In this interview with This Day, Abia State-born entrepreneur shares the big secret, with Omolabake Fasogbon, of his money-spinning enterprise. He narrated the encounter that resulted in fortune, the untapped blessings in an unemployment scenario, his unfulfilled childhood passion, business disappointment and his new lifestyle
“I didn’t imagine SLOT would grow to be a household name this way,” the Managing Director of Slot Systems Limited, Mr. Nnamdi Ezeigbo, simply said. Well, not that he expected himself playing second fiddle. He has always had big dreams like playing the cop catching criminals. But before him and before now, was a mountain of challenges. The light of hope seemed dim in the white collar industry; though educated, he humbly and pragmatically took up an apprenticeship. With a combination of hard work, perseverance and integrity, the brand SLOT emerged. Ezeigbo, the one-time apprentice in the always bustling, world famous Computer Village in Lagos State now runs an empire that offers job opportunities for the educated and uneducated. But then, SLOT appears to be a fulfilling destination for most mobile users even though there are other mobile stores that share its unique selling points: cheapest prices, quality product and reliable warranty.
Journey to stardom
He needed to stay occupied. He needed to wake up from the unrealistic supposition and so, the journey began: first as freelance apprentice.
“I started learning how to repair computers. After six months, I decided to move on when I realised I could not continue with my then boss because of the differences in our values. To him, it was more of making money. But for me, it’s about serving the people. I was so passionate about the trade. I remembered how he sold a cooling fan of N3, 000 for N30, 000 just because the customer was ignorant. He expected similar acts from me. But I could not just compromise my values.
“It was a tough decision to leave him because I did not have money to rent my own shop. I began squatting with a book seller also in Ikeja, but now independent. I was maintaining computers for all classes of customers. My customers liked and trusted me because I was straightforward while meeting their needs. That was how I started growing. As a matter of fact, a customer actually led me to the goldmine.”
Reward for Honesty
The word of the Holy Book that says, “God gives glad tidings to the believers who are honest” finally found its way into the life of Ezeigbo when on that fateful day, an old customer stumbled on him at the small kiosk.
“He was one of my old customers whom I had known as an apprentice. When he saw me, he said he wanted me to continue to fix his computer but he wanted me to operate from a bigger and more conducive environment. So he brought some printers for me to sell to use the proceed to establish myself. With the proceed, I was able to set up the first SLOT office/ store. I rented the space with about N180, 000 and eventually bought the space for N100 million.”
When the deal started, the idea was to go into the trade like every other person but of course dealing with customer truthfully. Was any real strategy?
“There was no strategy, no vision, and no plan for expansion. But the vision became clearer when customers started demanding for SLOT outlet in their vicinity. Then I realised I was going to be doing more than I thought of. I actually started with the sales of computer but when I noticed that customers’ attention had shifted to mobile phones, I decided to move along with trend.”
The mission on expansion thus began
“I began to strategise on how to be the first and best in the mind of Nigerians. The secret is that we have been able to earn the trust of the people overtime. We spent the first five years of operation to build trust in Nigerians. We believe once we earn their trust through the uniqueness of the products and the services we offer, the sky is the starting point. That strategy actually worked for us as you can see today.
“To remain on track, I needed to equip myself intellectually because I never had any knowledge of management. I enrolled for my MBA in Lagos Business School. I also attended seminars and workshops that focus on growing enterprises. The knowledge I gathered from these trainings I was able bring to bear in the business.”
“Earning people’s trust is not child’s play. You can imagine someone walk into your store and ask if your product is original. I mean that is funny. It took us five years to build a popular and trusted brand. Now we have built it and we need to sustain it. That is a challenge. More so, getting the right middle managers is a chill wind. The traditional form of education has not helped us because most of the graduates that apply for jobs cannot defend their certificates. So we spend a lot of resources to re-train them and inculcate our culture and values in them. Our activities have also been largely hampered by the scourge of insecurity in the country.”
Ezeigbo says he aspires for more like Oliver Twist in Charles Dickens’ novel. His present status being the dream of many start-ups is to him a starting point. He said, “I want to grow the number one retail store in Africa. It is not about Nigeria alone! I want SLOT to ring a bell in every part of Africa. I want to see myself help budding entrepreneurs grow. I want to be a marked blessing to the society.
“For now, SLOT has about 700 people in its workforce. By this alone, we have been able to impact about 2, 100 lives since a household should have an average number of three people. I want the figure to increase. Above all, my vision is to make heaven. That is the most important to me. I am only here to occupy just like the Bible said; my race on earth is not to miss heaven.”
