All big achievers are big dreamers. More often than not, their dreams are bigger than who they are and what they have while dreaming. And one classical example of big dreamers are Bose Ayeni and Folu, her husband, who cofounded Tantalizers, one of the biggest and the fastest growing fast foods restaurants in Nigeria today, 15 years ago.
Speaking with Weekend SuccessDigest, Bose, who is now Managing Director, Tantalizers Nigeria, with her husband as CEO, shares her experience in starting her business in Nigeria. The first hurdle the couple had to scale to realize their dreams was the recurring decimal in the stories of all entrepreneurs: the start-up capital. Her words:
“Our greatest challenge then was raising the capital. We didn’t have the money required for the kind of venture that we had in mind,” she revealed. But rather than give up their Tantalizers vision, the couple took off the hand breaks and threw in their savings, adding for good measure, soft loans from family and friends.
She revealed: “We started the business in 1997. If I recall now, I know the initial loan that we got was N2.5million. However, that was after we had expended all the money we personally had. I remember we got loans and advances from family and friends and so on.”
Yet the dream was still under threat from a lack of sufficient funds. With their backs against the wall, the couple turned to the banks for a loan. If the Ayenis had expectations that their ‘friendly, neighbourhood’ banks were there to help on days when loans are needed, they had to wake up and smell the coffee! Bose tells the story:
“I recall that there was a bank where we (my husband and I) had maintained an account for so many years and through that you would think you had a good relationship. And the truth of the matter is that when you approach them for a loan for a business venture, you are disappointed (because they won’t grant you a loan).”
“Even when we brought collateral we were not given any loan. The bank was afraid because we were a new venture. But we felt that a bank we have been with for a while should be able to give us such loan.
“And I remember that my husband closed his account with one of those banks out of annoyance. He was just not happy with the way we were treated,” she recounts with a note of sadness.
But the couple did not stop knocking on doors and asking for the bank loans. Their dream was for them, much too precious to give up just because they couldn’t get a loan. And as they say, persistence pays, and according to the former Unilever staff, eventually, one bank took the risk to loan them the money.
“I think the total amount of money was around N7.5 million to N10million then,” she points out. “Also, there was a bank that was ready to give us money. They looked at our proposal and they were convinced that we would succeed. And they gave us N2.5 million.”
She finally heaved a sigh of relief when the bank officials, after several meetings and demanding for countless documents and assessments, decided to grant her the loan she and her husband needed to start the fast food business.
That was 15 years ago. Today, Bose and Folu Ayeni have not only made Tantalizers one of the leading chains of fast food restaurants in the country, they have also listed it on the Nigerian Stock Market as a public limited liability company.
From just one shop eatery in Lagos, Tantalizers has spread across major Nigerian cities, rivalry the other known brands like Mr. Biggs, Tasty Fried Chicken, Sweet Sensation and a host of other not-so-popular ones.
In February 2010, Tantalizers forged a strategic partnership with The International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank which granted it $7million in loan and took $1.5million equity in company to help take the fast food company to the next level and outwit competition posed by foreign eateries like Shoprite, KFC and Barceló’s in Nigeria.
Though Tantalizers has grown into a multimillion dollar company today, getting a loan from the bank was by no means the only mountain they had to climb to reach the Promised Land they now occupy. First, they had to deal with Shylock landlords.
Bose recollects that, “When we started we actually didn’t start with lack of location. Anyway, we were renting the premises that we were using. But along the way when we also saw that when you rent a property, our experience has shown that, for our kind of our business, you will have to completely redesign the premises to the level of the standard you want to set.
“And the landlord is watching you improve the state of his house and once your lease expires you can be sure that you will come back to pay double. One, he is looking at the renewing the lease on the building; he is looking at how your business is doing well so that he could be a partaker of whatever profit that comes.
“Overtime we have had such experiences. The option they give you is that you can move out if you can’t pay and you would not want to move because you have already established your business in that location. After such experiences we also decided that maybe we should look at acquisition of buildings or land and build on our own rather than having problems of landlords.”
A strong will is certainly important for every entrepreneur, especially if you start business in Nigeria. No sooner had they decided to acquire their own properties and build than they had to contend with another challenge: land speculators!
