Mr. Prasun Banerjee, managing director, Binatone Nigeria, in this interview with OLAJIDE FABAMISE, speaks on how the company has survived the recent economic recession, battles with counterfeiters and other issues targeted at the heart of the Nigerian consumers.
What can you say about the federal government’s policies on imported goods as it affects your company? We don’t have a problem with government policies as regards regulations. The only problem we have is the delay at the Apapa Port. This causes delay for us and you know one need to pay for demurrage at the end of the whole thing. But, government is already addressing this challenge. Efforts are being initiated for improving ease of doing business and we are quite satisfied with the progress the federal government of Nigeria is making to ensure a conducive business atmosphere.
Government has come up with the procurement policy that says expatriates should not be used for any skill that can be sourced locally, how are you responding to this? Absolutely, we are doing that. We have very limited expatriates only wherever required, basically the managing director. Across all our products and divisions, we have locals running the business. What is your expansion plan and what are the challenges associated with such efforts? Yes, we have plan to expand. In fact, we will be opening another assembly in the next two weeks. We want to go into various categories of products and of course, with new innovation. In order to expand, one needs to invest, get their share of space in the showroom, and in order to get this share of space, they need to do visibility exercises in terms of product display and demonstration. We have demonstrators that we train on a regular basis on key features of the products and how to handle and sell them.
Some merchants are our first point of contact with the customers. The trained demonstrators are one of the touch points that we have. In terms of availability, we were limited to certain class of retailers, now we have started expanding our retail network. We only had few supermarkets and retailers in Alaba but now we have big retail shops across Nigeria. We are working with the top retailers in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Abuja and Lagos. The second touch point we have is in terms of the display. The customer gets to have a touch and feel of the product. He gets it near to his house; he does not have to travel far to get the product. So, our products are available in every supermarket and top retailers across the 36 states and the FCT Abuja looks after the entire central and North; Port Hacourt looks after the East; Onitsha looks after Onitsha and Enugu and Lagos looks after Lagos and the South West. We have a service centre that is well equipped with trained engineers to take care of consumers even when they have complications beyond the two years covered by the warranty.
Have you observed a need to branch into the hinterland? What we are doing is to expand step by step. Once we see that a certain market has potential, we open a branch there. Onitsha was big for us; our next target is Kano or Kaduna to cover the entire North. We have a vast team of people here. I would like to also point out that all the fans that you see here are assembled in Nigeria. We have an assembly unit here in Nigeria and we are planning to assemble some other items here as well. We have given employment to many local people and we have also done good business and generated revenue for the government. You are facing competition from new brands springing up regularly, how are you coping? Competition will always be there. Whenever there is a demand for a category, there will always be competition. But we believe that we give good value for money in proposition. We give a product which is affordable, has value for money and at the same time, gives peace of mind. Our core philosophy is to try and get the product across a wide spectrum of society at very affordable price. We don’t just give value for money; we also give value to many. We are available, pan Nigeria and one of our strengths is giving the consumer peace of mind. One of the ways we do that is to declare two-year warranty on each of our products. We’re already dominant in cooling products for the home, we felt the pulse of the consumer to produce the world’s first 2-in1 Music Fan. We are market leaders in fans and have an assembly unit here.
We are also looking at assembling other kitchen appliance products and also help the government to accelerate its made-in-Nigeria initiative. How are you responding to demand for products that meet the energy challenges of the Nigerian environment? To take care of the energy challenges, we have rechargeable fans and we will be launching more fans with rechargeable capacity. We know that this is a challenge in Nigeria and there is an opportunity there. So, we are one of the pioneers of rechargeable fans in Nigeria. We have another company which is based outside the UK and which does that. Discussion is going on but there is no product right now that is commercially available to take care of that challenge. But I am sure that if there are driverless cars, there should also be solar fans. How would you compare your market shares in Nigeria with the UK and other African countries?
Nigeria is a very huge market filled with a young population. Nigeria is one of our home countries. It is a huge opportunity for us that our fans are coveted in every household in Nigeria. Our products are well accepted products here in Nigeria. We are not premium products, we are value for money and value to the many products. They are products which the middle class will always like to buy. For instance, Nigeria is the second biggest appliance market in Africa (after South Africa). All top international brands have strong presence in the market. Market is predominantly for mid and lower end products across all product categories. Of course, the Nigeria electronics market has always been doing great and remains a major market for us to continue to explore. As far as Nigeria is concern, we are introducing very innovative products. We have launched many products and we still intend to launch. In short, there is big market in Nigeria.
How does your company hope to impact positively on the Nigerian economy? Despite recession, we have been growing in business thanks to our product innovation and keeping our prices low. We have contributed both to the Nigerian exchequer as well as providing jobs to talented and meritorious Nigerians. Apart from direct employment, we also give a lot of indirect employment through the various agencies we hire who assist us in our business development.
What can you say about substandard products, have you ever experienced this and how did you address it? Whenever you have genuine products, fakes will be present. So, it is something we have to work on. We have been working with Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) in identifying and destroying fakes and taking the perpetrators to court. Some cases are still in court. What we do is that whenever we see any product being converted to a fake, we try to exit that model and launch a new model. We try to keep one step ahead of the fakers. I advise customers to buy from authorised agents and distributors of our products and from leading electronic outlets and supermarkets where there are no fakes.
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