In this discerning chat with TopNaija Stories, ambitious 27-year-old Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Shoe Shop Nigeria, Omolola Quadri, reveals how the idea for the fast-growing company, which started from her room, was birthed out of her personal need during Law School… Enjoy!
For those who may not know, who are you and what do you do?
I am a lawyer and an entrepreneur. My name is Omolola.
Before venturing into entrepreneurship, what were you doing?
I had just finished University. I was attending the Nigerian Law School in Abuja when I first had the idea to sell shoes.
Tell us about your advent into entrepreneurship. Exactly when did you start The Shoe Shop and what prompted the decision?
When I was about to complete my law degree in 2012, I realized that it meant I had to move back to Nigeria. Even though my parents had paid for my entire degree, I had worked in the summer and part time, against their wish. They wanted me to focus on my degree wholeheartedly.
I taught English to Spanish students at a Summer School in Edinburgh and I was the Student Ambassador for Learning and Teaching for the Law School at the University of Sheffield so I earned quite some money on the side. It made me realize that as doting and as generous as my parents were, I needed to start to think about how I could earn my own money.
By June that same year, when I moved back to Nigeria, I had already become obsessed with the idea of earning my own money. The Nairas my parents were giving me as allowance was nothing compared to the pound sterling they gave me while I was in England. In addition, I noticed that Abuja, while a very modern city, did not have enough retailers to meet the demands of its young, modern population.
My first 3 months in Law School, I started to pray about the business that I would do, not knowing what it was or what it could be, I just wanted to do something. Abuja held too much for me to not be a part of.
As God would have it, in December 2012, I met a guy (who would later become my husband) who was a hardworking, resilient entrepreneur. I saw how entrepreneurship could work out for a person, so I imagine that this must have contributed towards helping me decide.
I’ve always loved shoes. Out of all my friends in Uni, I had the most shoes. Some loved makeup and some loved dresses but I remember having so many shoes and a high stack of shoe-boxes. When I left England, I left A LOT of my shoes behind because who can carry that much load? So I had come to Nigeria almost shoeless and with the false assumption that finding shoes would be easy. And when I say shoes, I mean heels, beautiful high heels for work, for occasions and for daily wear. I attended this fair at City Park, Abuja with my friend Ezinne. My friend Ezinne and I, we attended this fair in City Park Abuja – I wanted to see if I could buy shoes. I had withdrawn about N100,000 to buy shoes to replace some of my beloved pairs. I was hoping to get up to 7 or 8 pairs.
I was really disappointed – not because there were no shoes. But because the shoes were out of style, ugly, some looked used and old and were all still overpriced. I left that place that day with only one pair of shoes. I was not happy and hoped to check some stores in the following weeks.
When I went to check out the stores, I was greeted with a new level of disappointment: big beautiful stores selling really nice clothes and jewelry but really sad-looking, overpriced shoes. I gave up, finding comfort in the fact that I would visit England soon, and shop from there.
At what point and how did you know this was the right path for you?
So one day, I was praying about this entrepreneurship thing again. I had come up with lots of ideas but none just really made me feel like YES! THIS IS IT. So I kept praying. That particular day, I was sitting on my bed praying and the Holy Spirit said to me, “Why are you still praying, the answer is right in front of you”. I looked up and around and guess what was in front of me? The red ankle strap sandals that I bought from the fair I attended with my friend. And that was it. The idea for The Shoe Shop was born. God really speaks to us; God really cares about what we care about. I had had several ideas before this but it was at this point that I knew: YES! THIS IS IT.
What inspired the name, “TheShoesShop”?
I’m not entirely sure. Remember I said I was praying a lot so I reckon it must have been the Holy Spirit who ministered it to me. It was only a few minutes after I had the idea that the name came. And everyone loves the name. When I first told my younger brother, he said: “I love it because it says exactly what you do, no questions asked”
Following conception of The Shoes Shop idea, what steps did you take to bring it to fruition?
I must have had the idea early 2013 but execution was a whole different affair because I was still in Law School. My parents who did not want me to work in Uni would have had a fit if I said I wanted to start business while in Law School. But I held on to the idea until the end of Law School. I used the time between maybe March or April when I had the idea and August when Law School ended to research the type of shoes I wanted to sell and the vendors and countries who would sell to me.
