Podcast Interview with the founder of So Fresh
Abimbola is a lawyer and an HR consultant whose passion lies in bringing out the best in people. She in partnership with her husband decided some years back to bring convenient shopping for fruits and vegetable as they did growing up in Kwara State. The business has since grown to 6 outlets 5 in lagos 1 in abuja and they now offer finished products and meals like – Juices and salads.
Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your background –
My name is Abimbola Balogun. I am a lawyer. In 2010, my husband and I had the cravings to create a convenient shopping for experience with key focus on fruits and vegetables. From where we grew up in Kwara state, purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables weren’t luxury at all. We moved to Lagos in 2009, after our wedding we travelled to South Africa. In SA, we loved what we saw regarding the shopping experience so we thought of replicating that in lagos. We started our first location in Ogba, 2010.
Can you share your starting days for business including funding –
The initial capital was basically from our savings and it cost us about 5 – 6M to set it up. In the beginning, my husband and partner held on to his job for support it gave, as we were still testing out our business idea.Our savings supported us through this time. After the 3rd year of running our 1st location we noticed a trend in frequent deliveries to the island. We saw an opportunity and we opened our next location in 2013 in Ikoyi on Awolowo Road. From this location alone we have been able to expand in to multiple locations and grow our brand.
How were you able to grow and be consistent at each location?
When the initial idea was shared with me by my husband, I knew where my strength and focus would be, my focus was more in raising people to manage the business, hiring qualified people to do the job that has been set by company’s standard. In 2010, I got my certificate from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management and that gave me the professional guide to managing & hiring people. It wasn’t easy handling staff when we had one location, now with over 5 outlets, we have structures in place and we train and develop the right people for the right jobs.
What’s your Staff strength?
We presently have about 100 staff.
What’s your business structure like?
I am the COO for so fresh and operations unit is basically under my department. I have a manger in every branch and they are called outlet managers and I have 2 supervisors who work with each of the managers. Everybody reports to the outlet manager for each location and the manager reports to operations manager who is well experienced in the industry with over 10 years work experience, and then she reports to me.
What traits do you look for in a brand manager?
I want to see someone who likes to win and would not give up. Problems are inevitable, we should have a plan B for every problem and we should choose dynamic ways on how we approach and solve them. I need somebody who will be smart enough to know that anything could go wrong anytime and so, how can I handle it; someone with good people management skills, good problem solving skills and flexibility in thinking.
What’s your process of hiring employee?
Interviewing for my brand managers, we usually do group interviews and one-on-one sessions. We can call out someone from each group to do a presentation and we try to be on the lookout for someone with good analytical and problem solving skills. We check for both behavioral and technical competence.
Where do you see your brand in 5 years?
We are working on an expansion, we have investors now so, we want to build 20-25 outlets in the next 5 years in Lagos. We also want to be present in one more African country.
Can you say one way to motivate employees that most owners overlook?
I think the best way to keep your staff motivated is by the way you make them feel, your attitude towards them and the way you talk to them. So, it’s not always about money. Owners need to be patient with staff in judgement and blames. Don’t owe salary or delay salary payment.
What is the worst entrepreneurial moment you ever had and how did you recover?
The worst for me would be when agents from the local government gave us a bill of N250, 000 to pay and we had the question ‘why?’ Guess what? They said our place looks like we are in England and that we must be making a lot of money. They chased out our customers and staff and locked up the shop. We eventually paid but not that much.
The E-Myth by Michael E. Garber
One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard, Spencer Johnson
Key Takeaway Points:
- Be willing to adapt and change your vision
- Genuinely care for your staff to keep them motivated
- Don’t owe salary or delay salary payment
- Train your staff well and hire the right people for the job
- Hire for Analytical and problem solving skills
- Really organize your hiring process and create exercise to test for skills, behavioral and technical competence
- For a manager, lookout for someone with good people management skills, good problem solving skills and flexibility in thinking
- Create structures that would help develop people to manage your business effectively.