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Running a business in Nigeria is challenging, Interesting – MD Skyline

Mr Unni Krishnan Menon is the Managing Director (MD) of Skyline Tourism and Hospitality Ltd, a member of the Skyline Group operating in Nigeria through…

Mr Unni Krishnan Menon is the Managing Director (MD) of Skyline Tourism and Hospitality Ltd, a member of the Skyline Group operating in Nigeria through various subsidiaries. In this interview, he speaks about the operations of the company, prospects, and challenges since it began operating in Nigeria. Excerpt:

Can you tell us about your operations in the Nigerian market as a hospitality company with a specialty in Fast Food and other businesses?

We have been managing the business of restaurants in Nigeria since 2021. We manage three different brands now; Pizza Hut, which is an American international brand present in more than 120 countries. We have Movenpick, which is known for quality Swiss dairy, Movenpick Iceream, which is well renowned; one of the top ice creams in the world that we are proud to bring to Nigeria. And then, the third brand which is our baby, it’s a concept which we have put a lot of effort into and curated within Nigeria. It’s called ‘Street Cafe’ and the idea was to bring street food from across the world into a fine dining environment. So, we give it the elevated service and products and the presentation that is befitting some of the greatest street foods from across the world. So, at this point in time, we have street foods from Nigeria and all the popular dishes from Nigeria. We also have, since some of us are from India, for some Indian food, we’ve got some Chinese foods, we’ve got foods from the Middle East and Lebanon.

When did Skyline start in the country, and how far is your expansion drive?

Skyline Tourism and Hospitality, which is the second company to start in Nigeria, was registered in 2019, and we started our operations in 2021. We lost a year because of the COVID-19 when the entire world was shut down; we couldn’t travel, we couldn’t construct. So, we lost about a year, but since then, we’ve gained a lot of momentum, so we started in June 2021. Our first outlet was at Jabi Mall, which was our flagship store even today. Our second outlet opened in Kano at Ado Bayero Mall. Since then, we’ve expanded Pizza Hut up to 12 different locations. So, we have Pizza Hut now. We have three in Kano, seven in Abuja. Our biggest presence is in Abuja, then two in Port Harcourt. So, this is the current spread of Pizza Hut. Mövenpick Ice Cream started in 2022, and we started with Kano. We had our flagship store open on State Road in Kano, and since then, we’ve opened eleven more. So, 12 Pizza Hut, 12 points for Mövenpick, and then we have Street Cafe, and the first restaurant of Street Cafe was opened in Kano on the 28 of February, 2024.

How will you describe the business environment in the last three years?

It was challenging and interesting. Running a business in Nigeria is quite different from running a business in different parts of the world. But at the same time, I think those who are able to manage all these indices of the economy should be rewarded for being persistent and trying to adapt to these new challenges in the economic environment. Yes, we constantly try to see what is happening in the economy.

In terms of job creation, how many direct and indirect jobs have you created in your chain of business in the country?

We have over 320 employees working with us. We have a Skyline family, and at least 20 per cent of them have been with us for more than one year, 10 to 12 per cent of them have been with us for more than two years. So, we are quite proud that we have been able to retain a lot of talents. Most of the people who tend to leave the company either are going for studies or got a better opportunity, and we wish them well. We know that the training that was provided here, the experience will give them a good footing in whichever career they chose in the future. We are very proud of that. Just a week ago, we promoted close to 14 people as managers. We have started growing a team. We are also looking at how our vendors and suppliers grow with us.

What are the major delicacies being served in the street cafe?

We’ve got the Suya, we’ve got Ram Suya, we’ve got fish Suya. And we’ve also taken popular foods from the southern region, we’ve got Egusi soup, we’ve got goat pepper soup, we have ‘swallow.’ We’ve got staple Nigerian foods. We are also going to innovate with other dishes in Nigeria. On the other hand, we have Chinese food, so you will get your Chinese fried rice, which is quite different from the fried rice that we get in Nigeria in most of the brands. We have noodles.

With this initiative of having Nigerian and other dishes on your menu, are there plans to replicate in your other outlets?

Yes, we’ve already got it. It’s not traditional Nigerian food, but for example, we have the meat pie, which is a popular Nigerian snack. We’ve got the meat pie, we’ve got the chicken pie and pizza, and very soon, we are going to do the sausage roll.

Skyline Tourism and Hospitality Ltd has initiated a Corporate Responsibility Service (CSR) programme. What is it about, and how are you executing it?

We started our CSR programme in 2022. The objective of the programme was to get people from a disadvantaged background. We started with a camp outside of Abuja. They have children who come from the Boko Haram-affected communities whose parents were killed or displaced. A particular NGO is supporting these children, and we worked along with them to see how we could bring some joy to these children, maybe once a month by picking them up at Pizza Hut and giving them a good experience. It’s not just about the meal, but it was about how they could have a good, enjoyable experience just for a day. Just like every other child whose parents will take them out after school or after they finish their exams, take them out for a meal. We want to do that for these disadvantaged children. We have served over 1,200 meals every month across different outlets in Abuja. During Christmas, we gave away over 150 pizzas at a camp based in Durumi. We did that along with the US Marines because they also wanted to be a part of the year’s activities.

What have been your challenges?

If you ask me, we have two key challenges. Number one obviously is forex and importation. For Pizza Hut, for good or for bad, they have to put Cheese, till that time that somebody decides to manufacture cheese, Mozzarella cheese, so, that’s a big challenge. I am hoping that somebody sooner or later will jump at the opportunity and start manufacturing cheese and it’s going to benefit a lot of companies. Not just pizza; even our competitors that need to put cheese would have an option locally. The second big challenge is dependency on generators and diesel. I think all businesses are going through this crisis.

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