BY SEGUN ADEBAYO.
Babalola Seun Bamiro is the Chief Executive Officer of YNORTH Shoes, a Nigerian-made shoe company based in Lagos State with branches across Nigeria. In this interview with SEGUN ADEBAYO, he speaks about his mission and vision for the company and how he intends to remain on top of his game.
How did you conceive the idea of making shoe?
The journey started in 2010, but before then, we have attended a lot of programmes and trainings that are related to what we are doing today. The story of YNORTH actually started when my girlfriend, now my wife, bought me a pair of leather slippers some years back. I noticed that everywhere I wore the slippers to, people kept asking me where I got it from and begging me to get one for them. So, I told my wife to invite the man who made the slippers for her. The man produced about five slippers for these people and before I knew it, more people kept requesting for more. So, I was forced to call the man to see how I could partner with him. I asked him how I could be making #500 from every production he makes for people through me. That was how the journey started for YNORTH, and we are grateful to God for how far we have come.
How did you come about the name YNORTH?
When I told the man to stop using a foreign name on home-made product, we started thinking about a name we could give our brand. We came up with different names, but at the end of the day, we settled for YNORTH. We actually started production in 2010 at the Redemption Camp where we sold a lot of products to the congregation. After the massive sales at Redemption Camp, we started going to supermarkets and stores to sell our shoes. Since then, we have taken our shoes to virtually every part of the country.
How is your relationship with the man who introduced you into the business?
When we started in 2010, he was producing for us, but when the market expanded, we started our own production professionally. We don’t have to wait on them to produce for us anymore because the quantity of what we are producing now is higher than when we started. The man does not have the capacity to produce the massive production that our market demands now. I had to travel to get some machines, employ more hands and start producing on a bigger scale. Today, we have several people who now produce for us because we have the market but they have the machinery.
What are the challenges you are facing producing made in Nigeria shoes?
One of our major challenges is getting to higher people who will buy into your idea. It has not been easy producing Nigerian-made shoes that can compete with foreign brands. Another problem is in the area of finance-buying the equipment that can enhance our production has been a big challenge for us. We need to get a bigger machine to produce. Even though we have all the equipment and machinery at our disposal, the epileptic power supply is seriously affecting our business. It is very worrisome that despite our efforts to give Nigerians something they can be proud of, power supply has never been regular. Fuelling our generating set is a big problem that is draining our finance. When I am thinking about buying a bigger machine, I am also thinking about buying a bigger generator to power the machine. Of course there is joy in delivering our products to people, because by and large, more people are beginning to buy from YNORTH shoes. We have moved up the ladder. The sales have increased but the pains and stress of getting the shoes ready are better imagined.
You once said that you are not competing with any Nigerian shoemaker but you are looking at how you can make your shoes compete with other foreign brands. How realistic do you think that is?
We have come a long way in shoe production and I can tell you that YNORTH has moved on. I don’t see us competing with any Nigerian-made shoe manufacturers, but the foreign brands. If we have the necessary machinery that produces what we want, nothing stops us from calling the bluff of foreign brands. As I speak with you, YNORTH has the largest fan base in Nigeria today. In fact, we are struggling these days to meet up with the demands people are placing on a daily basis. If we are able to get the machines and import the raw materials, I strongly believe that we have the market already in Nigeria. When we concentrate on our locality, we will win over other areas. We are not having problem with made in Nigeria products.
How well do you think Nigerians have accepted your products?
Honestly, we are doing very well in the Nigerian market and I don’t think we have competitors in Nigeria today. I don’t think we have competitors in Nigeria as I speak with you. The rate with which Nigerians have come to accept our shoes really amased me but I believe we have earned our place in Nigeria. The capacity of what we produce and the branding of our products is one of our unique selling points. The marketing arm of our business is not something most of our competitors can beat. I am actually thinking big right now, because we have seen what others have been doing and I can tell you that we have surpassed that state. The branding, production, capacity and marketing of our products stand us out.
Is it true that you dropped out of school because of your passion for shoe making?
I saw a post on twitter that I dropped out of school but people don’t understand it. I am an Ordinary National Diploma (OND) holder in Computer Science. I did my OND at Lagos State Polytechnic. I didn’t drop out of school. It is true that I have not gone back for my Higher National Diploma (HND), but I have not seen where anybody would say that an OND holder is a drop out. In fact, I decided to study computer science because I was influenced by Bill Gates. You know that those days, we were made to believe that you can be as rich as Bill Gates if you study computer science. But when I was in school, I got to know that there was much behind being a student. When I was in school, I got to know that Bill Gates didn’t just become the richest man in the world because he understands all the elements of computer, but he understands the business side of the job. I have always been a business person. I have always known that I would not seek for a white collar job, no matter what happens. I had set my mind at the bigger picture which I am seeing today. I actually started business by selling Tampico drink on the tarmac in Ikorodu before I switched to a networking marketing business.