expertise

YOMI TIJANI: “I’M NOT SELLING PANTS, I’M SELLING EXPERTISE”

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He migrated from the world of mass communication to fashion where he now reigns supreme. The sokoto expert talks to us about building the client’s trust and continuity. It is not hard to see his love for fashion reflected in every single stitch. Since leaving secular employment, he has found fulfilment and more focus and allows this passion to drive him. He obviously knows what he’s talking about and he shares details of how he began.

Tell me about your business
I’m in the business of fashion but I make only one article: pants. It was borne out of the need to satisfy people, male and female, who have the peculiar problem of ill-fitting or problematic pants. My business is bespoke or what some call made-to-measure. That way, I can address the unique problems that individuals have.

Do you have any plans to go into fashion on a wider scale?
If you mean do I have any plans to expand my label to a full-fledged one with other categories of outfits, then of course the answer is most definitely. The decision to begin with just pants is a strategic one. The result of that decision is to ultimately be seen as an expert in that area so that I’m not simply selling pants, I’m selling expertise. That expertise will deliver the customer’s trust. Once we have that trust, then we can gradually and systematically introduce a full range of different clothes, from shirts to suits and everything in between. Also, we can introduce a children’s line. But first the grand strategy is one of earning the customer’s trust.

How easy has it been setting up a business with the “Nigerian factor” at the back of your mind?
Obstacles are not a Nigerian factor. That is something that is common to businesses all over the world. To answer your question, it is never easy setting up a business obviously because you are on an eternal journey of overcoming the obstacles you alluded to. But overcoming challenges of whatever nature is what makes business worthwhile. One of the challenges I had to overcome was one of knowledge. I didn’t always know how to make clothes, namely to cut and even sew, for example. So I was always at the mercy of tailors that I paid. This didn’t seem wise to me and I knew I couldn’t sustain my business that way so I had to learn. Of course, there are now other challenges, including how to get the best out of staff who don’t understand that what will help us satisfy customers and earn their trust is if we give them the best all the time. So it’s never easy. But once you’ve made the decision to be in business you understand that it will not be easy.

How have you been able to cope with challenges?
I’ve had to do whatever was necessary. Acquire knowledge, manage people, customers and expectations.

Do you have other business interests?
It’s just fashion. That is my life, the only thing I’m really interested in.

What is your label called?
Sokoto By Hesed.
That’s Sokoto, as in trousers

Have you showcased your designs at any fashion shows?
That has not been a priority. Fashion shows are not in line with our strategy. Maybe sometime in the future it’s something that we will consider. Our target customer doesn’t necessarily attend fashion shows. His buying behavior is not influenced by that. And that’s very key for us: what is it that makes our target buy? For our customers, it is not fashion shows so it would not be a wise way to spend our tight marketing naira.

For how long have you been in business?
Off and on since 2004. But I just really organized things as a business like 2 years.

What platform have you used to spread the word?
The most effective for us has been word of mouth. We measured this by result and found that a bulk of our business has been coming from referrals. Our customers love our products and feel the need to share with friends and family. And so there has been an incredible buzz in that regard. Because I’m coming from a corporate background, I appreciate the value of a platform like LinkedIn. I carry on an engagement with many of my contacts on that platform and the result has been amazing. Twitter, Facebook and other online avenues have opened up more possibilities. We are looking at 2015 as the year when we fully launch our online presence with our website, which is under construction. That will also drive our e-commerce activities.

That sounds like major work is under way. So how has leaving paid employment to become an entrepreneur turned out?
Absolutely. It’s been the best thing for me, to be honest. I’m doing something I want. My destiny is in my hands. I can finally reach the peak of my potentials. With paid employment, I never felt this fulfillment. I always felt like something was missing, I wasn’t at rest, didn’t feel secure. Of course it has its challenges as we established earlier. But I’d rather have that excitement than an 8-5.

Have you been able to harness that energy into your work? Are there not distractions that come from having your time to yourself?
Focus has been a primary driving force. There is so much to accomplish and I’m constantly working that there is no place for distractions. Where I take time out, I find that it’s not really time off because this is my life. And I have a business lifestyle so if it’s not adding to the bottom-line, it can’t distract me.

How easy was making that decision?
Not easy at all. It required all the courage I could muster. Imagine leaving the seeming security, certainty and comfort of a monthly salary for what a lot of people call ‘the unknown’. Except that for me, I was launching out into the ‘known’. I knew very precisely what laid ahead. I knew it would be rough but I also saw clearly the possibilities that business had for me. In the end, that clarity of vision and faith eased the difficulty of the decision.

That is impressive I must say. So in the next three years, where do you see your company?
To start with, our target for next year is to make a minimum of 5,000 pants. And very possibly, a minimum of 5,000 polos which we are simultaneously working on. To create partnerships of value, like the one we have with a dedicated blogger like yourself. To deepen the customer relationships we have right now.  When we do this, we can then look at growth, diversifying our product offerings, opening up new markets and ultimately owning the number 1 spot for pants in Lagos. And that’s a vision that transcends the next three years.

Who do you consider your fiercest competitor?
When it comes to competition, Sokoto By Hesed is in a special place. We have been lucky to occupy a position in the market and the customer’s mind that we created. What other label do you know that has the mission of providing a solution to problematic pants? It’s just us really. So there is no direct competition right now for what we do. Having said that however, we have found that we have to work to dislodge mostly foreign labels that people have become accustomed to. They are not really the best providers of pants but that is what was available. So that’s the position that we have set out to claim because we make better pants. Our pants have the best fit, they do not shrink, the colors don’t fade. We are the best available now. And Nigerians deserve the best.

Very interesting. Your competition must be tightening their belt by now. Do you offer apprenticeship programs?
It’s really interesting. No apprenticeship programs right now.

Any plans for that in the near future?
It’s something that we can certainly consider.

Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Well… to be patient, humble and listen with an open heart.

I must thank you for your time.
It was a pleasure

Contact details:
10, Ola Street, Obawole, Ogba
08037200811
E-mail: iskandar_ng@yahoo.com
Twitter  @sokotobyhesed