Segun and Ronke Abiona are the founders of Nicole and Giovanni, a Nigerian company that designs premium fashion accessories, sold through its online and brick and mortar channels. The product range includes socks, shirts, ties, pocket squares, cufflinks, boxers and scarves.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourselves in as business owners.
One of the toughest challenges we have is FX (foreign exchange). We don’t produce all our products in Nigeria; we produce in locations where we can source the best fabric and expertise. The Nigerian currency is not doing so well against the dollar, so most of the time we have to seek means of hedging against the dollar. In the nearest future, we hope to backwardly integrate to reduce the reliance on imports.
We launched the brand in the US a couple of years ago with the purpose of earning in US dollars while we try as much as possible to carry out transactions in dollars through our web stores: www.nicoleandgiovanni.com and www.alfredandalexa.com. We also earn US dollars from retail outlets in the US.
There is also the issue of human resources. It’s a process to acquire staff with a healthy balance of education, skill and expertise. The majority seek a high paying job with little input. At the moment, we are still bootstrapping for the most part and have limited resources to invest. Therefore, we have to train and build up raw talent. Unfortunately, we have a lot of youngsters who are not willing to learn the process, leading to a high turnover of staff. Currently, a significant portion of our processes are outsourced to highly skilled and trusted companies; this way we have optimal results with lower operational costs.
2. What business achievement are you most proud of?
It was a proud moment for us when we launched our flagship store in Ikoyi, Lagos. Our ideal clients reside and work within the same vicinity and for their shopping experience and privacy, we chose that area.
Another exciting moment was when my partner and I took up a course at Harvard. The trip and course was fully funded by the brand.
We have so many. Another memorable event was when we opened our second store before Covid-19 struck. It was huge for us because it means that we are scaling regardless of the growing challenges.
We have also been able to master the pre-order strategy where customers pre-order our products before they launch to the market. You know you are doing something right when customers exchange money for products they have not seen, especially in an environment such as ours.
3. Tell us about your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I am not tech savvy. I am not big on tech. However, my strength lies in my weakness. My partner Aderonke, CEO/ technical director, handles everything tech-related in the business. I oversee products from idea creation to execution, branding, sales, marketing and strategy and act in the capacity of the innovations chief. She helps us leverage on technology to advance the business. She also manages operations and quality assurance. She manages the areas where my weaknesses lie.
4. What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
It is important to have a business plan. When you have a business plan, it helps you navigate your journey. However, you need to understand that your business will evolve over time. You won’t see the complete picture at the beginning. As your business progresses and expands, you may need to adjust laid-down strategies.
When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, he didn’t know Facebook was going to be as big as we have it now. The initial concept was a medium to identify everyone on campus. Facebook expanded beyond the campus and went public. Based on the expansion, the business plan was changed.
Your business plan is a guide, a pathway and not the full picture of your destination.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you started?
Not really. Whatever I didn’t know wasn’t required at the time. If I knew too much, perhaps I wouldn’t have taken the dive. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely drive. Few people care when you encounter challenges, however success has many friends. Structure is also very important, otherwise you find yourself working round the clock without optimal results.
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