In 2017, despite her day job as an Engineer, Enita Ese Okonkwo started selling and blogging about books on social media due to her passion and drive for literacy and the gaping need for books in Abuja, Nigeria. This hobby gradually moved to a side hustle and a business called “TheBookMarket” a hub for books, literary enthusiasts, advocacy and propagator of education, that handles effective and prompt delivery of books and other literary materials in Nigeria and the world.
Can you briefly describe yourself and your business?
My name is Engr. Enita Ese Okonkwo. I am a passionate Nigerian driven to bring about positive influence and development in our society. I studied Civil Engineering at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. Growing up, my dad was my role model and he was a successful businessman selling books and providing educational services.
I would say business, entrepreneurship and innovation was a part of upbringing and training. I have a day job as an infrastructure engineer but in 2017, I started selling and blogging about books on social media due to my passion and drive for literacy and the gaping need for books in my locality- Abuja. A hobby gradually moved to a side hustle and a business. I am motivated for change and having a positive impact in the lives of people; entrepreneurship provides me that opportunity to utilize my core skills of negotiation, innovation and invention. I believe in my country Nigeria and the challenges that exist in our society just spur me to create viable solutions that would create wealth and build a better society.
The BookMarket is a hub for books, literary enthusiasts, advocacy and propagator of education in Nigeria and the world. Our business would help to ameliorate the illiteracy level in our country which currently stands at 60% by providing a platform for effective and prompt delivery of books and other literary materials.
What is it like being a female entrepreneur, and why did you choose to be one?
Being a woman in business is an amazing experience. It avails you the opportunity to learn, grow,mentor, be mentored, impact change, be part of change, influence people, make money, be empowered etc. The benefits of being a female entrepreneur is endless, if you have any value to add to the society. Do not wait for tomorrow. START your business now.
What new innovation have you introduced to your business?
Reading never gets old it just gets better.
People always ask this question when I tell people I sell books, like, “Do Nigerians read?”
“Do people still read hard copy books?’’ “Are you sure this is a viable business opportunity?
My answers are yes, yes and yes each time with a big smile on my face.
The business of selling books and literacy advocacy is not just a business but also a lifestyle and that is the benefit that The BookMarket brings to the table which differentiates us from others in the same line of business. Our greatest motivation is to get you to pick up an old book and read it again …when you discover the joy of reading then we walk with you on that journey.
Reading for us is not just for a purpose or a goal it is continuous, it is a process, its improvement, it is breathing. IT IS LIFE.
Herein lies our innovation.
We recently kick started our FOOD and BOOKS initiative (FAB) which strives to increase the accessibility of books to customers. We have bookstands currently in four restaurants (Coco Cafe, Nutrihit Café, Coffee Bar and Clever Kitchen) within the FCT and more in the horizon. It’s truly a marriage made in “book heaven” when a customer who walks in for dinner or a quick lunch gets easier access to books than usually would be the case.
We also help book clubs facilitate meetings in these vendor spaces…hereby building a budding literary community. We have much more innovations that are strategized to lift the literary circle in our community but we will not let the cat out of the bag yet. You just watch our space and get ready to be wowed.
What will you say is responsible for your success so far?
I remember attending Ngozi Okonjos Iwealas book reading in Abuja, she said, and I quote
“Success is personal; you decide what your success is”.
So speaking on the success of The BookMarket I would say it started way before I was born. This business started with my Dad I am simply continuing his legacy. That on its own is my success story. To be able to continue the message of literacy and education in our society.
So in all honesty, my family background and upbringing is responsible for my success.
My super support structure, my husband, Mr. Damain Okonkwo is a key factor in building The BookMarket.
My customers, book lovers, writers, publishers, literary agents, supporters, critics, business allies, partners,competitors are all part of my story. In one way or the other, they have made The BookMarket bigger, better and positioned to go places.
In your opinion, would you say that there are any unique challenges that female entrepreneurs face?
This is an interesting question.
I think people are unique not just because of their sex but because of who they are and what they stand for…so in general every female in business has a challenge unique to them in their sphere. However, if I am too make a comment generally on females in business. I would say one unique challenge we face is the capacity to manage our homes and businesses seamlessly.
As women, we are homemakers, caregivers, life givers and nurturers of the future generation so we have a lot of responsibility and expectations of us in combination with the pressure we place on ourselves to always be perfect and get it right (smiles).
The magic lies in managing these responsibilities and tailoring the expectations to suit your personal goals, business objectives, spiritual life, family life and all that makes you whole and functional. There is no one fix for everything. Just find your rhythm and the world will sing your song eventually.
On the flipside, however, I would add that in the book business over 70 percent of my customers are females so it is always quite easy to predict the needs, wants and requirements of my customers and satisfy them. So being a female bookseller is actually a plus in the business… (Laughs)
What values and principles have helped you so far?
I think as an entrepreneur that your personal values and principles have a way of giving life to your business. I am one of those people who do not know how or when to stop so every day I put my all and a little extra to build something that would be bigger than me and reach or achieve my set goals.
I am also very big on collaborations, affiliations, mentorships and partnerships. I believe that together we can achieve more not less despite the apathy in our society towards such philosophies.
I try as much as people to be sincere, honest and provide excellent service to my customers and to imbibe such qualities in my support staff as well even though sometimes it can hard, it can be so hard due to the many challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Nigeria, but we keep striving and keep growing. No one grew better by sitting on a spot. The Nigerian business sphere is definitely not for the faint hearted…It will try to crush you but you have to remain strong, original, resilient and consistent.
Why did you decide to go into this particular line of business?
I love books, reading, literacy and education. It is one of my happy places on earth; being with books.
It is the one thing I can do for free and I excel at without too much effort.
I actually fell into it not by actual design. I have a day job as a civil engineer so when I started this voyage into books most people in my circle thought it was not a viable business or something worth going into but I recognized / identified the need to increase access to books and just get to throw my crazy bookish ideas to anyone who cared to listen.
Here, I am two years later and wishing I had started earlier… (Laughs)
What are some of the challenges you have faced and what’s kept you going?
Some of the challenges are facing are:
I have been partially funding the business from my other job so I require seed capital to plough into the business to gain stability and independence.
Customer retention strategies have been difficult to implement.
Unstable government fiscal policies affect pricing, importation and exportation of books and other educational materials.
What keeps me going is my drive, passion and love for books and finally the happy customers who gets access to good books. There is nothing like it.
What is your five-year plan for your business?
Five years from now, is exactly 2024, we need to keep these things in perspective (smiles).
If God gives us life and is merciful to us, my plan is for the BookMarket to be a household name for books, literacy and education in Nigeria. To be a hub for literary conversations and advocacy within our society. Our plan is to also ensure that through our businesses, drive and initiatives that we create a world (both real and imaginary) that inspires and sustains a lasting reading culture in our society.
What do upcoming female entrepreneurs need to be successful in this path?
Selling books is something that can only be done with love.You have to love books to sell them that is just the territory.
In addition, Be yourself.
The Nigerian literacy sphere still has so much that can be done to improve the status quo.
So don’t think, “Why join the book business”? Rather ask, “What can be done better?”
And set out to make a difference that only you can uniquely achieve.
The LLA Lady Boss Series is a weekly interview series that highlights the achievements and entrepreneurial journeys of African female entrepreneurs. The idea is to showcase the Leading Ladies who are transforming Africa and the African narrative through enterprise and business.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes leadership, inclusion and diversity for women of African descent.
If you know any kick-ass women of African Descent doing phenomenal things in enterprise, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and she could possibly be featured.