“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race” ~ Calvin Coolidge
Today’s interview on Whoot Africa shines the spotlight on Goke Balogun, CEO and Founder of So Fresh Neighbourhood Market, a health and lifestyle brand in Nigeria. We personally visited the So Fresh Neighbourhood Market on Awolowo Road Ikoyi to see for ourselves, and we can confidently say that this businessman has been in the business for a while and understands the power of persistence in chasing one’s vision and making a success of it.
Here are excerpts from our conversation with Goke Balogun
Can you tell us a little bit about Olagoke Balogun and So Fresh Neighbourhood market as a platform you represent?
My name is Olagoke Balogun, I am the founder of So Fresh Neighbourhood Market. I am a graduate of Biochemistry, I have had varied experiences across different industry sector. I am married with 2 kids; I love nature, music and beauty.
So Fresh Neighbourhood Market is dedicated to promoting healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle in the Nigerian space. Our ultimate vision is to make So Fresh the prime destination for people to make clean, safe and healthy food choices. We believe that good healthy food should be freshly prepared, as close to nature as possible and that convenience, ease, a serene atmosphere and excellent service is the hallmark of a great shopping experience.
What were you doing before So Fresh Neighbourhood market? And what did it take you to get to where you are today?
Before I started So Fresh, I had brief stints in the fast food and soda beverage industry, then in the oil & gas sector. I had varied experiences from production to sales to marketing.
It’s taken sheer persistence, passion, a sharp focus on the vision, leveraging on my experiences and of course grace to get to where I am today, which is just a start. I am grateful to God and a great family support system I have.
Can you share a little bit about the history of business and entrepreneurship in your family?
My family wasn’t really big on entrepreneurship or business. However I remember in the late 90s, my dad was retrenched from civil service and had a bad eye diagnosis, hence we were left on my mum’s meagre lecturer (at a state college of Education) salary to fend for a nuclear family of 6 and probably extended of 10, that was the birth of entrepreneurship. So we started the first family business by using my dad’s gratuity to buy a photocopier, then an ingenious idea. Everyone had to take turns working there, and that was how it all started.
So Fresh Neighbourhood market has tapped into a very obvious market that very few businesspeople have paid attention to, how have you been able to stay profitable considering the many challenges that face businesses that deal with perishable goods?
Yes indeed there is a growing trend of health conscious Nigerians, who are becoming increasingly aware and more knowledgeable about the importance of healthy eating habits to the overall body health, fitness and beauty.
It’s been however very tasking, challenging and intense running such a business model with fresh perishable inputs and outputs. Hence we are very particular about our sources of inputs, frequency of sourcing and we have had to rely heavily on diesel powered energy to keep our produce fresh. Our ability to stay true to our commitment of freshness and wholesomeness of our products is part of what keeps endearing our customers to us hence making us sustainable over the long haul.The business is still young and gathering steam, we are hopeful of a great future.
Your business has garnered support from celebrities and fitness trainers across Lagos and the support keeps growing? How has this support impacted your brand?
Their patronage, support and endorsement, has definitely been tremendous for us in pushing the brand and gaining credibility in the market. However, it’s not been only about the celebrities and fitness trainers only, but we get tremendous support and endorsement from our everyday regular customers pushing and spreading the message, because they like what we offer and represent.
Are there any plans for weekly fruit deliveries around Lagos, like that of the Abel and Cole model in the UK?
Absolutely! We have plans to create a very convenient and easy delivery service of fruits and veggies to homes, corporate offices within the next few months. Our intention is to innovatively create multiple ways to make good clean food easily accessible to all Nigerians, so expect many more value added services from So Fresh.
So Fresh Neighbourhood market’s business is largely dependent on local farmers as suppliers, are there any plans for your own farms to reduce cost in the long term?
Yes we are largely dependent on local farmers and middle men for now; owning our own farms is a possibility worth exploring sometime in the future depending on whether it fits into the overall model for our business.
What are some of those vital business lessons that you have learnt since so fresh Neighbourhood Market kicked off, that you would like to share with upcoming businesspeople?
Be vision and purpose driven, understand every aspect of your business in and out, stay focused and get sound business education.
“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything” hence plan vigorously, don’t be afraid to fail, rather fail quickly, learn your lessons and move on. Also, forming mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships goes a long way in ensuring business success.
Doing business in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted, if you had to sell doing business in Nigeria in a few words to an investor, what would they be?
Ironically, Nigeria is a very fertile ground of tremendous opportunities despite the very difficult business landscape; this is because most business sectors are still at their rudimentary stage. I tell people that almost any business you do in Nigeria has the potential to be a monumental success, because there is a relative high dispensable income amongst the middle class and a willingness to spend on quality products and services. You just need to find a winning idea you are passionate about and be sure you are willing and equipped to stay the course, and then the sky will just be your launching pad.
What do you think are the most important personal skills someone must have to be successful in business? And where do you see So Fresh Neighbourhood Market in 5-10years from now?
An undying quest for excellence
Focus and discipline.
Our goal is to be the most reliable retail prime destination for fresh produce, wholesome, natural and healthy food in Nigeria. So Fresh seeks to scale-up its operations by expanding its product range, geographical coverage and online presence over the next 5 years to further reach more of our potential target audience and remain the number one destination healthy store in Nigeria.
We hope to become a meeting point for communities to shop, relax, interact and have fun over healthy meals and to be at the fore front of inspiring people to engage in clean and healthy eating as a lifestyle.
How hard is it to get into this line of business? Financing, product sourcing et al.
I’ll say it’s a mix of hard and easy, depending on the scale you want to start, it can be pretty easy, one doesn’t necessarily need huge capital and product sourcing is relatively easy. It’s what most people start from home; however it can be quite tasking and rigorous to operate successfully because of its peculiarities.
How do you keep your staff motivated, plus what are those things that you need right now to help support and grow your business even further?
Staffing is a big challenge especially for SME’s in Nigeria today, but we keep looking for ways to attract and retain good ones. We create a conducive, relaxing work environment. Our work hours are friendly and flexible. Communication is also important to continually help motivate staff towards the ultimate goal.
Who are some of your mentors in the business world and why?
No one specifically, took me time to grab the concept of mentorship, so I guess I am still searching. I take time to read wide and study successful businesses and their models all over the world.
What do you think about college education? Should kids go to college now or get into business if they feel it’s a better choice? Considering some of the world’s greatest never had college education, your thoughts?
I think going to college is a great idea, because it kind of expands your horizon, gives you some real world experience and engenders some maturity before you venture out to the world of business.I think the debate about to go or not to go to college before business is for me a case by case basis, it can never be a general phenomenon. My take is that most people will benefit from going to college before starting a business.
What is the best advice you have ever received, from whom and how has it impacted your life till date?
My wife! Start with what you have. I could be very idealistic and a bit of perfectionist, for example I was waiting for the perfect conditions to start the business, my wife literally pushed me to start. Babe said, you have planned for over 1 year, oya let’s go and rent a shop we can afford and that was how SO Fresh was born, 5 years later and we are here. I am forever grateful to her.
Lastly, what are those things you’d like to be remembered for in 20-30years from now?
Making a difference and making my society better than I met it.
If you missed the previous parts of the 15 Questions with the CEO series, please click here