Photograph — Ventures Africa

This article is the fourth in our ‘2020: Also the year for innovation’ series

“The lockdown grounded our entire business operations. Everything was on a standstill. In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic paralyzed our entire business activity. We suffered unimaginable losses – our loans repayment plans were scattered, the normal training programmes were put on hold, supplies of footwear and bags to our vendors all over the country were suspended.” – Usman Aliyu, Co-Founder & Director of Business Operations, Marketing and Sales, Mekino. 

In the global market, 2020 was a tough and challenging year for most businesses. It was a also the year that tested the resilience of brands- particularly in terms of the stiff competition between foreign and locally-made products. Nigeria’s economy was a practical example.  

According to a study by Research Gate, Nigerian consumers perceive foreign-made products as more reliable, technologically advanced, stylish and competitively priced than the Nigerian products. Imagine what the chance of survival could have been for local brands still struggling to gain a sizable market share in 2020.

That’s the story of Mekino, an Abuja-based SME, which strives to promote made-in-Nigeria products. Officially known as Mekino International Skill Acquisition Academy Ltd, “the brand specializes in the production of leather works, soap making, deodorant making, creation of disinfectants and lots more,” said Usman Ahmed Aliyu, co-Founder & Director of Business Operations, Marketing and Sales, Mekino.  The SME also takes it further by also empowering Nigerians with skills in these production areas.

During a recent interview with Ventures Africa, Aliyu revealed Mekino’s interest in empowering Nigerians with vocational skills to enable them attain self-reliance and economic empowerment. According to the co-founder, their training involves practical lessoons (90 percent practical and 10 percent theory). He also shares with us the impact of the pandemic on Mekino alongside peculiar economic trends from 2020:

Ventures Africa: Considering a large percentage of Nigerians tend to trust foreign leather works like bags and shoes more than locally made ones. What has been the response of customers towards your brand so far?

Usman Aliyu (UA): The idea that Nigerians prefer foreign shoes and bags over locally made ones is purely a matter of perception. The average Nigerian believes that foreign shoes and bags are better in terms of quality and durability than the locals but this perception is not entirely true. The durability, longevity and usage comfortability of a  bag or shoe should be the main consideration for consumer patronage. But most Nigerians neglect these considerations on the mere ‘perception of foreign products superiority.’ The funny thing is that Nigerian consumers are not acting on the recommendations or advice of regulatory agencies like SON or NAFDAC but on their perception. So, the customer response in terms of patronage has been poor largely because we have that foreign mentality challenge – the belief that all foreign products are better than locally made ones. Sadly, majority of Nigerians do this without regards to quality comparisons.

VA: The year 2020 has been an unusual one for most businesses in Nigeria given a rise in dollar rates as a result of an oil-price cut, the outbreak of the COVID-19 Pandemic and most recently and economic recession in Nigeria.  How did your company perform during the lockdown?

UA: The Covid-19 pandemic was responsible for the global economic recession. And Nigeria, being an oil-producing country, was largely affected by the global lockdown caused by the outbreak. The lockdown grounded our entire business operations. Everything was on a standstill. In fact, Covid-19 pandemic paralyzed our entire business activity. We suffered unimaginable losses – our loans repayment plans were scattered, the normal training programmes were put on hold, supplies of footwear and bags to our vendors all over the country were suspended. Everything collapsed. So, consequently, the performance of our company was not zero percent but around minus 5 percent or there are about. This was so because our projected revenue and opportunities were buried, or should I say locked down by the pandemic

VA:  How do you market your products to your customers?

UA: We market our products through direct sales – selling to vendors and customers and through social media channels

VA:  Has production picked up in your factory?

UA: Yes, production has picked up in our factory. Business generally is slow – lots of people are still trying to recover from the damage caused by the lockdown. The purchasing power of the average Nigerian is still low and this has affected their level of patronage. Well, with the Yuletide season around the corner we are hoping that demands will increase.

VA: Is there anything you think that the government can do to encourage more Nigerians to patronize made in Nigeria goods?

UA: The government can make legislation that will support the growth and development of businesses in Nigeria. For instance, the bureau of public procurement can make it mandatory for all government procurement to local purchase. Both SON and NAFDAC can improve on their efforts and quality assurance of made in Nigeria. The government can through the National Orientation agency promote locally made products to Nigerians and encourage them to patronage their countrymen as an act of patriotism and economic growth. Lastly, Nigerians at all levels can change their perception of locally made products not been good. The National Orientation agency can make this happen through continuous awareness schemes.

VA: With all that 2020 came with, how have you prepared your business for the coming year?

UA: We believe that 2021 is going to be an amazing year. We are working on getting a single digit loan from all possible source. The money will be channeled towards production, marketing and promotions of our top selling products. We also plan to partner with some media stations to promote our training programmes and use the generated revenue for research and development of some of our selected products.

VA: What lesson has your business gained from this year?

UA: Hmm! The lesson from this lockdown caused by COVID-19 pandemic is many but the key ones are strategic business planning, promoting social media marketing channels, and duplicating our business network through alliances.

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