One word we can use to describe our Lady Boss today is ‘pioneer’. Seun Tayo-Balogun, CEO of Brief Essentials saw a gap in the e-commerce sphere and set up an online shapewear and lingerie business at a time when no one was doing so. In our interview with her, Seun shares the story of how she started and how the Brief Essentials brand has continued to thrive despite difficult economic conditions.
Can you briefly describe yourself and your business?
My name is Seun Tayo-Balogun. I am married and have 3 children. I am the CEO of Brief Essentials, Creative Director and Content Lead for Techmonks Limited (a technology company). I have been running Brief Essentials for over 5 years and Techmonks for about 2 years. I have over 15 years diverse experience covering banking, economic research, communication, policy analysis, content development, technology & web and graphics design, and branding.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I decided to be an entrepreneur because I needed to be in control of my time. I also wanted the ability to build my future, shape and contribute to the Nigerian business environment and the world at large. Being an entrepreneur helps me to become the person I really want to be (and do whatever I want to do at the time I want to do it and take responsibility for its success, or learn from its failure).
Can you tell us about Brief Essentials? What led you to go into that line of business?
Brief Essentials is Nigeria’s first full-fledged online store that’s exclusively for foundational garments, shapewear, lingerie and all things underwear for everyone. In addition, Brief Essentials is the first to go mainstream on educating people about the importance of fit, style, and function of their undergarments using online and social media platforms. In 2011, e-commerce was relatively new in Nigeria, and most of the ecommerce stores at the time we launched were focused on clothes, shoes or electronics. Furthermore, where lingerie was sold, the options were limited and mostly overpriced or of questionable quality. The online lingerie market was practically untapped in the country as at the time and Nigeria needed an online lingerie and underwear store that would cater to the needs of everyone. Equipped with this knowledge and the determination to make a difference and meet the needs of the Nigerian market, we set out to start our online lingerie store to cater to the needs of every body. Online was the channel considering that the Internet enables you to manage a day job and a new business and it provides unlimited shelf space and borderless reach. Our first campaign went out on Google and Facebook – I think it was tagged “Nigeria’s #1 Online Lingerie Store”.
How were you able to get funds to start your business?
We had some money in savings and both my husband and myself were in paid employment and weren’t doing badly so we were able to put some money into the business on a regular basis. So, to answer directly, we’ve funded this business entirely from personal savings.
What are the things that make Brief Essentials unique?
No other Nigerian business stocks so much lingerie, underwear and shapewear varieties in one place and also provides the technology platform to sell the stock at the same time.
Value for money: Our prices are lower considerably in line with our goal – fight overpriced underwear.
Great customer service: solving our customers’ underwear related problems, is at the heart of our customer service. Our goal is to help women become more confident about who they are by ensuring that everyone wears what fits. We preach function and style and more importantly we preach fit and comfort.
We’ve kept things simple and also tried to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracies that will slow us down as the business grows. Three key things that are important for me are swiftness with which customers are responded to, respect and creativity – how you are able to help a customer meet their needs.
We want to serve a wide range of customers. One of the campaigns we launched earlier this year was the classic collection. The range features big cup bras without underwire that provides back support and exceptional lift without padding. I realised that seniors, our moms, grands and even many people that are in their late 30s are beginning to understand the importance of comfort.
What will you say is responsible for your success so far?
Hard work, perseverance, dedication and luck. At the initial stage, ideas must be actioned right away, therefore I saw myself pushing my limits daily considering also that I had a 2 babies (3+ and 1+) on hand – from creating the campaigns, managing social media pages, writing copies, creating the graphics, buying the products, updating the website, answering emails, packing orders, managing inventory, to making alliances and connections with suppliers everywhere all over the world.
In addition to those key attributes is the ability to create convenience shopping options and fast delivery for our customers. The versatility of knowledge and experiences in the past, and a good understanding of the business has contributed a lot to our success. Finally the variety we stock and the constant education we provide on fit and function has helped our customers make better buying decisions.
Every entrepreneur faces challenges. Can you tell us some of the challenges you have faced in business and how you overcame them?
The challenges faced include staffing, theft, delivery logistics, lack of confidence from buyers (quite high at the initial stage), fitting centre, inventory management, sourcing for goods at the right price and recently the depreciation of the Naira. We’ve made wrong staff choices, but it didn’t take too long at all for me to realise they were wrong, what I do is to reassign them or disengage them.
We have had challenges with delivering quickly, but we have solved this by hiring our delivery personnel, that way we are able to predictably determine when and how our customers gets their goods.
On sourcing for goods, if we want to keep the prices low, it must start with the supply side, we have tried to look for ways to reduce cost at source in addition to reducing overheads by automating some of our processes, that way we can offer more competitive prices.
On theft and inventory management, we had to put structures and processes in place to mitigate these challenges.
We overcame the challenge of providing a fitting room and also those who were doubtful that we could have so many options by opening a customer care office in Lagos, where anyone can come in to see, learn more about underwear, get fitted and actually make a purchase.
What keeps you going when the odds are against you?
Continuous feedback from customers on how we have been able to solve their underwear problems is testament that the market needs us. Over the past five years, we have been able to retain a large chunk of our customers. It’s amazing and I thank God.
In five years, where do you see the Brief Essentials brand?
I see BE as the preferred place where Nigerian buys affordable, functional and pretty lingerie, shapewear and all. Our goal is to have a wider reach and improve on distribution all over Nigeria. To do that we are empowering and equipping women and anyone at all interested in this line of business in strategic locations to get started. This year, we have successfully set up and stocked two lingerie stores owned by women (stories on their success stories will be shared subsequently).
Considering that this is mainly an online business, we have constantly updated our website (we’ve done about 4 upgrades since we launched the first version in 2011). Technology moves so fast, and sometimes you will often feel that nothing is good enough. Our goal has been to try to keep up and find ways to improve. In the next 5 years, we will be exploring technology related innovations that can be used to improve our customer experience.
What do upcoming female entrepreneurs need to do to be successful in this path?
Don’t think far or dream for too long such that you become stagnant and you remain a lady in waiting. Do. Execute your dreams with vigour!
If you are so convinced about your ideas, do not underestimate them; just try even when you know you could fail. That idea might be the access path to your future.
Once you are certain you will launch, go ahead and establish your presence. That way, when you eventually launch you will already have a base of followers waiting to buy your goods and services.