JOSEPH EBATA is the president, BERBIDSON, a Retail Consulting Training Research & Insights company.
We would like to know your opinion on the position of retail business in Nigeria as at 2017?
Retail business in Nigeria as at 2017 is growing, it’s better than it was in 2016 and positioning for the future.
What are the highlights?
In terms of highlights we look at one index that comes to mind. For me, I look at the last report by the Global Retail Index that put Nigeria as third in Africa and 19th in the world in terms of retail opportunity search as the next place to go and do business for those particularly in retail. And in terms of gross national sales was about three hundred and something billion and that is huge. In terms of employment, retail today is doing about 7% of national employment but if you look at the global, is at 17% contribution to National employment globally, that means there is still head room for us to contribute to national employment. In terms of contribution to GDP, it can only be better, we are like third behind Agriculture as at 2010, and up till now we are still growing and we can be rest assured that shortly we will be indeed the engine of growth of the Nigeria economy. And that is the essences of this conference to position retail to take its pride of place as it is in other climes.
Why haven’t we been able to have large organized retail outlets in Nigeria as it is in South Africa?
As it is, Rome was not built in a day, Shoprite started am sure not two years ago, not ten years ago. If you will recall, we had at a time, Leventis Stores and the UTCs of this world in Nigeria that was the era of modern trade and gradually it died, why did it die, the middle class disappeared whether it was intended or not intended but there was consequences of whatever it was, intended or not. Policies of government and all of that, led to the disappearance of the middle class in this country. But now we are having a resurgence of the middle class and also coming to the heels of that, we are having a resurgence of the modern trade and so it will only be a question of time, what retail was ten years ago, is not what it is today and I can tell you for sure like we predicted in another 10 years what you are going to see in the space of retail in Nigeria will be something mind boggling, something you never imagined. We have a bright future, we have the reach, and why did I say that for example, you look at the shared population of this country, 170 million out of which about 80 million people are in urban centers and with the middle class resurgence, with the income level rising, with the government policy- those bans on street trading, re-modernization of the malls , coming in of the malls and of course coming in of the internationals, is rubbing off on retail and the change will be dramatic, it will be drastic. Except for the pull back of last year’s recession which we are glad now we are getting out of. We are sure to have a good future and another thing also which I mentioned in my opening remarks today, we appreciate the government in terms of the executive order recently signed particularly that of the ease of doing business and I’m sure you also have seen what happened in the ports a few weeks ago, that led credence that we just can do the right thing in this country if we have the political will and this government have shown us that they do have a political will and am sure that the future of retail in particular will be bright.
What role those data play in all this?
As a trainer, basically we will train in retail and we consult within the retail space. One of the things we tell our people is that if you cannot understand number then you cannot manage a business. Data will help you draw insights that will help you make decision, so the role of data is inevitable, it is great, and it’s one of the fundamentals of retail and you must understand your numbers. Retail is a game of numbers, if you don’t understand it you fail. What I hear is that there are no data in this country, yes that may be true but partially true; you sell in your store so you know the number of people that walked in, these are no rocket sciences. You can do it manually; you can also do it scientifically. You know the number of people that walked in; you know the number of things they bought. How did our grandparents do it, they didn’t have to look for data but yet they succeeded. But data is important, but however, you must have a vision and a strategy. You cannot continue to amass data without using it. A lot of people invest in different things, they think data is the in thing so they invest, but at the end of the day what do you do with the data? Data is important only and only when you use it or optimize it for value on your business.
What are the challenges facing retail business?
There are so many challenges; we can classify them in two levels: external to retail issues and internal to retail issues. The key examples of the external retail issue are; infrastructure like power. You can’t run a business on generator and succeed and that is what we do in this country. The financial support is also lacking. If we look at capacity building, it is also lacking. We are glad that company like ours is waking up to fill that space and support the industry in terms of capacity building. And you talk of structures, largely most of our retail businesses are on structures and that is a big issue and of course we also talk of motivation within retail. One of the challenges I have seen working with retailers is that people come into retail not knowing what to expect, people come into retail business accidentally, and also employ staffs who are not ready to invest in and therefore they don’t serve you well because you are not ready to invest in them through training, motivation, or support. There are other challenges but not insurmountable, challenges are not there to kill you, you must be able to rise up and solve the challenges. The truth is that as you solve these challenges it is there you find your opportunities, because where the challenges are lay also your opportunity.
How positioned are the local players ready to compete with the foreign investors in retail business?
If retailers are not ready for competition, then they become breakfast and lunch for others. The truth is this conference like other programs that other people and I do, is a wake- up call for retailers to take their business seriously because the competition is coming and it is going to be massive, it will sweep you out if you are not ready, so the question we ask is; competition is coming how prepared are you?. So you have to be prepared, because it is only those who are prepared that can face the future.
Can you briefly tell us how the economic situation has impacted on the retail industry?
A few weeks ago we had an interview with the Punch and we shared a whole lot on that and if you also pick a brochure of today’s program at the center page you will see a whole lot of the stories. Retail was worst hit. When you don’t have money in your pocket you cannot go and buy and so if you go to a lot of stores within this period, you will find out that most of the stores are empty and no thanks to the dollar challenge when you could not even say that this is the price of the dollar then how much are you going to import, how much are you going to sell. You cannot reasonably pass on the garb to the consumers, because even their own economic situation has not improved rather it has worsen. So at the point of retail we really had issues, so am grateful that recession is gradually becoming a thing of the past and so retail is set again.
How can you predict the future?
Great, awesome, for retail and for Nigeria as an economy, all we need is support us as retailers and we will support the economy.
Are we going to see growth of online in retailing industry?
Of course, for most of the bricks and mortar retailing to succeed in the long run they have to go online and I can also tell you for the online to succeed they will come to brick and mortar too. Amazon for instance is opening a thousand stores because they know that it is a question of Omni-channel or multi-channel as we call it. You just cannot be one channel and you think you will succeed in retail; you have to do a combination of both of them. But the critical thing which I’m going to be discussing today is what experiences you are creating across these channels. If the experience is consistent across channels and its good of course you are in for business. But the challenge with Omni- channel or multi-channel is the ability to drive consistent communication acrwoss the several channels and create the right experience that will drive traffic, drive full force and drive businesses for you.