UNEMPLOYMENT DROVE ME INTO ENTREPRENEURSHIP – SLOT FOUNDER
Any Nigerian in need of original mobile phone or any of its accessories will almost certainly think of only one place to get that with warranty-Slot. Slot is a house hold name and one of the biggest phones and gadget sales company in Nigeria today thanks to one young man that was determined to render unalloyed service to the Nigerian populace so much so that there would be value for every kobo paid.
After University what next?
Look for job of course! This is the typical answer I get from almost every graduating student from Nigerian higher institutions. And that was the same way Nnamdi Ezeigbo responded back then in 1996. But reality set in after his graduation. He was faced with the same nagging challenge of unemployment that still haunts most Nigerian graduates today . He roamed the streets for two years in search of a job. But each time like one who goes fishing with a broken net, he returned empty-handed. He is a graduate of Computer Engineering from University of Benin. During his compulsory one year of national service Nnamdi had the dream of working in one of the oil companies.
But things didn’t quite turn out the way he had hoped. It was challenging and at times frustrating, but that was no time to lose hope. Instead Nnamdi saw the period as an opportunity to truly discover himself. He started working towards changing the existing narrative. He was determined to change the narrative for himself and thousands of other jobless Nigerian graduates. Having spent two years without a job, Nnamdi decided to learn a trade. According to him the choice of what trade to learn was a very easy one. He already had a good knowledge of computer engineering and was passionate about anything that has to do with computers.
I never planned to do business
“Interestingly, I never planned to do business. It was just that after my compulsory NYSC program at Guinness Plc, for two years I couldn’t get a job. I actually tried to get one; you know how it is to stay without a job. Even when I eventually got one, I resigned after a month because I was not fulfilled. Since I couldn’t get a job, my only option was to create one for myself. So what did I do? I had to learn a trade and because I studied Computer Engineering, I wanted to follow my passion. But I also needed to acquire practical knowledge and technical know-how. So I had to spend six months with a friend who had a computer engineering outfit at the time. That was just a way of getting my hands dirty and acquiring some practical knowledge.
I remember telling my friend not to bother paying me any stipend because I was keen to learn” he recalls. But Nnamdi never completed that planned six months’ internship. This was because of what he described as ‘value misalignment’ between him and the friend. Nnamdi remains ever grateful to his friend for that opportunity to learn from him though. But he was not prepared to compromise his non-negotiable values as they had different values and thought differently too. In those few months he discovered it was more like a predator and prey relationship. Nnamdi discovered that Business owners in Nigeria seemed to be interested in making money at the expense of the customer. Nobody cared about creating value and that is a philosophy Nnamdi will never subscribe to.
Driven by passion
As a young man he was driven more by a passion for the trade rather than the money. So naturally, he became very good at the job. But the fact that he had stayed two years without a job and the internship was without any pay or allowance meant he had no money to rent a shop of his own. But that was exactly the right time to call into action the entrepreneurship spirit within, rather than resort to self-pity.
Nnamdi moved from one end of computer village to the other looking for whom to share a space with. Eventually he found a bookshop owner who allowed him to share his shop space with him. That was how he found himself in the busy computer village in Ikeja, Lagos.
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Creating a brand through value
Nnamdi was just committed to repairing computers for people at that small space. Over time, he built a reputation with a focus on creating value and his credibility was unquestionable. He made friends, gained acquaintances and loyal customers. These eventually enabled him to get a small space which he called slot. As he would later explain, slot is an English word meaning position or space. That was how Nnamdi eventually carved out a ‘slot’ for himself in the phone industry in Nigeria.
Nnamdi continued to render unalloyed services to the general public. Naturally he became very popular among the people as one satisfied customer would refer others. Within a short period of time it became more of business to business company. “We started maintaining computers for organizations. With that, we were able to raise money to set up the first SLOT store in Computer Village,” recalled Nnamdi. Explaining further, “at a time we discovered that the business was growing and on some occasions you could see queues of people waiting to get their computers fixed. To us, it was more about rendering a service and not just making money. Our services were so cheap yet people could trust us.”
The brand name – SLOT
The name Slot would later be firmly affirmed, as Nnamdi would always tell customers to slot the cards in the computer when working on systems, and with that, people started calling him Mr. Slot. So he went ahead to formalize that, as his company’s name. The queue of customers continued to increase on a daily basis. And in order to still keep his esteem customers happy he recruited some hands to help.
Gradually Slot started selling computers and its accessories and the patronage was so encouraging. Most of Slot clients are major establishments in Victoria Island. With that it was becoming more difficult shuttling Ikeja to Victoria Island to deliver. And with more revenue now coming in Slot was able to build a second office in Victoria Island. Then, there was also the need to set up the next store in Abuja. He was equally having many customers coming from Abuja to patronize Slot. So he identified the need and filled the gap and that was how it started operation in Abuja. That has been the expansion model over the years.
Making the Shift
It’s very important to be sensitive to opportunities in any business one is doing. Before the advent of GSM in Nigeria, Nnamdi travelled to South Africa and saw what GSM was doing there and he knew immediately that it was a matter of time before it entered Nigeria and he saw that as another opportunity and in fact, a golden one at that point. From that moment he was at red alert, and true to his prediction, in 2001 GSM was launched to the general public in Nigeria, Nnamdi knew that he had what it takes to switch or diversify into the sales of GSM phones.
