I had the rare privilege of sitting down with Shade Ogunleye, who with her husband, Folusho, founded the Ice-Cream Factory and created a whole different experience to enjoying ice-cream in Lagos. Shade is a very busy woman so I set my timer at 30 minutes and immediately started to ask her questions. Enjoy my time with Shade:
Shade, Ice-Cream Factory is fantastic, I love the dark Belgian Chocolate & Baileys flavours best. When you opened your first branch on Omega Bank Avenue in Victoria Island, I remember a friend of mine saying, “you should visit this place, they not only sell ice-cream, they make the most beautiful waffles with dollops of ice-cream on them”. She went on to say ‘you will also like the environment, it’s the kind of place you go to with your laptop, have an ice-cream or sandwich and write a blog post’. So of course, I checked it out soon after and it lived up to her description, I loved the décor, but it was the ice-cream that got me. All made in-house, nice and different. Tell me, how did the idea develop?
S: Hubby and I studied and lived in the UK, but somewhere at the back of our minds, we always knew we would come back to Nigeria. But it was actually after I had my first son, and went back to work that I started to really want flexibility. I wanted the flexibility to raise my kids and do the things that I was passionate about. My husband also felt the same way. This desire sparked off our journey on the search for a gap in the Nigerian market that we could fill.
We thought of different things, sought advice from people on ground in Nigeria, I thought about bringing a high-end lingerie store that did proper fittings, we looked at a device that automatically helps you inflate tyres should they go flat, security gadgets for cars and many other things. Being Christians, alongside our research we also set aside a time of fasting and prayer, where the focus was on asking God what direction we should go in next because we knew whatever decision we made at that time would affect our lives in a very significant manner.
One day, during a period of waiting on God for direction, I was on the computer carrying out some research into a business idea that my husband had asked me to look into and I felt in my spirit, “What about ice-cream?” I immediately dismissed it as ridiculous, how do you jump from researching on security gadgets to ice-cream? But the thought kept niggling at my mind. My husband was on his way back from work at the time and also strongly sensed God speaking to him about ice cream. He initially dismissed it as ridiculous. He told himself “how do you jump from researching on security gadgets to ice-cream?” But the thought kept niggling at his mind. He later told me that he prayed as he walked home saying “Lord, if this ice-cream thought/idea is from you, speak to Shade and let her confirm this within a week.” What do you know, as soon as he walked into the house, I asked “Folusho, what do you think about ice-cream?” and the rest as they say is history.
That’s amazing Shade, how did it then evolve from thought to a product?
S: Our desire was to bring premium ice cream into Nigerian market. We started by initially looking at franchise opportunities. So we approached Haagen Dazs and sought to get a franchise. They told us the Nigerian market was not in their medium-long term plan. We then approached another South African ice cream brand but the capital outlay, in our opinion was quite prohibitive. In the course of dealing with that potential set-back, we put ourselves to work, put in a lot of hard work, continued researching and one day stumbled upon the story of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream and how they started in their kitchen. So we thought ‘why can’t we make our ice-cream from scratch’? It surely can’t be rocket science? This was a really exciting prospect and we were determined to get the best possible training. It led us to do more and more research and then we found one of the best schools for making ice-cream in America and decided to go there for our training. Having found the school, we faced another hurdle, we had a toddler at the time, whom we could not take along for the course. In faith we went ahead paid for the course and bough our tickets even though at the time we did not know what the childcare arrangement for our son would be. As God would have it about a week before the course my sister-in law called to tell us she would be coming to the UK for a medical check-up and would be staying at our place. We found out she would be arriving a day before our departure to the US and leaving the day after we arrived back at the UK. Very typical of God to show-up just in the nick of time… another confirmation from God that He was with us on this journey.
Having now learnt the technical skill, there was still the business aspect of it and how to translate what we learnt into the Nigerian space.
Ok, how did that go? What did you now need to do?
S: God spoke to us again through Numbers 13, asking us to go and survey the land he had already given to us (Nigeria), to see what was on ground, the ice cream market, product offerings of potential competitors etc. In other words, we came to Nigeria to see for ourselves what was happening in the ice-cream “space” to give us more clarity on what we would need to do to make ours unique. We then decided we will offer and present our ice-cream in a different way, we would have waffles, crepes, have a place that people could sit and relax, we did not want to just create a scoop-shop. We were inspired by the Haagen Dazs Cafes around the world and deliberately wanted to create a similar experience at The Ice-Cream Factory. If you notice, our ambiance, ice-cream/desserts are targeted more to an adult palette. This decision to “target” our market is reflected in the choice and range of our flavour offerings, toppings etc … There is a science to the feel of our place, so that like your friend said, the average adult feels comfortable in our environment and can enjoy a sweet treat without treating it as a place just for kids. Of course, if the parents are comfortable here, then the children will be too.
