exchange rate. That N5million is the same amount one can use to close a container. The challenges are then numerous, because of the huge capital involved in damages. You can import phones and they get damaged in transit or even get missing. You can then lose a lot of money in the process but all that doesn’t’t stop us.
Let’s say our staying power in business is the passion to help people. Before I started, I was selling sweets in the ‘molue’. I was once scammed at Oshodi after I made sales form selling sweet and needed to buy a phone for myself. The guy gave me fufu, instead of a phone. It was meant to be a Nokia phone which was about N50,000. He wanted to give me for N15,000. Today, I wish I make people not get scammed from their hard earned money.
We buy from some merchants abroad and get it delivered through an international logistic company. We have a well structured model for sales and distribution.
Competition is crazy in this line of business. Phone business is the most competitive business in the world. I can say that again. Anyways, your competitive edge makes you stand out among others. One thing about El-Classico is that we are special, unique and different. It takes a lot of sacrifices to make people happy always. It takes a lot of sacrifice to sell over 2.7million phones without a single police case. Why people prefer us is because you never get a bad phone from us. Second is that we don’t do customer service, we do customer experience. When you walk in here to get a phone, we make you experience that day and always remember it. Our customers are not just customers but our family members. There is the respect and satisfaction you get. When you have an issue with your phone, you can still come to us. We get a lot of referrals in a day.
How not to get scammed
The thing about Computer Village is that there is a lot of creativity and then fraud around here. For you to be scammed in Computer Village, you have to be greedy. For instance, a phone that is sold for N200,000 may be asked to be sold to you for N50,000. A friend wanted to get an iPhone 11 and was given fufu. The guys are very smart. When you want to buy a phone and you get into a shop, you are not going to be scammed. When you buy from the roadside, then you are likely to get scammed. As I speak to you, some people are using my name online to get people scammed. People get victimised. The phone that I am selling for N100,000, they will say it is going for N30,000. For example, when Apple released Iphone 11, they told us the cost price is $1,999. So, if someone wants to sell to you for less than that price, something is wrong somewhere.
The thing about getting loan is that the banks want to frustrate you. We have made a lot of attempts but if we have an investor that believes in the vision of the company, then it is good enough for us. What we lack in this part of the world is a business having to enjoy goodwill and have investors come in to invest on their own. If we have a bank with a good loan plan, we may need to consider it.
We are not waiting till 2021. We have a new branch in Lekki that is meant to boom very fast. Before the end of 2021, we hope to have opened branches in Abuja, Port-Harcourt and other parts of the country.
I have some apprentice working with me now, with the aim of making them become better entrepreneurs. That is a model from us that we have on ground.Assistance
The government can do a lot for us. We have a lot of youths in the county today. In this market alone, we have around 5million boys who do a lot. Computer Village can actually be the Silicon Valley of Africa. Computer Village boys can wake up a dead phone. They can do a whole lot beyond the human imagination. So, why can’t government help those young boys with access to loan facilities without requiring any collateral or interest rate. They are so smart. Just give the support.
That is what happens all over the world. Once we have a lot of people empowered in this market, that is how jobs can be created. A single person in Computer Village can employ two people. Consider the geometric progression in terms of job creation.