Consistency, Creativity Critical To Business Success – Lekan Balogun

Combining style with creativity was all that Lekan Balogun, Chief Executive Officer of McCoy Clothings, needed to break even in business. Having quit a juicy banking job to face what he describes as a passion-driven fashion outlet, now adjudged as one of the fastest growing small scale fashion businesses in the country, he shares his experience. Excerpts:
Starting out: I started a long time ago but I was still in banking then, before I had to resign in 2013. I registered the company in 2016. I had started using McCoy Exquisite but people were finding it difficult to pronounce the name, especially when they wanted to issue cheques to us. By and large, this is my 18th year in the industry.
Raising needed capital at inception: I was doing it gradually when I was in school and when I left school, I got a job with Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), until I resigned five years ago. I was in Operations Department and later Marketing.
While there, I was so disturbed because I had the passion for fashion but because I needed money to start on my own. Every time I came back from work, no matter how late, I would still catch up with the tailors sewing for me and work with them into the nights. Then, I still went to work the next day. I started having so much headache until I thought that if I could put in the kind of passion I put into my banking job, I could succeed.
So, I walked up to my dad and told him about it. He’s late now, but he advised me to follow my dreams since nobody was pushing me out of banking. I also spoke with two of my customers, entrepreneurs and businessmen who advised me that the first six months might be very tedious.
Now, I can bet that it was not even up to six months to break even in the business. In fact, the regret I am having right now is that I should have resigned long before I did. I know where I am going and I know where I am already. There is always something new to do about the business.
Stages of growth in the business: You have to discover yourself. I have always been passionate about the business that I cannot even tell you I started with any amount of money. My dad bought the first sewing machine for me. That’s what you can now see at the reception. I am also the type that likes to invest in machines and that keeps pushing me to want to grow. What I have in place to keep me growing in business is integrity and loyalty. Let your yes always be your yes and your no, your no. You cannot compare last year to this year. I also keep challenging myself.
Secret of business success: I can’t really say something in particular but I can say it has been God. I also try to be consistent and creative. I usually pray to God to show me what would be in vogue next year so that by the time we get there, I am already prepared for it.
Challenges: The major challenge has been power supply. They keep giving me outrageous bills and I am not even enjoying the light. We have two generating sets and when they get faulty, I get technicians to come fix them. We spend up to N10,000 on fuel every day. I mean, I spend over N10,000 on fuel every day. Every time we have a workload and my workers have to work overnight in the factory, we spend over N15,000 on fuel.
We work from Monday to Friday and sometimes, we work on Saturdays. Now, multiply N15,000 by the number of days we work. See how much money we waste on fuelling generators.
Do these challenges make you think of quitting the business? Sometimes, when I think of quitting and I remember my bills, I just get going. I cannot quit, no matter what. We just have to get going. Funny enough, nobody is ready to support you with any loan. Government isn’t ready either.
Inability to access loan: I can tell you that I have never got any loan before and I am not owing anybody right now. I make
sure I put back every profit I make into the business. I once contacted the Lagos State government after doing a proposal but it was not forthcoming. What will I do? But if someone gives us a huge loan now, I want to have as many outlets as possible in different states.
Cost implication of having branches all over Nigeria: By estimate, I can say I will manage N100 million. I want to do more of ready-to-wears and enlarge my showroom. I want to have outlets all around. Very soon, we are extending to Lekki. I also want to be in Port Harcourt and Abuja. I have a lot of customers in the diaspora who I have never met before. Even when I travel out, I still don’t see them.
Job creation: At the moment, I have about 15 people working for me and I pay their salaries every month. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to pay salaries and when the month is running to an end, you start running after your debtors to pay up. I also know my customers because it is not everyone that is meant for you. It is not just about employing people, it is about expansion. We would also create a more conducive working environment for everyone working with me. That’s also a target.
How lucrative is the business? I won’t deceive you, this is one of the most lucrative handiworks you can think of, especially if you are really good at the job. As long as you get your pay promptly from clients, it is very lucrative. It can only be frustrating when people are owing you and you have to keep chasing them about to get your money. But then, it is very lucrative, if you know your onions.
Clientele: Majorly, I get customers through referrals. I have all my social media handles working actively. People call me from Canada, UK, and the rest. Whenever I travel out, I then go to see them. I also sew for people I haven’t even seen before. I just tell you to send your pictures and once you do, I give you what suits you perfectly. I don’t have to measure you if you are not present, and we try as much as possible to ensure that our error rate is almost zero. My customers are people with good taste.
Government’s role in SMEs growth: We don’t need to tell them. They already know that themselves. I travel a lot and I see how the governments of different countries give loans to support growing businesses. We all cannot work with government agencies or private organisations. Some people need just N250,000 to start up and they won’t disturb you for the rest of their lives. So, if government can focus more on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), everybody will be at ease. You will have a focus. I have a vision and I am trying my best to achieve it but how about fresh starters?
Credit: The Sun