“We faced problems with land speculators. You buy a piece of land and at the point you are about to build on it somebody would come to claim the land. And as we speak now, we have a similar case at a site.
“After paying, we sent for the soil engineer to start the soil test because of the kind of structure we want to build on it. It was an initial property but suddenly somebody came to say that they own the place. Unfortunate, it was the police. As we speak, we have not been able to resolve the issue and we are waiting for the authorities before any work could commence,” the Tantalizers boss recounts.
This prevalent problem of land speculators has not stopped the company from growing though. Even amidst growing competition from local and international fast food brands, Bose and her husband have been able to steer Tantalizers in the right direction of grow and expansion. Tantalizers currently has over 30 outlets in Lagos alone and a total of about 50 across the country. For some time now, the fast foods restaurant has been planning on taking its operations outside Nigeria to the US, UK and Europe.
However, Tantalizers’ growth has not been without fierce competition coming from other fast foods companies, indigenous and international. Competition and the challenge they pose to Tantalizers’ dominance is not an issue Bose loses sleep about; Tantalizers, according to her, is not resting on its oars in spite of its achievements and wants to continue to expand. Her words: “We have been in business for 15 years and we have seen different phases of competition.
“We started from where competition was largely local. We had a dominant or major player who was Mr. Biggs and all others. All others then were made of people like us, Tasty Fried Chicken, Sweet Sensation and we have lots of neighbourhood competitions.
“But overtime, we found out that a lot of neighbourhood operators were dwindling and some of them have shut down. Then all others are surviving. And in the last five years, we discovered that the competition moved from being local to international. We have had a couple of entries of international brands.
“We now have KFC, South African brands among others. The face of competition has changed, and demands made on local operators from consumers have also changed. It has changed expectations of average consumers.”
Is she learning anything from her competition? Bose answers in the affirmative, adding that, “For us at Tantalizers, it has only made us wiser because in a situation where we were dealing with one of us is different from when we are dealing with an international brand that we know we can learn from.
“So what we have now is that the local fast-food operators are working to bring themselves up to the level of the international brands.”
With international brands now involved in the same market, how has Tantalizers faired in the market? An astute businesswoman that she is, Bose reveals that the competition has been there from day one, but Tantalizers’ concern is to “think every day of how to improve what we do to satisfy our customers because they are key to our goals.”
Speaking further on taking the business to the next level, Bose admits that the loan granted by IFC is a major boost for the business. She believes that, “our association with International Finance Corporation (IFC) should push us to a higher level because when you have an association with the World Bank, there are acceptable standards expected of you.
“So, the association would not only help in the area of finance but it would also help us and push us to the next level to ensure that we benefit in terms of IT and information flow and integration upgrade.”
This is not all. The former Rank Xerox employee reveals that Nigerians are welcome to join the Tantalizers family, explaining that by being a part of the Tantalizers franchise is being part of a great dream. She explains:
“When you come to Tantalizers and you accept that you can do a franchise with us, we ask you some questions. We ask you if you have a location or we give you a location we have been looking at, we supervise the building of the structure. Do you have the resources?
“If the location is okay, we give you an agreement; we take you through the training programme. Thereafter, we recruit for you and manage the business with you for a period of time until we are sure you are able to run it on your own,” she pointed out.
From a dream that was in danger of fizzling out due to lack of funds, Tantalizers has grown to become a fast food restaurant of choice for Nigerians. We sought to know what the success secrets of the boss were and she lists them carefully.
“I think for me the number one thing is that you need is to acquire knowledge”, she begins. “You must have an idea of what your business is. You should understand basic financial principles. You must know that there is difference between revenue and profit.”
Then she emphasizes prudence, revealing that “You must not be disciplined and delay gratification when money comes in. A lot of businessmen throw parties when money comes. You must invest on your workers. You must have a vision that is bigger than yourself.
“My vision for Tantalizers was not as big as my husband’s vision for Tantalizers. It is my husband’s vision for Tantalizers that has taken us to where we are now. You must have a roadmap on how you want to get there. You should work with people and deal with them as people and not as tools. Always think of the human side of people.
“You may not be the best payer in the economy but people working for you should be happy when they leave their homes for work not because of how much you pay them but because you have built a relationship with them that transcends the job. As a woman, another principle of success comes from support from your family, support from your husband. My husband really supported me.”