Zainab Akilu is the founder of Abuja-based business, Berries Collection, which is gaining ground for home items shopping across the capital city. In this interview, she gives tips and advice to young people interested in her line of business.
Tell us about your business and the inspiration
I am a mother of three and the Founder and Business Development Director of Berries Collections. I have my first degree from UDUS in History and later studied a postgraduate degree in Global Entrepreneurship from the UK where I graduated with Distinction. I have other Business & Management certificates including membership of the UK Chartered Management Institute (CMI) with an award in Professional Consulting and Postgraduate Certificate in Strategic Management and Leadership Practice.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial household. My mom was very enterprising; she was involved with and owned a variety of business enterprises. Aside from that, my dream has always been to own my own business or work for myself. I started formal business of trading back at the University, but it was much later that I thought of business branding-which led to the creation of the Berries Collections brand about 10 years ago.
How challenging was it when you started the business?
It is quite challenging starting up a business anywhere especially in Nigeria and specifically in Northern Nigeria. My biggest challenge at the onset was balancing raising a family and managing a business. Then stability of government regulation is also another key challenge especially for import rules and tariffs. Generally, you will need good mentorship, capital or financing, enabling environment and family support, which most young entrepreneurs do not have. Even for the few that have access to all the necessary support, it is nevertheless challenging to start and continue to operate a business in Nigeria not to talk of having sustainable growth. That is why you see businesses folding up even the big ones.
There’s massive competition among businesses like yours, what sets you apart?
What makes Berries Collections stand out among its competitors is our unwavering commitment to product quality, value for money and good service delivery. More than 80% of our products are sourced directly from the manufacturers. Every September we review our product lines, along with feedback & reviews from our customers in deciding our new stock orders. We don’t trade in items that we don’t trust. This has overtime become our unique selling and reference point in the industry.
What’s the ultimate goal as far as Berries is concerned?
We trade in home improvement products, back to school items, interior decorations, and small luxury items. These are essential items for our customers, and they come from all parts of the country. Our Goal is to expand our reach and ensure that our customers can find us very close to them. We hope to achieve this by a combination of business growth strategies like, having shop-in-shops through partnership, having efficient logistic partners and opening up branches in key locations.
What advice do you have for young people on this business?
My advice to young entrepreneurs is first and foremost, patience. Some of our youngsters seem to be in a hurry most of the time; they often ignore key life lessons. There is no short cut to achieving long term success. You must endure the harsh realities of life. They also need Grit: having passion for what they are doing and perseverance through hard work and resilience.
How can the government make things easier for small businesses?
For us it is a mixture of both macro and micro economic realities; naira valuation plays a key role in our cost, as such we need naira to be stable. Also, the rate of inflation affects our customers’ buying power. We compete for customers’ share of wallet; where the economic situation is hard, and parents have to decide between buying a new school bag and paying for school fees, the choice is obvious. We need the overall economic situation to thrive, and people’s purchasing power enhanced.
What role does social media play in your customer relations?
Social media has been a force for good and a supportive tool to us and to most small businesses. It provides a platform for much wider visibility, enhanced customer engagement, and helps us to visualize our products to our customers in a much more impactful way.
Berries is also planning to take this to a new level by introducing an augmented reality that will enable our customers to use an enhanced digital visual representation of our products in their homes. We are very excited about the future of social media and mobile applications, especially for our home décor and back to school product lines.