Not all things that we regard as disadvantages are actually so and vice versa. Let me give an example of a girl who for reasons beyond her control, resumed school two weeks after her classmates. She ends up beating them all to take first place. Of course, this can be for a number of reasons but one which I know from experience is this. So, she resumes after everyone else and finds that she not only has to work hard but has to be very intentional and disciplined in her effort to catch up. She goes about it systematically and soon gets herself into the groove; and because she’s now in this groove of being focused and pursuing her goal with a one track mind, the momentum carries her through. So yes, she may have been a disadvantaged position because she resumed late but her attitude turns this into an advantage. The extra focus she needs to develop gives her an edge and she surges past those who feel they only need to cruise. Life is all about choices. The attitude we adopt is our choice and that’s why two people with equal talent may face identical circumstances; while one succeeds, the other fails.
I believe we’re all familiar with the David versus Goliath story; the minnow squaring up to the giant. It’s something I personally lived out when my former business partner and I founded our supermarket. We knew the dominant South African supermarket chain was preparing to open a branch in the locality we chose, but it didn’t put us off one bit. Friends thought we were crazy but our attitude caused us to see the imminent competition as an advantage and this is why it was. Residents of that area had for long yearned for a quality supermarket; the likes of which would normally be found on the island. They envisaged this SA entrant would give them that and so we decided to give them something even better. The longing for quality meant there was already a pent up demand for the premium service we were coming there to offer. Now, because the highly anticipated entrance of the SA giant couldn’t quite live up to that expectation, our success came because of the competition and not in spite of it. Their “waiting customers” came to us instead. It may seem counterintuitive but this actually represents one of those instances when competition can actually be an advantage.
Our location was excellent, being on the main road and convenient for customers to quickly pop in on their way back from work. To access our SA competition on the other hand, customers would have to veer off the main road, making the journey awkward for someone who has had a long day at work and has just spent too much time in traffic, to go back home. The SA giant, we knew, will always has ample parking space so we made sure we had the same – plus our customers were not charged a fee to park. The SA competition offered “Made in SA” goods but we always knew the Nigerian palate has a preference for European and US products. We studied their pricing, including the tricks they employ to convince customers that all their prices are competitive. We approached the suppliers of the fastest moving products and gave them a guarantee that we would deliver to them a significant minimum volume of sales every month if they could give us the very best prices – the same prices that they would typically give our competition. After studying our sales for a brief period, they agreed. Quite cocky and surprisingly ballsy for a startup business, you might say. Remarkably, we exceeded our projections. Pricing was critical because our research revealed the price sensitive nature of the area’s typical customer, even though it was a well to do, upper middle class area. W
e knew the date our competition targeted to begin operations, so we made sure we opened shop a few months before that. This would not only give prospective customers time to discover us but would also give them time to get used to us. Of course, we ensured we gave our customers excellent personal service from day one; something we knew they would never get when our competition opened. Unfortunately for our SA competitors, they just couldn’t get their act together, which meant they didn’t open until almost a year later, by which time we had already built up a sizable and extremely loyal customer base. Like so many of our customers told us, they had been longing for a quality supermarket to open up in their vicinity. They longed for that experience. They were besides themselves when we gave them what they wanted but the icing of the cake for them, was that we were a Nigerian company. That a Nigerian business felt they too deserved what most people consider foreign quality of service, and was then able to deliver on its promise, made them super proud. A beautiful and welcoming ambience, an attractive and spacious layout and friendly service were just a few of our somewhat unique offerings that kept bringing customers back for more.
I give it to Nigerians because they love it when one of their own proves that he can mix it up with the best of foreign competition. When the competition did finally open, our sales revenue dipped for just three days before it sprang back up. But guess what else? From that point onwards, our sales that had already been increasing at an impressive rate, now grew exponentially. It was as if all the other people in the neighborhood, who had refused to shift loyalty from their usual retail outlet, in anticipation of when this SA juggernaut opens, shifted to us at the same time. It appeared like they had tried out our competition and discovered that it just didn’t live up to the hype.
This experience taught me one thing. Never fear giants. Their size just gives you more to aim at, so you will always find a chink somewhere in their armour. Being a smaller business made us nimble, as we were able to take quicker decisions. We were able to swiftly adapt to what the locality demanded while the juggernaut, which offers a standard package at all their branches, was held up by bureaucracy and awaiting instructions from SA. We turned our smaller size (traditionally regarded as a disadvantage) into an advantage. Knowing the biggest player, not just in the Nigerian retail industry but in Africa was going to be around the corner from us, meant we had no choice but to up our game. There was no room for slacking in any department as we knew we faced a certain sink or swim situation. But we had made our choice. And we had chosen to swim.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time.
Dapo Akande, a Businessday weekly columnist is a University of Surrey (UK) graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. An alumnus of the Institute for National Transformation; with certification in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA and author of two books, The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. Both books are used as course material in Babcock University’s Literature department. Dapo is a public speaker, a content creator and a highly sought after ghostwriter.