NIKE OGUNLESI: SUCCEEDING ON AN UNUSUAL PATH
Nike Ogunslesi was born by parents who are learned – specialist physician, father and professional Librarian, mother who wanted the best for her. At the age of 19 she was admitted to Ahadu Bello University to study Law and her parents were looking forward to having daughter become a lawyer. But two weeks into her stay in the university, her destiny took a twist – she packed her belongings home and never studied law or got any university degree till date. Joseph Dinwoke of Brojd.com x-rays her how she made a success of her doing the unusual.
What happened to Nike? How did a twist in her destiny happen? Why did she pack home after being admitted to study a professional course like Law? “I was going to study law when I realized that I wasn’t cut out for it. So, two weeks later, I packed my bags and went back home.” She said.
Back at home, her parents were shocked and enraged by her choice of abandoning an opportunity to study law in one of the leading universities in Nigeria at that time. When they could not get her to back the school to study law, she was given one year to really find out what she wanted to do with her life. She reveals, “That was one of the best gifts my mother ever gave me.”
Meanwhile, while she takes her one year self discovery holiday, her mother suggested that she comes and work in her clothing line, Betty O until she finds out what to do with her life. Nike joined her mother and started making clothes and when she realized that she could express herself in making clothes and people would want to pay for it, she decided that making clothes is what she wanted to do. At that time, she was nineteen years of old. She declares, “I have never looked back since then. I was fortunate to have made the discovery early enough.”
She continued working in Betty-O until she got married to her husband, Adegbola Ogunseli who has an MBA from Lagos Business School. When he got married, she decided to concentrate on being a full-time mother.
In 1996, her kids ran out of pajamas and when she went around to buy for them but could not find any that was good for her money and that was what triggered the birth of Rough n Tumble. She captures her experience in this anecdote, “My three children ran out of Pajamas and I went out looking for substitutes to buy, but could not find anything I felt good for my money. So, I went ahead and made pajamas for my kids. I mentioned it to a few people who I made pajamas for my kids and they suddenly started asking me to make for them too.”
When more people started demanding that she makes clothes for them, she saw it as a business opportunity that she could seize. She expounds, “I decided to find out how well the business could do. I got into my car and decided to go to every single market I could get to. It was not an MBA informed decision at all. It was just the right thing to do.”
She started making Pajamas to sell until her husband advised her to expand into making other children’s clothes apart from pajamas. “My wonderful husband said, ‘You are just making pajamas. Why not other wears for kids?’ Great Idea! I decided to listen to that wise advice.” That was how she went into varied versions of children’s clothes.
As at 1997, she read a book, 100 Enterprising Women which inspired her greatly to start her own business. He reveals: “To read a whole book where people tell you they started with very little money can be inspiring when you are starting out. You will see that it’s not at all about money. It’s about what you have got available to you. It’s about the resources at your disposal. That was the message that came from the book. I learnt what I needed to do to get to where I wanted to go. Those women indirectly mentored me.”
Rough n tumble started officially in 2000 with a vision “to provide great clothes for kids: durable, comfortable, versatile clothing that will give our customers value for their money.” Like every entrepreneur in Nigeria environment, Nike faced the challenge of power supply but surmounted it by getting a generator set for her business.
She started by selling to her neighbours who places an order for his clothes in sets. She went further by advertising it to parents who come to the same place her children go to play who liked it and requested some for their kids. She went further in selling her clothes by taking her time to any bazaar in town. Sales were increasing and so she had to hire other tailors to help her with sewing so as to meet the demands of her customers.
She deployed usual wisdom in her marketing: she dressed her children up in the clothes that she made and they took pictures with them which she showed potential customers during his advertising and sales. She quipped, “It was the first time that anybody had ever marketed children’s clothes like that. Not a clip art of a foreign magazine but actually using Nigerian children.” Her strategy proved fruitful that she had to hire a bigger shop to meet the demands of her business. She had to rent a bigger shop with the profit she made from her earlier sales.
Today, Nike Ogunlesi’s Rough and Tumble which she started at the back of her car has expanded into many sales outlets in Nigeria and has been exporting her clothes to other countries; with over 60 people at her employ.
Her success on an unusual path in an unusual environment has reverberated to the world as she has been featured on the CNBC program Dangers and Dollars: Africa the final investing frontier anchored by Erin Burnett. Also, she was featured in the groundbreaking documentary, Africa Open for Business about innovative businesses in Africa. Her success has also fetched her awards like the FATE Foundation Model Entrepreneur award in 2005.
She educates those aspiring to start their own business: “The important thing is to start. Once you start, there is a way you are able to deal with the challenges that come. You must find a way around them.”
She further advised, “Don’t set yourself so high that you don’t see the wood for the trees. A lot of people make those mistakes. They want to start big. You may be fortunate to get the kind the finance that gives the opportunity; but most people’s lot are not so. You should start with what you have.”