Nicholas Markovitz is the Managing Director of Creative Brands in Nigeria. The South African corporate and promotional gifting company is barely two weeks old in Nigeria. In this interview with NewsProbe, Markovitz says though there are safety and other concerns with regard to investing in Nigeria, they are not scared in taking some risks. To him, the excitement of being in Lagos for the first time is absolutely exhilarating. He also foresees the company’s websites revolutionising the way people procure branded items for their business in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Q: A number of South African companies are moving to Nigeria. What prompted you to come to Nigeria as well?
A: I think South Africa compared to Nigeria has actually matured as an economy. We have our fair share of issues politically and disruptions such as corruption and things like that. I think a lot of foreign companies are quite afraid to invest in Nigeria but South Africans in some respects are kind of used to that environment. It’s close to Cape Town and Johannesburg. There is a very big population and so there are many opportunities for business in Nigeria. As a foreign company, it has actually been very welcoming to have brand opening here.
Q: What exactly does Creative Brands do?
A: We are a corporate gifting and promotional gifting company. We have a large presence in Africa. The business is predominantly an e-commerce, online business. So, we have a lot of websites and all our products, ranging from clothing items to technology items to T-shirts, caps, anything that you will need from a branding point of view for your business, is available on the website and with the prices in Naira. The technology behind that business is the fact that you are able to brand your items online. So, you can pick a product; you can upload your logo; you can get the price immediately in Naira and you are able to have that emailed to yourself. You can actually check out the pay and have the goods delivered to you. It’s very difficult for small businesses to invest in a branding identity for themselves because they think they have to commit hundreds of thousands of the product. But with our business model, you are able to put one or two business. So, you don’t need to have a big budget of this.
Q: Nigerian economy is in a bad shape currently. Do you think you will break even?
A: We have already focused on ensuring that our pricing is very competitive. We understand that the economy is in, maybe, bad shape. That’s one way to look at it. But what we have seen is that people are class conscious. That is what we have seen with corporate executives and we are in this for a long term. We have made a big investment in bringing our business to Nigeria. We have invested in a sizeable showroom in Victoria Island where clients are able to go and see all the items that are on the websites. So, this is not just a web business. We have got actual physical presence in the country. I really believe in this sort of new dawn in Africa that businesses want to brand themselves but in a world-class way like you have in North America or the UK. This business of going to the market to buy hundred T-shirts and sending them somewhere else to have them printed and needing to deal with bad workmanship or needing to deal with rejects and not having trust and security that your items are going to look as they should is, for us, not palatable.
Q: Doing business in Nigeria is not quite palatable: Government agencies harassing you and harsh business environment. Do you have any fear at all?
A: Our strategy in Nigeria is to pull a local team from business development and sales point of view and we work very closely with venture capital incubator, Malema, and our new business development person. Her name is Amaka. We need to be working with sales or business development arm that understands the local market perfectly. And initially, we are targeting corporate companies and obviously we will like to start getting into business in Abuja, government tenders. As I say to you, we are used to having corruption in South Africa and of course you do need to be careful. But with risk comes great opportunities. So, Creative Brands and our business partners are not scared to take some risks. I am sure we will make some mistakes along the way. But there are plenty of rewards to reap.
Q: Security is another issue. There are killings in the country. If you travel to the northern part of the country, say from Abuja to Kaduna, you risk being kidnapped. I am sure you will be travelling in the course of your business. Do you have any fear at all about that?
A: When I arrived in Lagos Airport (I couldn’t apply for my visa on time in South Africa; so I had to ask for a visa on arrival), I was actually stuck at the airport for three or four hours and they wouldn’t let me into the country. And of course my first experience of how strict the government is in general in regards to knowing who is coming into the country and making sure they have a visa, you know we are not used to having security guards with AK 47 strapped across them in South Africa. So, the tone is definitely different and we have had a driver that was allocated to us that we will be going to meetings with and it’s a very different style to what I am used to in South Africa. Normally, I pop into my car or get into an Uber, but Amaka had to very quickly correct me and explain to me what the safe Nigerian way is.
But I must be honest with you, there hasn’t been one minute that I have been in Lagos where I have been afraid of anything. If there is anything, I have found that anyone I have come into contact with has been so excited about a new company coming into the country; and fresh blood, young people who are wanting to work for a foreign business and to have a new opportunity are having the opportunity to see things differently.
We set up an office in Kenya and it’s quite a different environment to Nigeria and also a little bit more mature. But people in Kenya are not so open to wanting to do things differently. So, we in Creative Brands had to fit into their way of doing things. But I find in Lagos specifically such a start-up, entrepreneurial spirit and especially around people in their 20s and early 30s just wanting to make a positive impact on their lives. I was joking to Amaka that you know South Africa is one hour ahead in time. So, at 4 o’clock, I was looking at my watch and telling Amaka, “Oh South African office is closing; if you need anything, you better let them know quickly.” She said to me, here we work 8 to 9 o’clock in the night. We have business meeting in the hotel in the early evening and this is not something I am used to as a South African. People are excited for change. So, there are things to be concerned about. There are safety concerns, but there are so many amazing positive things as well to be excited about and if you are looking for a perfect situation, then Africa is never going to be your place. So, it’s a continent of contrasts and that’s why we will like to be here.
Q: In the next five years, where do you see the business in Nigeria?
A: Five years is a long time. I will like to say that in three years, I see our Nigerian business bigger than the South African business. I see Creative Brands in Nigeria really having expanded into a very big multinational corporate. I see our websites really revolutionising the way people procure branded items for their business. We are offering a solution as much as we are offering goods and services. We are more of a technology company than a gifting company because it’s more about the experience of working with creative brands. Becoming a household name in Nigeria will make me proud.