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‘We plan to explore opportunities in other West African countries’

SKLD Integrated Services successful redeems its Commercial Paper

Provision of learning aids, educational supplies and resources in Nigeria are increasingly gaining traction, driven by demand to close the infrastructure deficit. TEMILOLA ADEPETUN, managing director, and TAYO OSIYEMI, deputy managing director, SKLD Integrated Services, formerly known as School Kits Limited, in this interview with KELECHI EWUZIE, speak on how the organisation in the last 20 years has evolved its operations and services from the concept of the one-stop-school-shop to cater to diverse sectors. Excerpt:

Coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted businesses. What measures did you put in place to overcome the challenges pose by the crisis?
The lockdown adversely affected all businesses globally and the continued school closure after the easing of the lockdown in May 2020 had a significant impact on our business. We had invested in inventory for third term school resumption which meant that we had a lot of funds tied down. However, we continued to engage our customers by evaluating their needs and providing the electronic learning aids that most students required for online classes that school had adopted.
In addition, we assessed how parents could manage their children’s time at home and promoted the educational toys (for the younger children) and other learning aids on social media. We offered all these products on our e- commerce platform and delivered to the customers in the comfort of their homes.
At the peak of the Covid-19, SKLD had over 120 tailors producing personal protective gear like face masks, coveralls and scrubs in our production facility for various corporate clients. Pivoting to production of PPE was essentially how our company survived the crisis that was created by the continued closure of schools.

Read also: COVID 19 : FG partners UNICEF to actualise safe school reopening in South East

What inspired the setting up of SKLD?
SKLD Integrated services formerly known as School kits limited was initially set up as a retail business. The idea was conceived in 1999 when my first son was going to secondary school, and I needed to shop for school items. I had to go around several markets every Saturday for about a month looking for one item or the other.
I couldn’t get everything in one place and that gap in the market ignited the idea in me to set up a business that can serve working mothers who want to shop for their children. I wrote down my business plan, a year later, I left my job and started the business. And since then, it’s been a journey of expansion.
One of the reasons I chose this business is also because there is a continuum when it concerns education. Children are born daily and majority of them will be educated from nursery to secondary school and certainly a business that services this age range is bound to stay in business because of the niche focus.

Over the years, how has SKLD being able to stay above competition?
SKLD has competitors, in some aspects of our business especially on the wholesale side on the other hand there are some shops that sell a few of our product categories. However, we are one of the top ten companies in our industry that offer the concept of the one-stop-school-shop.
In terms of the competitive landscape in the education sector in general, there is certainly room for more entrants because of the large population of children of school age in Nigeria.
In terms of market share, if I were to take Nigeria as a whole, SKLD is probably catering to one percent of the market because the company caters mostly to private schools, I will say our company has a larger market share within Lagos as we have four outlets and we have been in business for a long time. We estimate that we have 20 to 25 percent of the market share in Lagos in our niche area.

For you to come this far, you must have had some ups and downs in the journey. Was there any point in time you felt like quitting? Any regrets being where you find as a company?
In the last 20 years, there have been challenges, but not enough to make us pull out from this business. Certainly, we faced the usual business challenges in Nigeria such as inadequate provision of power and other basic utilities, recruiting the right employees, difficulty in accessing funds, fluctuations in foreign exchange rates to mention a few. High cost of renting front facing locations for our outlets, access to raw materials for our garment manufacturing especially textiles are other challenges that we have encountered.
When faced with these challenges, our management team work together to provide solutions and explore alternatives. Over the years, I have always worked with a team and not relied only on my ideas and I am proud to say that we have a dynamic management team.
In 2016, when the exchange rate was at an all-time high making the cost of importing uniforms prohibitive, management decided to engage in backward integration. We started our own small garment production factory at that time producing only the basic uniform lines. We have scaled up the capacity of this facility with the support of the Bank of Industry increasing our ability to handle bigger projects and service other industries as contract manufacturers.

As a company that have operated for 20 years, why rebrand now?
I would not say the rebranding was sudden as we have changed the School Kits logo periodically over the last fifteen years to reposition our brand. It became necessary to rebrand in the last five years as our services expanded to include wholesale, production, distributorship and Humanitarian Aid.
Having diversified into areas (other than the niche area of school supplies), we had to ensure that the new company name is not restrictive and could reflect the various aspects of our four business units, at the same time we wanted to build on our existing brand and the good will that we had acquired over the past 20 years.

What are your projections for SKLD in the next 5 years?
One of the things the company is planning to do is to establish outlets and offices in other states within Nigeria. If given the opportunity, SKLD will also want to explore opportunities in other West African countries as well. The company would like to see the Nigerian textile industry fully revived in order to scale up the capacity of its production facility with the availability of local textiles.
In the humanitarian aid space, there are a number of humanitarian aid requirements, especially because of the crisis in the Northeast; we have started working in that sector and would like to build our capacity in this area.
In terms of distributorship, the company hopes to have a lot more brands under its umbrella. Eventually, we hope to be able to manufacture shoes in Nigeria, because we actually have our own shoe brand (MH Footwear), but the capacity of the local shoe manufacturers and availability of raw materials is a deterrent for now.