Shortly after our visit to Nigeria, my husband resigned from his place of work and went to Nigeria again to source for funds as we could not do all we planned with the resources we had. It was more a less a done deal and I had also already given my resignation at work. At the last-minute the funding fell through and my husband had to come back to the UK after a couple of months (October 2008). At this point we were both unemployed. During this period we kept on praying, believing and trusting God to make a way for us. We were confident that God who started the journey with us would see us to the end. I must admit that it was a very trying period for both of us (we even had to pull our son out of nursery at some point because we could not afford to pay his fees) but God faithfully sustained us through it all. In December the funding we were expecting finally came through. We had initially planned to start in December 2008, but did not actually commence operations until May 2009.
Wow! What did you learn between December and May, what was the lesson in the delay?
S: A major lesson learnt was that God’s timing is always best. When walking with God a “delay” is a blessing in disguise. God never delays, we are the ones who are in a hurry. In His time he makes ALL things beautiful. A significant number of our flavours were perfected and/or created during that period of waiting (e.g caramel cookie crumble, white chocolate strawberry swirl, pistachio and almond etc). Also our Belgian waffles, crepes and cheesecakes were created during that period.
Another lesson was that even when you are prepared, expect the unexpected and be willing to adapt. There were so many things that we did not take into consideration, having just arrived from the UK. Some of which were, understanding the very low levels of service delivery in Nigeria and how intentional we had to be about training staff and re-training them/changing their mindset- that the customer is actually the reason why you are here (they are really the ones paying your salary). You are not doing them a favour by selling to them, so you want to make sure you give every customer a “come back experience”, not only feeling good about the products they got but also feeling good about the service received.
This also meant we had to create a rigorous sifting process for selecting our staff. As representatives of the company, they had to be well-groomed. A basic level of exposure and education was necessary and even after hiring, the training continues with a probation period where employees with potential can be mentored to grow.
We also trained them to ensure that their product knowledge was spot on. We educated them on all the flavours and products so that they were better equipped to provide and excellent service to customers. My husband keeps telling them that “you are not sales assistants you are customer service representatives”.
We also had all the regular issues that affect businesses in Nigeria, poor infrastructure, power generation being a major one because of the sensitive nature of our product. There were other issues we had to address such as having to deal with artisans or workmen who lack excellence and the requisite skills, maintaining hygiene in and around our environment, consistency in product delivery, ingredient sourcing- certain ingredients used for our ice-cream can’t be sourced in Nigeria so they had to be sourced internationally. We had to sort through all of that to start and keep running The Ice-Cream Factory successfully.
This is Part 1 of my interview with Shade Ogunleye. There’s so much wisdom in here and so for any entrepreneurs, business person or even anyone in leadership who is reading this, I want to highlight major lessons from this interview:
- Hard work & Network- we keep hearing Shade say we researched, we asked questions (knowing the right questions to ask is just as important as asking them in the first place), we sought advice. You have to put the work in.
- Keep learning: you are never too old to learn something new. They did not know about how to make ice-creams but they looked for someone who did –the school in America and went there to learn. What do you need to learn to do what you know you need to be doing?
- Mentoring & modelling: mentoring does not always have to be direct. When they picked up a book and saw how Ben & Jerry’s started, they allowed that story and experience to guide their own decision to learn how to make ice-cream. When she says they drew inspiration from Hagen Dazs cafes- that is modelling. If you really want to do business at the highest standards then you need to model against the best of the best.
- Deliberate & Emergent strategies: have a plan- your deliberate strategy- but be flexible enough to create another plan- your emergent strategy- when you face the roadblocks that come. Don’t let them stop you. Roadblocks are there to discourage the people who did not want to do it anyway.
- God is God everywhere. I know you are thinking “huh”, how did you get that from the above? But really, we tend to compartmentalize God, we invite Him in when the issues are of religion, we are praying for our family, or we are praying to avert some evil, but God who blessed us with all our capacities and full lives, wants us to invite Him into our business decisions, into our next steps, to lean on Him for direction. Don’t compartmentalize Him.
I continue part 2 of the interview with Shade next week, when I ask questions like, what has kept The Ice-Cream Factory growing and expanding. How it is to work with your husband and how those tensions are managed, and what they would have done differently. You don’t want to miss these great nuggets of wisdom from an inspiring, God-honouring lady.
Thank you for reading and please share how you have had to deal with difficulties in your business/any questions you would like me to ask Shade. Ciao. Be awesome this week.