• Saturday, April 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

‘Technology is helping us bring transport and logistics services to every Nigerian’s doorstep’

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Libra Motors, a passenger transport company and its cargo or logistics arm Libmot Express are leveraging technology to reach new customers and clients in unprecedented ways, from the comfort of their homes. In this insightful interview, Marvin Igere-Adjara and Patrick Akali, chief operating officers, respectively, of both companies speak with BusinessDay’s Stephen Onyekwelu about the challenges, milestones and plans. Excerpts

Twenty-one years of operating in Nigeria’s transport market you must have learnt some hard lessons because it is a tough terrain, infrastructure and otherwise. What would be the top three problems you have had to deal with?

Marvin: Indeed we have had some big challenges in the past 21 years of operations and the big elephant in the room is insecurity that we face now, particularly in the southeast. For instance, on Mondays, you cannot travel to the southeast because of insecurity. We are losing huge revenue to this, weekly.

The second challenge is the road infrastructure. It is terrible, especially at night. It means frequent car maintenance costs. Car parts cost more now because they are imported. Bad road infrastructure also leads to more accidents. The contrary could also be true. The bumps, potholes and general bad state of these roads are big sources of concern. They increase the cost of operations.

The third challenge is the devaluation of the naira. The unfavourable exchange rates and rise in the value of the dollar against the naira is a big challenge. With the increase in the value of the dollar and the rising cost of petrol, operation costs rise astronomically and we cannot transfer this cost to customers. We want to be affordable. We can neither directly nor indirectly transfer this cost to customers. We want Libra Motors to be known as an affordable company. The times are already tough for Nigerians.

It is not only about problems and challenges. In these 21 years, you have also reached new levels and achieved milestones. What are some of these achievements?

Marvin: Yes, despite the challenges. We have grown as a business. Nigerians have trusted and allowed us to grow. We started in Mile 2, Lagos, 2003. Now we have 21 branches across Nigeria. We have sister companies such as the Libmot Express.

We have integrated technology into our operations and have transcended the traditional approach where people got to the garage early in the morning and struggled for passengers with competitors. We have embraced technology.

Talking about technology, how has it helped you to move away from the traditional way of doing transport business in Nigeria?

Marvin: From the comfort of your home, today, you can reserve your seat on a particular vehicle based on its schedule. You could also be picked up at designated locations. This has spread our reach and the number of potential customers. We are meeting more people. This is Libra at your doorstep.

When you were talking about milestones, you mentioned Libmot Express, as a subsidiary or sister company to Libra Motors. Why did you go into logistics?

Marvin: We have always done logistics but not as a standalone business. What we have done since 2004, and 2005 was to put the luggage into buses carrying passengers. However, we subsequently decided to separate this and run it as an independent company. This was in November 2019. We endowed it with its manpower, infrastructure and technology.

Tell us about the technology.

Marvin: Libmot Express has a mobile app. You can create shipments from your doorstep and a rider or courier person will come pick it up and deliver it to the appropriate terminal depending on whether it is intra or inter-state. Check us out on www.libmotexpress.com

Interestingly, many of these inter-state transport companies also have a logistics arm. It is a deep market. Where do you see the opportunities and why should anyone bother to patronise you?

Marvin: We have been in business for 21 years and have become a household name. Whatever comfort, safety or assurances we have created in the minds of our customers would make them want to patronise Libmot Express, which has been in operation for five years. There is a difference between roadside logistics and Libmot Express.

Patrick: If I may come in here, you mentioned earlier that logistics is a huge market and you also made reference to traditional courier companies who mostly service corporate clients and other formal businesses.

However, because logistics is a deep and varied market, the traditional courier companies have left out some segments of the market – the informal. E-commerce has also created a big logistics opportunity. Spare parts sellers and importers who need to move their goods from Lagos to the southeast or south-south are also a large segment of the market. This is why many transport companies have set up logistics arms.

Libmot Express has grown in capacity and can compete favourably with any courier company in terms of prompt delivery, security, and offering customers the seamless service that they deserve, giving them peace of mind.

This is for both Libra Motors and Libmot Express. You have operated mostly in the southern parts of Nigeria, in the last 21 years and five years, respectively, what is stopping you from expanding outside of the southern parts?

Marvin: Nothing is stopping us from expanding to the northern part of Nigeria. We plan to move to the north, starting from Abuja. This should be in the last quarter of 2024. However, we have been expanding. This is why we boast about 21 branches today.

We are opening three branches soon – Jibowu, Uyo, and a Libmot Express in Port Harcourt. We shall do Benin City in the second quarter of this year. Let us conquer the southern parts, and then we will set our eyes on the north. It is one step at a time.

Patrick: For expansion, we have been operating in the southern parts of Nigeria, but in the last quarter of this year and the first quarter of 2025, we will take our operations to the north, starting with Abuja.

Where are Libmot Express locations?

Marvin: Let me start by explaining the differences between a terminal and a centre. A terminal is where the transport business itself operates. The centres are where we do our logistics business. We have nine terminals and 12 express centres in Lagos.

We have both of them at Iyana Ipaja, Ajah, Bariga, an express centre in Marina, Lekki, Ikotun, and Jibowu to mention a few.

Patrick: There are also plans to open some express centres or drop-off points in places outside the terminals. Remember our target market is businesses or people who traditional courier companies do not attend to.

So, whether Libra Motors has a terminal there or not or whether we have a Libmot Express centre there or not, we shall open such drop-off centres to attend to our target market segments – everyday market women and men.

What is the big five-year picture for both Libra Motors and Libmot Express?

Marvin: One of the elements of the big five-year picture is to cover 50 – 60 per cent coverage of Nigerian cities, both for transport and logistics. We want the brand to be in every major city in Nigeria. We want to also expand into West Africa.

Patrick: for Libmot Express, our goal is that in the next five to 10 years, we will be among the top five registered courier and logistics companies in Nigeria in terms of service and revenue.

Do you have special offers running at this time?

Marvin: Well we have discounts for customers who book reservations online. So, the fare you pay when you go to the terminal is not the same as what you get when you book online.

We now live a digital lifestyle, smartphone penetration is growing and people are hooked online for most things today. If you want to gain traction or create awareness, that is where you have to be. We reaching people who live far from our terminals. They reserve their seats and we pick them up at designated points. You need to come to our terminals. You only need to book a day or two ahead.

If you had a magic wand, what is that problem that you would make disappear to ease business operations?

Marvin: This would be the exchange rate. Vehicles we brought in 2021 cost three times what we paid for them three years ago. It costs even more to clear it because of the exchange rate. So, if we could move back the hand of time and return the exchange rate to what it was in the 1960s, this would be beautiful for business and every Nigerian.