We went on a family holiday right after Law School. That was where I first mentioned to my parents that I wanted to sell shoes. They were appalled and their response was very discouraging but it did not deter me. All the money that they had given to me as my holiday allowance, I used it to buy shoes. I did not by myself a single thing. Now that they see how well the business is doing, they are much more supportive and even their friends to The Shoe Shop. I never doubted their love for me even though they did not support my business idea. They are the best parents in the world.
Aside The Shoe Shop, what other business or commitment are you currently involved in?
Other commitments: I work with a civil society organization founded by my parents called Centre for Socio-Legal Studies. We work with law enforcement and criminal justice stakeholders in the areas of law reform, capacity-building and creating awareness about Nigeria’s existing laws.
Business: Just The Shoe Shop. I wanted to diversify into clothes because I noticed that a LOT of people who bought shoes were asking for clothes and wanted clothes to match the shoes. I did start but it was a lot to handle. My husband, who is a seasoned entrepreneur and my number one adviser and mentor, advised me to build The Shoe Shop until it could stand on its own before committing to anything else.
You run The Shoe Shop while juggling other responsibilities alongside family. How do you maintain focus?
Support – if my family did not support me, juggling would be difficult. My parents let me bring my kids to the office. My husband and I, and a nanny take care of the kids. Because of these, I am able to make time for my business.
Currently, where do most of your clients come from and how do you retain them?
40% Social Media
20% Repeat customers
20% Google Search
20% Word of Mouth
Which marketing strategy has proven to be the most effective for The Shoe Shop?
Being nice to clients and prospective clients is the most effective way to get them to come back. We also pride ourselves in using high quality photographs on social media which get the attention of a lot of people.
Where do you source your shoes from and how profitable is shoe business in Nigeria?
Our shoes come from England and the United States. In 2017, we started a Made in Nigeria line, which we are expanding this year because of how well it has been received.
When I first started scouting for shoes for myself in Nigeria, before ever having the idea for The Shoe Shop, I was appalled at how ridiculously priced most of the shoes were. One of the goals set out for The Shoe Shop was to sell beautiful shoes that matched with affordability. Being focused on this goal means that we are unable to sell shoes as expensive as some of our competitors. This does not mean the business is not profitable but it means that the we thrive on making greater profits by selling volumes as opposed to a huge profit margin on single pairs.
What’s your current staff strength?
We currently have 5 people who work with us right now – 2 in logistics, 2 in operations and 1 in management.
Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner, and how you overcame it.
One of the toughest times for us was 2015 when the Naira crashed so badly against the United States Dollar. One of the weaknesses of a business like this is dependence on FOREX. I really wanted to close down the business and focus on my life as a lawyer. But I’m so grateful for my husband. He was my fiancé then and he had solid words of advice to offer. I was so reluctant to increase prices because from day 1, the business was intended to sell affordable shoes. I asked myself: “What business are you running if the shoes were no longer affordable?”
Ayo (my husband) explained to me how affordability is relative to what the economy dictates. When the FOREX was better, the prices were affordable according to the favourable FOREX; when the Naira crashed, the prices would still be affordable as is relative to the new FOREX rate. He insisted that I should “NEVER GIVE UP; the shoes are good, people will still buy. And if you quit, your customers will be looking for you. Who will sell shoes to them if you quit?”
He was right. The business has thrived in spite of that and God has been undoubtedly faithful. One must indeed never give up. When I thought it could only get worse, it got better. God planted in my heart the idea of introducing the Made in Nigeria line which would not depend so heavily on FOREX rates.
Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
If I had known how well it would work out for me, I would have started much sooner. I spent a lot of time telling myself that “I am not really a business person by nature”.
If you were to start The Shoe Shop over again, what would you do differently?
I can’t think of anything that I could have done differently in the beginning. But in the past 3 years, being pregnant has made it difficult be consistent and to be actively developing the business. I spent a lot of my pregnant time being ill. So I guess that I would outsource and delegate some more, looking back at these years.
What part of your job keeps you awake at night?
Right now, I’m just thinking about how best to get the numbers up. I developed a business strategy for the business this year, and I have already started to see the outcome.
