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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

MEET THE CEO, FOODCO PLC, MRS SOLA-SUN BASHORUN

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Mrs Sola-Sun Bashorun is the Managing Director, FoodCo Plc. Having been a retailer  for more than three decades, she shares in this interview with the challenges and prospects of running a supermarket.
When did you develop the passion for retailing?
I had always wanted to run a supermarket as a child; that has always been my dream. I worked for seven years at the library at the University of Ibadan. So, it was during the year that I had my sabbatical leave that I really started a supermarket. Before then, I had started a mini outlet in Bodija, which was mainly what is called a fresh fruits store in supermarket parlance and all we sold then were meat, vegetables and the likes.


What was the dream when you started?
Actually with the dream I had, I saw this place bigger than it is now. We are looking to become something bigger than this. Right from day one, I had always been interested in retail the way it is done internationally, but the Nigerian market was not ready for that yet and so we started where we could, but now the landscape is changing.

How much did you invest at the initial stage of the business?
I can’t really remember the exact amount we started the supermarket with, because we started with our wedding presents. Those were good times, because from the gifts we were given when we got married, everything amounted to about N12, 500 and with that we bought three freezers, a refrigerator, a generator and a brand new bus in 1981.

So how many branches has the company grown into?
We have four at the moment and they are all in Ibadan.

As a woman and an entrepreneur, how do you manage your home and business?
It was tough at the beginning, juggling between the home and the business. But what I was able to do was to learn to plan and priotise my time. I remember back then, every time I felt I was running out of time, I would sit down and start logging how much time I spent on each activity in a week. I would look at the time I spent on the family; at work; with the children and every aspect of my life and with that I would check if it was balanced and if it wasn’t, I would adjust and that was one trick I learnt early enough.

For a child to nurse the ambition of running a supermarket someday, then the environment must have influenced it. What was growing up like for you?
My father took us on holiday every year, mostly in England, so I saw stores and I just loved shopping in them. Over time, I made up my mind to own one of such. Again, back then, there were Kingsway and Leventis in Ibadan and they were superb. I remember that Kingsway had about four to five stores and at Christmas, you could go on a train around the store to see Santa Claus and it was really lovely. Unfortunately, those stores closed down. So, seeing those stores both here in Nigeria and abroad, was the major reason that stirred the dream of replicating something like that.

Having been a retailer for over three decades, what were the hurdles crossed?
There were a lot. First, it was expertise; I saw it, I had the passion for it, but I didn’t know how to do it. There was no school in Nigeria offering anything about doing retail businesses. Our first retail courses are just starting in Nigeria now. There was nowhere to learn what you had to do then. The second issue was finance. We borrowed money at 30 per cent interest to run a business that gave you a margin of five or 10 per cent, so how do you make up? Then also there was the issue of staffing; many youths had the perception that working in a supermarket is a low level job and would rather look for jobs in banks or some other fields . So those posed as the major challenges.

What other investments are you into?
Right now, it’s mainly retailing and just the supermarket. Although we also run a bakery, contrary to the general  belief in Nigeria that a bakery is different, it is still a supermarket. In other developed countries, a bakery is part and parcel of a grocery retail establishment , so it’s not different per se.

What future plans have you for FoodCo?
Nigeria is just opening up for retail and the eyes of the whole world are on Nigeria, we are a country of about 160 million people, that is a good place for any retailer. The whole world is interested in Africa and in Nigeria because of our population and because of our improving economy. So it is just the beginning of retail industry in Nigeria.

Have you ever thought of just giving up the business?
Yes, we’ve had bad times, but the source of strength for me has been my faith and my relationship with God. Knowing that whatever I’m doing, God wants me to do it gave me staying power to be able to stay. So when things get really bad and worse, I just look up to him for help.
FoodCo crashed once, in fact, this is the second generation of FoodCo. We had five stores before; one in Osogbo and the other four in Ibadan and everything just went wrong.
We were not making enough sales or profit and we just didn’t know what was happening, so we had to close all the other branches and focused on the branch in Bodija, Ibadan, while trying to figure out what the problem was and we started all over again. That happened between 2000 and 2006, one after the other, we had to close the branches, until there was only one left.
So we looked at every aspect of the business for such not to repeat itself and then started over again and opened the second branch in 2010 and between 2010 and now, we now have four stores here in Ibadan.

What were the humble beginnings?
We started very little with the fresh fruits in 1981, but I remember the real supermarket started in 1982 with a N5, 000 loan from Union Bank, because after we paid the rent and did the shelving, there was no money to fill the store, so we had to apply for a loan, but because we had no collateral, we only got loans as civil servants and the maximum they could give myself and my husband on our salary scale was N5, 000, so that was what we started with.

How many staffers did you start with?
We started with four staffers, but now we have about 180 people we pay monthly and those are just the full-time staffers. There are also contract staff like the security and functional staff.

Being a busy person, how do you relax?
I love reading.

When exactly did you leave your job at the university to be here?
I resigned in 1985 and since then, it’s been all about retailing.

Advice for young entrepreneurs…
Follow your dreams, but be ready to work hard. If you have an idea, follow it. But I believe the best way to make things work is to have a good and solid relationship with God. Go for whatever you have in mind to do, even if its’ been done by some other people, you can create a niche for yourself.

Source: Trubune NG


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