#LLAInterview – “I want to build a pan African brand that embodies healthy living.” Oshione Igwonobe, The Juice Lady
As a woman with a big vision and a passionate desire to build a brand that promotes healthy living, one cannot but admire Oshione Igwonobe’s courage and tenacity. From moving from one office to the next selling juices in a cooling bag, Oshione has moved on to supply her products to top retail outlets such as Café Neo and Farm City. In our interview with her, she tells us why she kept going despite the different challenges that faced her.
Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?
My name is Oshione Igwonobe and I am the Juice Lady. I run a business that produces and supplies 100% fresh juice – no sugar, no concentrates, no preservatives and no water. I have been in business for about 5 years and built a client base of some of the top retail outlets like Café Neo, Farm City, Bonjour Bakery amongst others. I also supply private establishments like the Total Cooperative and individuals.
How did you get The Juice Lady title?
Several years ago when I started, I would go to offices to supply juices with my cooling bag. People didn’t know my name or the brand name at the time so I was simply referred to as ‘the juice lady’. The name just stuck and I resolved to build a brand around it. The Juice Lady as a title is a reminder of early days of carving a niche for myself, building a business against the tide and following my dream wherever it took me. I still have the cooling bag today and when I look at it, it triggers memories of resolve I didn’t know I had. This drives me daily in business because I reckon that if I could come this far I can overcome the challenges that life throws my way.
You had a 9-5 before you started making juices. At what point did you know that you had to make the transition?
I can’t say it was a specific point per se but there were events that led up to the decision. I studied Estate Management at the University of Lagos and I worked in a real estate firm. It was a realisation of my innate abilities, the freedom of youth, and the dissatisfaction with the tedium of white collar routine that triggered the chain of thoughts which ultimately led to my resigning and facing my business.
Were you afraid to make the switch to focus fully on juice production?
Naturally, yes. I am the first child in my family. I had to consider the responsibilities thrust on me by that unique position and the risk of failure in such an untested market. In hindsight, it was a daring move but my family and friends were supportive and the minute I could create a winning product, I got the much needed faith to dare the odds.
A lot of people are now into production of healthy food and products. How do you ensure that you stand out from the crowd?
Our point of differentiation rests on four key pillars: Product, Process, People and Pricing. As I mentioned earlier, I worked hard to develop a winning recipe and our clients attest to our product’s superiority in the market. More important than a good product is the consistency of delivery and that is why we have created a standardized process which delivers this consistency. To ensure this process is fool proof I have hired and trained my staff to adhere strictly to set standards. Lastly, our route to market is based on harnessing the retail space and at this time we are a volume driven business and this enables us price our juice competitively. The result of this is that our customers are guaranteed consistently great tasting juice at great prices.
We’ve heard a lot of great reviews about your juice. What will you say is responsible for your success so far?
Thank you. It’s always exciting when we get great feedback as we haven’t done a lot of consumer marketing outside word of mouth and referrals. I think our success has been largely due to consistency. In buying a product, there’s always an expectation and being able to continually meet that expectation is key. We endeavour to ensure our juices meet the expectations of our customers time and time again.
Can you tell us how you began your business?
After resigning, I started off making juices and healthy meals and supplying offices and private individuals. I picked up a lot from my mother who was a health buff herself. Growing up, she would experiment with different meals so I guess I just towed that line. After a while I understood that I needed to focus my energies on just the juice line of the business and that is what I did.
We can imagine the capital required to get your business running is high. How were you able to source for funds to finance the business?
Financing up until recently has been largely organic. I started the business in my Mother’s kitchen with her blender and other utensils. Raw materials and other items didn’t cost up to N5, 000. I kept ploughing all the income back into the business. I had no staff, so I was production staff, sales rep, driver, delivery person, accountant all rolled into one. I joke that I’m not a CEO but a CSO (Chief Slaving Officer). It was months before I could employ a production staff. I partnered with some individuals who were to bring in finance but realised we had different ideologies. Along the line, I won the YOUWIN grant and this helped move the business forward.
What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
The challenges are intricately linked. Finance was a key issue. Banks and financial institutions are averse to taking a risk with small business owners and this puts us in a difficult position because businesses that really need funds to stay afloat can’t access them and this critically affects the economy. Let’s not even get into infrastructure or the lack thereof.
The dearth of information was another as it was incredibly difficult to get information and the expertise needed to set up my processing plant.
Your juice is stocked in big malls and stores. For a brand that is just beginning to get recognition, how did you achieve this?
Honestly, this is as a result of a combination of thorough B2B marketing and the good graces of people. We have gotten great referrals to stores from satisfied clients and this keeps the business growing.
Looking back on your journey, what are the key things you will do differently?
Sometimes I feel like I should have done more research into businesses in Nigeria to understand the nature of the market place and the best way to get the product to the end consumer. It would have accelerated my growth and placed me on the right track.
What impact has being a woman had on your success in business?
As women, we have the advantage of compassion. People are more willing to give us a chance, a helping hand and the benefit of doubt. There are also several platforms and programs supporting women in business. However, success in business has nothing to do with gender. It’s about tenacity and the utmost desire to succeed. It’s about being able to rise back up when you’ve been dealt a horrible hand. It is about not giving up no matter what.
Being an entrepreneur in Nigeria has its unique challenges? Can you tell us what keeps you going?
As trite as it sounds, passion propels me. I have an overarching mission of providing healthy living to people and every time I get a good review from my clients, it makes the hard work worthwhile.
What is your ultimate dream for your brand?
I want to build a pan African brand that embodies healthy living. We will not only produce juices but also numerous other health products. I am excited about the prospects and I know I can achieve this with time.
Any advice for a young woman who wants to follow your footsteps?
My advice: due diligence. To venture into the chaotic world of business in Nigeria, you need to understand you prospects, your business model and your product offering. I learnt from my estate management days that the higher the house you need to build, the deeper the foundation you need to create. It’s the same principle. Also, you need to be careful of bringing in ‘investors’. You must be thorough when getting into a financial partnership with anyone. Never ever take word of mouth as a basis for an agreement. Have all terms in black and white. People will come to you with real juicy offers, don’t get overly excited, take your time and look at all the angles otherwise you’d be selling your castle for a morsel of bread. You need to study to show yourself approved, read extensively and never give up in your quest. The challenges will come but if you are well equipped to face them, you can ride the storm.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa, a non-profit that promotes women empowerment and gender inclusion for women of African descent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.