What new innovation have you introduced to your business?
We are the only retailer that I know that offers a made in Nigeria line as well as imported shoes. Most of our competitors do either one or the other. In addition, we actually have a functional website which is advantageous because we can receive payments at anytime of the day without having to first talk to the client or physically receive the client in the store.
What’s the game plan for you in 5 years? – Personally and in business?
Well I would like to be done with having kids first of all.
Then for The Shoe Shop, we have a huge warehouse in the works. I say warehouse and not store because the plan is to have Nigeria’s largest and most patronized website for shoes and not necessarily a shop. It’s 2019.
Name three traits required to survive in this role.
I am kind. I have kindness in my heart; so it helps me to understand customer service without going to any business school. I have that ability to empathize with people which trait positions me to best take care of our clients.
I never take no for an answer. I am resilient and willing to keep trying again and again, even if its in a different way.
I am not doing this for the money. Although the money is an added advantage, The Shoe Shop was born out of love for shoes and a desire to meet a need that I once had and envisage that others also have.
What is the biggest misconception about your job?
That I’m rich already.
Who has had the greatest impact on your career and why?
My husband. When I first started, he was still my boyfriend. Because of his status as a seasoned entrepreneur, he has been my number one mentor, adviser and role model. God gave me 2-in-1—a husband and mentor. The words of encouragement and advise he gives me stick with me and always turn out to be true. His experience is my best teacher.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Until your business can function in your absence, you have not yet built a business – My Husband (2016) LOL
The top reason for your business success?
We try our hardest to treat every customer like they are the only customer.
What’s your number one tip for new entrepreneurs?
Get back up again.
By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
I try to avoid having a desk to be at. Being routine and following a set structure somehow blocks my creativity. I am at my best self when I have no set rules or routine. I flourish when I just let myself be.
Your favourite job interview question?
This one you just asked. Lol.
The biggest perk of your job?
I get to see and try on all the new shoes first!
What does money mean to you?
Money means the ability to give to others. I notice that the more money I have, the more money I give. I pray to have more than I need so that I am able to give immeasurably.
Best investment advice you ever received?
I know I mentioned my husband a lot already but I am about to do it again. He is my role model. He told me once: When you first start a business, your biggest concern should not be making money for yourself to spend but making the money that you can reinvest in the business to help it expand.
What gives you the greatest fulfillment?
Running into a client and seeing that her shoes are from The Shoe Shop
Which business achievement are you most proud of?
Our website! Websites are really easy when what you provide is services – not much to change/update regularly. Websites are also really easy when you have a lot of money at your disposal. It took blood, sweat and tears but thanks to Austine of Amani Art and lots of my own sleepless nights, and my husband’s support and encouragement, the website is functioning and updated.
Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
I am obsessed with doing everything by myself. It was not until 2017 (4 years after starting up) that I summoned the courage to employ my first staff. I used to drive around Abuja by myself making deliveries. I wanted to offer free delivery and the cheapest way was to do it myself. My husband encouraged me (in 2016) to engage a logistics company. I refused for a long time, until the orders became too many. Like I said earlier, he’s always right.
Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I generally dislike the idea of taking loans to start up businesses. Of course, there are situations in which it is generally inevitable but I would always rather advice that the entrepreneur start small but keep reinvesting their profits into the business the ensure its gradual, organic growth. But this is just my personal opinion.
Outside your industry, name one untapped business opportunity you’d love to explore?
I would love to manufacture home interior decor accessories – like artificial potted plants, centerpieces, scented candles, and so on.
Who are your role models? Name three people who inspire you and why?
My husband… I have told you why too many times.
My parents, just because of how much they love and support me and how well they have built their own law firm.
And my children, seeing them in their amazingness inspires me to want to be the best role model they could ever have.
Currently, how young is Omolola Quadri?
I’ll be 28 in June 2019
If you could, what would you tell your younger self?
Omolola, ji masun (Omolola, wake, don’t sleep)! LOL
How do you unwind?
Buying new shoes to restock helps me to relax and to feel good. Afternoon naps are also great for me.
Your candid advice for young African entrepreneurs?
“They were right when they said start small but dream big.”