Mr. Ademola Opetuga, a graduate of the Universities of Lagos and Ibadan, is the Chairman/Chief Executive of Scarlet and Snow Oil and Gas Limited, a company specializing in the sales and distribution of lubricants. He explains what prompted his journey into the world of lubricants distribution in this interview. OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU brings excerpts.
How did this business, Scarlet and Snow Oil and Gas Limited begin?
I lost my father in 1999. My father was a gentle man, he did not like women, but he only had five wives and 11 children. When he died, the burden of taking care of my siblings now became mine as the first son, and everybody in the family agreed that I should take over the Filling Station he was running, that was AP Filling Station, Western Avenue, Surulere, Lagos.When I got there, I decided I was not going to be an inheritor, but I was going to carve a niche for myself and I quickly zoomed in on lubricants which people just sit back in the filling station to sell, and they just get by. I saw an opportunity in the Igbo traders as resellers, and with the Peugeot 404, which my father had then, we started navigating Ikeja axis, selling the AP brand of lubricants to them at that time.At that time, the vehicle would die on the Ikorodu road; it would remain there for like two days, before we would be able to tow it back to the filling station. Thank God, it is not the Ikorodu road of nowadays, the car would have been towed away before I got back and whatever products in the vehicle would have gone.That was how we started with the rickety 404 Peugeot, and within a short space of time, it proved a good idea. We discovered that there was a market which was hungry for supply; a market that was laid back, where they were used to sitting down in their shops, waiting for somebody to deliver goods to them. And by the grace of God, we did so well; three years into the business, I got an award as the best distributor in Nigeria, in terms of volume trade in a lubricant, and we got that award, three years back to back. That was it. From the onset, I decided to create a niche for myself; I knew the filling station business was for a while, and I was able to educate five, six of my siblings; but thereafter, with the lots of pressure and harassment, I decided to hands off the filling station.
Any other person would have sat down and be contented with the filling station, but you decided to branch out, what was the motivation?
The motivation was that I decided that I was not going to be an inheritor, but that I was going to be a creator. It was so clear to me that I had to carve a niche for myself. As for the name Scarlet and Snow, I had a father in the Lord, I went to see him for prayers and the man of God picked up the Bible, and he opened it and said, ‘This is the message of the Lord to you, if your sins are as red as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’. Two years after that encounter, I went back to see the man of God again, he prayed for me; he picked the Bible and he read the same message. So, when the business started, and I was thinking of a name, I initially thought of Genesis, by the time we went to search at the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, the name Genesis was not available.
Then, it just struck me that why don’t I use that name that came by the unction of the Lord? And that was how the name came to me: Scarlet and Snow. How smooth or easy was the transformation from AP brand to Mobil brand, considering that there were other competitors?
It was very smooth, well, I had identified the track, I had identified the route, I had identified the consumers, who were just sitting down in their shops, but who had the money, and would love the products to be delivered to them. So, it was like riding on a perfected route that I now continued with the Mobil brand. I told the consumers that I now do Mobil and these are people who sell multiple brands; so, they welcomed the Mobil brand, and that is how the story has been until last year, when we became number one distributor of lubricants in Mobil Nigeria Plc.
Why did you choose Mobil when AP was having problem and what makes Mobil different from AP?
Well, maybe because I worked with an international company, Unilever; and Mobil, being international company, I have become used to some ethical standards and some modicum of ethics that are associated with multi-nationals.
So I knew that going to Mobil, I was going to meet some essential standards that are high and ethical; for example the chairman of Mobil addresses Mobil employees and distributors worldwide every two years and the message is: ‘the result is as good as the process’; that is, ‘we don’t want you to take shortcuts, we don’t want you to bribe, we don’t want you to cut corners, in your business, be straightforward’ and that is why Mobil worldwide is never involved in scandals.
They would rather pack out of a country, than bribe or get involved in scandals or dirty shady deals.
So, I enjoyed that kind of environment, that kind of thinking, that pervades such environment and that was why I latched on to Mobil and Mobil was very exciting, because they always show concern about product availability.
They do ‘missed product list,’ every year, where they analyse what the consumers asked for during a particular year and they were not able to produce. You can imagine an organization that reasons that way. So, they will calculate what are the things the customers missed and what are the things the organization missed. After coming up with the good result and good profit for the shareholders, they will still bother to look at the things they missed; and say, ‘we missed opportunities doing this or that,’ and the regret makes them to work better for the New Year.
How has what you gained from working with a multinational company impacted on your business?
It is the person that you associate with that will define you. Because I love ethical controls, and the way the organization works is ethical and very open, it has had great impact on my own business concern. For example, whatever we do, we make sure that we declare to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, every day, so it removes a lot of headaches. We don’t have to look behind our shoulders that somebody from FIRS is coming to check our books, because we don’t wait for them before we declare our account open to them.
What challenges have you face in the course of this line of business?
The major challenge is the Igbo traders. The Igbo traders would want to be the number one distributor and as such, are ready to sell the product below the cost price; so you find out that over discounting is one of the problems that we face.
People will sell a product of N3000 with N20 or N30 and when FIRS comes, they will be overwhelmed. When they see a million-naira turnover, their eyes will pop out.
Another major problem is adulteration of the product. There was a time we contracted a trailer driver to take the product to our customers in the North. When the guy got to Mobil, he saw Mobil lubricants and he was excited and said, ‘This product is in Aba, there was a place where I have loaded this product.’ Yet, Mobil maintains only one production outfit in Nigeria.
In fact, the guy had to insist that we open the carton for him to verify, and when we opened the carton, he said, ‘yes, this product, I have loaded a full trailer before at Aba’. So, you can see the fakers are into business and this is one of the issues we face in the business.
Unfortunately, the law allows it, because if you are caught faking, all the law says is that the penalty is N250,000 and or six months imprisonment. So, somebody who is faking a multi-million naira product, you catch him and you fine him N250,000, he would just pay instantly and return to faking.
Looking back from the point where you started, is there anything you wish you had done differently, is there any regret?
Well there are no regrets; maybe there are usual mistakes one make here and there, but one is getting wiser by the day, so we will keep on modulating our systems and controls to ensure that things are well harnessed. We try to use technology to improve the system and business transaction and the dynamics. We have braches in Ilorin, Akure, Ibadan and Lagos, so it takes some logistics to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Scarlets and Snow is a one-man business, is it a family business?
Yes, my two sons, one is an accountant and the other is a business administrator and computer scientist. And in actual fact, they are bringing their wealth of knowledge to bear on the business. The computer scientist is designing systems and controls for the business, and I have found that very exciting and he has made things to move straight forward and so easy, technology is the key to any business.
Where do you hope to see Scarlet and Snow in the next five years?
In the next five years, Scarlet and Snow would have expanded to incorporate new brands into its portfolio and it is also possible that Scarlet and Snow will begin to produce some of its own brand of lubricants for the market, deriving from the wealth of its experiences.
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