Even though Sweet Sensation has been in existence for 17 years, we have been operating for 27 years when you include the ten years spent at the backyard shed. Today, we have about 25 locations with three new ones coming up in the next few months. The fact that we have not gone out of business in a difficult market is something that makes me glad and appreciative. The Nigerian business environment works like a two edged sword; there is a side that can encourage a business and a side that can also destroy it.
I’m also glad that despite the significant increase in competition over the last few years, Sweet Sensation has managed to maintain a respectable position in the QSR industry. Competition, despite having the potential to shrink the profit margins of hitherto dominating players in any industry, is not meant to destroy businesses but rather enhance them.
The good thing is that Sweet Sensation has been favored with customers who, in spite of the entrance of many competitors into our industry, have remained loyal to our brand. This is the landmark of our success. Our customers seek us out wherever we are regardless of the competition around us and that keeps us on our toes because no consumer can be taken for granted in today’s business world. We have received a lot of laurels and accolades too many to mention. This is valid evidence that we do have the favor of the almighty God and a fantastic workforce.
From The gatehouse to Victoria Island
The difficult space situation at the first shop at Ilupeju prompted me to start dreaming of a second location. In that ‘dream’, the second location was going to be classy, bigger and better. That dream led to the search for a property at Victoria Island, Lagos. That seemed like a ridiculous thing to do because how was I going to find the money to rent a place at Victoria Island not to talk of equipping it to the high class standard of the environment?
The VI outlet was opened on the 26th of November, 1996. That was about two years after the first outlet was opened at ilupeju. It was thefirst ‘big plan’ so to say. As I’ve indicated, the first Sweet Sensation outlet was almost like an accident. My attitude with regards to the first outlet was “Let’s just get out there. Let’s re-present in a professional way something that has been happening at a backyard. Let’s look different”.
There were not many cake shops in town then, maybe just one or two as a matter of fact.I was very limited in my scope, experience and ability to multiply things. Despite my drive and ability to work hard, I was naïve about creating a chain of stores and replicating systems and processes especially when I didn’t go to school to study it, neither had I worked at the head office of a multiple chain restaurant to have acquired that experience.
The starting of the VI branch was different. I was a bigger thinker who envisioned a very classy outlet. VI was the perfect location for what I saw in my mind and it didn’t scare me to go for it. I took the liberty of dedicating a short chapter (Chapter 15) to Femi Olutoye, the son of the owner of the property we finally rented and opened up in Victoria Island. Our move to VI would probably never have happened if it were not for his confidence in us and his assistance in getting the property on fairly favorable terms.
Stuck In The Mud
The birth of the Victoria Island outlet was tough. I’ll liken it to that of a woman who, because of difficulties during child birth, had to undergo Caesarian Section (CS) to deliver. CS was for her, an alternative way out of a tough situation. But really, which woman wouldn’t take the natural birth option if it were easy?
When it was two days to the official opening of the VI outlet, we were nowhere near ready for the D-day and we were flat broke. I had no one to turn to again since I had exhausted all my ‘Save Our Soul’ sources. The only people around were the contractors who needed to get paid. Now this might be hard to believe but it was to them I turned for different favors including loans!
I got all sorts of help from them – payment deferrals, contribution of materials and yes, cash loans! That’s why I can’t forget some of them till today. There was Baba Ibadan, the mason, Baba Dudu, the painter, Baba Omosah, the electrician and Ben Udaeze who supplied us gas and is today, a major gas supplier in Lagos. The last two I mentioned are still, today, important suppliers and service providers to Sweet Sensation.
I remember there was a necessary external cladding we had not yet ordered from an aluminum company as at two days to the D-day and we needed to do that before the day ran out since it was a Friday and the aluminum company was going to close shop for the weekend. That was just one of many ‘last minute’ emergencies that needed immediate attention before the D-day arrived. It is interesting to note that despite all the renovations that have taken place at the VI outlet, that particular old fashioned cladding has not been ripped off and is still there today. Perhaps as a symbol of the sacrifices that took us up to the big league.
Despite all the teething problems, the VI outlet was opened and it is still there today. Whenever I go in there for any reason, it always reminds me of those frantic days prior to its official opening. Remembering those days makes me appreciate God more and also those staff that were with me back then and are still at Sweet Sensation till today. People like Daniel Egwu who was my first Personal Assistant and is today the Manager, Supply Chain; Kemi Adewole-Ojo who is now the AGM Operations; Ben Eboh who is the oldest serving staff at Sweet Sensation (he came in just about 14 days before Daniel Egwu resumed) and is today the Manager, Housekeeping; Oluwatoyin Saka who is today the Deputy Manager, Research & Development; Kemi Idowu, who is today the Assistant Manager, Ilupeju Hub; Jackson Ofili, who is today an Executive, Supply Chain and Tope Oladeji, who is today an Executive, Production, Ketu.