It is only natural that with the type of reputation and credibility built by Nnamdi, customers would trust him more than others for new products entering the market. And he took full advantage of that. “Don’t forget that before the advent of GSM, we were also selling computer parts.
From maintaining computers, we started selling the parts and selling computers. So before the advent of GSM, we had already built our own customer base, so it was easy to leverage our reputation to introduce the GSM business to our customers and diversify into this new business area.
Developing a USP
Our unique selling point is that we just don’t sell devices, we sell value. And then our reputation ensures that we have earned the trust of consumers, so you find that people would rather buy from a place where they can trust the product and service provider. We’ve built our credibility over time and that’s the main reason why our customers come to buy from us.
I agree that what we sell is basically commodity, but we also sell and guarantee trustworthy service. You wouldn’t want to throw away your money or take the risk of just buying from anywhere. By that time, the sale of phones and accessories was dominated by the telecoms companies who were selling at very high costs. So, I saw an opportunity and started selling phones at affordable prices and because customers were satisfied with our products, it was almost impossible to manage the number of customers that troop into our stores on a daily basis and that led us to opening more outlets. By now, computers were almost becoming a distraction as the in thing was mobile phone, which is how we gradually made the shift from computers to mobile phones in Slot. Today computer sales and services account for less than 10% of Slot revenue.” Nnamdi said.
With over 50 outlets across the country one would wonder how Nnamdi has been able to manage all of them to ensure uniformity in service. But he explains that from the outset, they try to inculcate the company’s culture and core values which are integrity, transparency and respect for ethics. When staff get to understand all these values and also understand the retail management training, it becomes easier for them to replicate the level of service at the head office in other branches. He also remarked that he has been blessed with staff (who he considers as the central pillar upon which a retail business stands) that are committed to the company’s core values and passionate about the business.
Slot is not just committed to the welfare of the staff but much more to that of the customers. For a retail business it is not common to find departments that address customers’ complaints adequately but for Slot it is a different case.
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Customers are truly King – Give Them Attention
“In each of the outlets, we have what we call Customer Relation Officer and this person’s job is just to monitor transactions, customers’ complaints and then give feedback to the head office. We run more of a transactional kind of business but do not forget also that we have another arm that is the Customer Service Department and that is the arm that actually takes care of relationship with customers. It is that arm that actually helps us to bond with customers and to create loyalty. So it helps us to get information about how the stores are performing and what is going on in every other store. With this we are on top of what is going on across all the outlets because we see our brand as something very emotional, so we cannot compromise anything less than what we expect.” He stressed.
The company has even gone ahead to provide royalty cards, with which the customers can purchase goods in any part of the country at discounted rates. It also runs regular promos, with winners smiling home with several mouthwatering prizes. All these are ways of appreciating its numerous loyal customers.
The challenges in running a retail business of this magnitude can be quite enormous. But one that Nnamdi has clearly identified is the issue of unstructured economy. He has to deal big time with the influx of fake products to the Nigerian market. But this has actually turned into an opportunity for SLOT. Yes, this is because people are more careful where they get their devices from now. And since SLOT is known for their commitment to quality they will always be number one choice.
People know that they can trust any product bought from Slot above any other shop.
Even before phone manufacturers began to give warranty in Nigeria, Slot had started doing that at its own risk and cost. A customer will come back with a faulty device and Slot will replace it without any additional cost. So, instead of it to bring a setback it actually propels the company many steps forward. This means that Slot not only give customers the right product at an affordable price but goes a step further by standing behind them. What a way to turn challenges to opportunity.
At a time most mobile phone dealers will not want to hear or see officers of Standard Organization of Nigeria, Slot do not only have a cordial relationship with them and other relevant regulatory agencies but has gone ahead to have interactive sections with them. All these they owe to the fact that they have remained very ethical in their business. Slot believes and operates within the limits of approved standards and qualities.
Where are they now?
Slot has become very popular in Nigeria that most lovers of original gadgets have been clamoring for Slot phones. But not to be distracted, Nnamdi who is still the Managing Director of the company, though appreciative of the fact that customers are happy with his services, maintains that he has no immediate plans of rolling out Slot phones. “Our company is all about marketing consumer mobile products. We will continue to work with manufacturers of all worthwhile brands to improve their quality so as to give consumers the best.” He said.
He is, however, setting his eyes firmly on how to make a footprint in the entire Africa. He wants to become the most dominant name in the sale of mobile products. This, he hopes to achieve as Slot is committed to rendering services and ensuring value for every kobo customers spend.
With over fifty stores across the country, the company in partnership with Matrix Certified Pre-owned Nigeria Limited launched a ‘trade-in’ programme in May 2015 to enable customers trade-in their old phones for brand new ones. And has recently introduced a scheme that will enable customers ensure their screen against damage.
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Advice to would-be entrepreneurs
“I think the best way to start a business is by rendering services and that was what I did. I couldn’t have afforded to raise money to start a store at that time. So what I did was to invest in myself. I trained myself and acquired the technical know-how needed. With that I was able to build what is called social capital and not financial capital. With social capital, you can then attract financial capital and that was how I started.
“Sincerely I never planned to be a business man but I think it happened out of necessity. I couldn’t get a job, so I just had to do something on my own. Overtime I trained myself in areas of financial management, general management and in areas of building a structure and I think it is important for Nigerian youths especially those of them that are graduates to learn this” concludes Nnamdi.
Culled from: HOW THEY STARTED BY KACHI OGBONNA