“Our strategy is to make competition irrelevant,” Ezeigbo affirmed. “We work to widen the gap all the time by breaking innovations. Just of recent, we launched our ‘trade in product’. With this, customers can trade their old phones for new ones. There is a value process with which we can determine the price of the old phone. We do this in partnership with Metrix. As part of creating value also, we came up with the ‘phone screen insurance’. This allows customers to insure the screen of their phones for just five per cent of the price of the phone. We are the first to come up with these packages and we hope to break more initiatives that will deepen our relationship with customers.”
“That is inevitable. But it is surprising that some workers may still want to play smart on you despite how you have tried to please them. In any way, I am not surprised because I am dealing with humans and not angels.”
“I appreciate people who are bold enough to criticise and tell me the truth. Whether it is done constructively or otherwise, I welcome criticism because it exposes me to my weaknesses and indirectly makes me to grow and become a better person.”
“I would not want to disclose that because it is our personal business information. But I can tell you that we are doing perfectly well. We have been so favoured by the Nigerian people. That is why we have attracted partnership from telecommunication giants, DSTV and other ICT stakeholders. Most of them are in our stores right now. These people would not have come to us if we were not doing well. Today, many people come to us and beg us for space in our stores. This is happening because they know we are performing well.”
Relating with Staff
“Relationship is one thing I cherish passionately and I guard it strongly because that is what makes my person. Most of my achievements in life have come through referral that comes from present or past relationships. Those printers that guy gave me to sell that made me who I am today is consequent upon building and maintaining a good relationship. As for my staff, they are my friends and we are very close. Sometimes, I take them out on a dinner. I operate an open-door policy because I see them as partners in progress who will offer ideas on how to improve the business and draw me back when I am going out of point. I base my management habits on what is obtainable in the country and the situation on ground, and not the Harvard kind of style. For us, it is about adaptability, knowing the people and managing them the way they will understand.”
Unfulfilled Childhood Passion
“As a child, I had always wanted to be a policeman. First because of the uniform and the way policemen dress. Secondly, because I cannot withstand criminal acts and the only way I felt I could tackle crime is by joining the police force.”
Meeting My Wife
“I met my wife at Meiran bus stop in Lagos. Then, I had no car likewise my wife. It was the usual trend that ladies and guys who want to get together meet at the bus stop. Her height and beauty struck my attention. I met her when I was still squatting at a bookshop and she was working with Chanchangi Airline. She is such a humble person that she did not disdain my status as a computer repairer before she gave her consent.”
“This was when I made up my mind to get married. The coast was not clear, yet I took the bold step. I got married when I did not have the money to husband a wife or to even raise a family. More so, there was the pressure from family not to get married. Being the first in the family of nine, they wanted me to take care of my younger ones to a satisfactory height before considering marriage. The ground was not fertile in any way for me to get married but I did.”
In tune with Maslow’s philosophy, life is a step before another. Ezeigbo reflects, “Life is a step to be followed orderly and not as an elevator. You do not bite more than what you can chew. If you chose to jump from step one to step seven, you might not be able to sustain it because you are not prepared for it.”
As much as work pressure may want to threaten his social life, he did not fall for it.
“I belong to Umuahia Social Club. I do visit the club to mix up with friends. I also love watching football. I am an Arsenal fan. I also spend a lot of time with my family; I go with them to the cinema to see movies. I love to play lawn tennis too. I also read a lot at my leisure time particularly books written by entrepreneurs. I belong to a group in church. This actually allows me to do so much for the kingdom. I am the men’s President in church.”
Advice to Budding Entrepreneurs
“I will implore them to follow their strengths and not their passion. One may have passion for something and may not be good at it. Sometimes, passion may be a mere wish but one’s strength will definitely work for one. My strength is in engineering and it is working for me. I will also advise that entrepreneurs should place themselves on salary. Every right thinking entrepreneur should be on salary. Since the aim of an entrepreneur is to grow a company and make profit, it is therefore important to place himself on a salary otherwise one will end up spending money carelessly or unnecessarily. I am on salary and it has helped me greatly.”
“Fashion to me is about dressing smart and being comfortable. Occasion will determine my dressing but I love to be in white native dress because it makes me feel comfortable.”
Happiest and Worst Moments
“My happiest moment was when I had my first baby. It was such a wonderful experience to be a father. And the worst was when I lost my father in my final year. I never had the opportunity to reward him for all the years he taught me Mathematics.
Culled from This Day
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