The average Nigerian believes being a cobbler is for dropouts, but Temilade Osinfade is one young man that has proved this impression wrong. His TT Dalk shoes , is a widely known brand as they have been featured on runways in almost all countries of the world. He has been able to raise the standard of indigenous shoe business. Osinfade is a Babcock University graduate of Public Health and today, his entrepreneurial acumen has been so rewarding and his business thriving.
With three quality stores of TT Dalk brand in Lagos and Abeokuta, he is indeed proud of his success. This did not come cheap as he was not as successful while he was using his car as his shop, but with sheer determination , he has made a success of it and diversified into apparels and accessories. In this interview with Philips Ojo, Temilade Osinfade explains how it has been since 2008 when he started . Excerpts:
What was your motivation in incorporating TT Dalk Shoes and how did it all start?
I was in school back then and I used to sell all sorts of things. In my third year, I began customizing my shoes. I had this guy who made shoes for me. I design the shoes and give to the cobbler to make. I was a fashion buff at the time. As time went on, a few friends said they liked my shoes and placed orders and before I knew it, it became a business.
Since I was almost finishing school, I wanted something on my own and I wanted it to be in fashion. Initially, I didn’t want to deal in clothes, because the market was saturated. I wanted to do something different and I came up with the idea of making branded shoes and ventured into branded shoes.
What year did TT Dalk come on board as a brand and how has it been?
It was in 2008, but it has been quite tough, because then, I I was looking for workers. Getting the right kind of people to work with was a bit challenging. Aside that, when you are going into the market there are two things to consider. It’s either people accept your product or people don’t accept your product. That was tough. My competitors were great challenges. It was a little bit tough to penetrate the market. The main challenge was foreign competition. Getting perfect designs into the market that would make the standard was tough.
The experience has been hectic. As a designer, you need to work with an engineer to bring out what you design. Sometimes, you don’t get it right. Till now, we’re still trying to perfect our finishing. I still train these guys because anytime we come out with different designs, it’s like a daily training process. When it comes to the selling experience, I had always been selling my stuffs right from secondary school. Walking up to people boldly and talking about my products were not difficult. Sometimes , I just go to Silverbird Galleria, Shoprite and other malls in Lagos with my car, open my trunk and start calling people.
That was how I was selling initially. I did that for a very long while. As time went on, it became a lifestyle for me. I wake up, go to market and talk about my products. Most people told me, “I’m sorry, I don’t wear Nigerian-made products,” but today, they all come to me and buy my products.
How were you able to raise capital for your business?
Sincerely, all my capital have been from my initial sales revenue. Right from when I was in school, I had always learnt to define my needs and my wants. When I figured that out, I became more prudent. So, most times, when I make sales, I put a large percentage back into the business and the remaining into logistics and some other things. There wasn’t any serious financial backing from anybody. It’s been really good.
Most Nigerians still prefer foreign brands especially with regard to fashion. How has TT Dalk as a brand name been able to carve a niche against foreign brands?
Well, first, our customers are key to us. We listen more to our customers and we put them first and that has been a good step-up for us. With most of our products, we always try to stay trendy as we work with the designs people like. We put our ears to the ground, look at what is selling in the international market in terms of the concept , style, and colours. The whole package. Our marketing strategies also have been successful.
What challenges have you faced as a shoe maker and fashion outlet?
Irregular power supply has been a major challenge for me. I always say to myself, if I have 24 hours electricity supply in Nigeria, it will make a lot of difference, trust me. There is no story about that. If there is constant electricity supply, a lot of businesses would perform better. This is because diesel costs so much. It’s affecting the whole economy. An average guy that wants to start a business would still think of buying a big generator to power his plant and equipment which is not supposed to be so.
These factors are limitations for start-ups. Finding the right materials is also another challenge. Today, Nigeria is either the second or third largest leather producing country but we are not making use of that. Leather shouldn’t be our problem but I can tell you that it’s a problem. Today, we have this quantity, tomorrow, we don’t have it. Working with the right manpower too has been a great challenge. This business is not a business that you go to school to learn.
Can you share with us, the ideas that are behind the production of your shoes?
The ideas behind my shoes are our trade secrets. The summary of the idea, however, is to get a perfect fit for the feet that can work with everybody and anybody’s kind of feet. What we do is custom-made. If your feet have high insteps and even if you have wide feet, we will make something for you.
What’s TT Dalk’s patronage like?
The patronage has been good, thanks to my customers for supporting us always. They have been there and they are always buying. When we have a new collection they don’t care even if it doesn’t look nice, they still want to have it. Our customers have encouraged us to do more.
Would you say that TT Dalk has found fulfillment in this line of business and as a fashion outlet?
Well, I was talking to somebody sometime ago and he asked me the same question. I’ll say we have made a huge impact as we have made tens of thousands of slippers and shoes and at the same time. We have impacted lives. That is what life is about. When I started, I could count how many shoe brands were available, but today I can’t even count. In this regard, I’ve attained a measure of fulfillment, but there is still a lot that I want to do and yet to do.
What is your driving force in life?
My driving force in life is about making a positive impact, making a difference.
Aside fashion and shoe making, what other things do you do?
Sincerely, I can do any other thing but at present the fashion and shoe business is all I do. When I was in school, I used to sell phones and all kinds of things. I have even tried to venture in other business, it’s just not working. I have not even reached the level I want this business to get to. Anytime, I try to do another thing aside this, this business suffers because I get distracted. It’s a very sensitive business and you can’t afford to be distracted.
How did you come up with your brand name?
TT Dalk is the acronym for members of my family. TT stands for Temilade Tolulope which are my names, the D means Dolapo,my mother’s name , though she is late now. My younger brother Adewale is the A and from my elder brother’s name Oladapo I derived the L . The K is from my dad’s name which is Kehinde . So, in all you have TT Dalk.
What are your plans for TT Dalk brand in the next five years?
Five years ago, when I was asked this question, I said, we would be known nationwide and internationally and we will also have stores in Lagos. By God’s grace, I think we are achieving these already. In another five years, we still see our brand growing bigger and even becoming more famous locally and internationally. We want to be known as the top fashion brand in and from Africa.
How would you rate Nigerian shoe brands in the international market?
Nigeria’s shoe industry still has a long way to go, because we have not stepped close to the ice berg let alone getting to the peak. There is a lot of work to be done, trust me. I know that with the minds and the ideas of the people that I have discussed with, we are going to get there in no time. I always try to encourage people that they should not allow Nigeria’s business environment to discourage them. I have been doing this business for a while and I’m not discouraged.
What does it take to run a successful shoe and fashion business like yours?
First you need to have passion for the business, it takes a lot of consistency and perseverance. Define your brand, and define your target market. You will not find many people who are knowledgeable about the business, so you need to educate yourself and do most of the work at the early stages. You must be very creative, and most especially you need to take risks. Get out of your comfort zone and explore the outside world.
What are the lessons you have learnt over the course of doing business?
I have learnt to be original and to do my best at all times as not everyone will understand my vision so they will slow me down. I’ve also learnt to be expectant and to have a solution before the problem arises.
How have you managed money, materials and human resources?
You need to be prudent and differentiate your needs from your wants. Save for the rainy day. Always explore the best options in terms of products and pricing. Managing human resources is a lot of work, so I would advise if you can afford it, to hire a human resource consultant.
What’s your advice to young entrepreneurs out there?
First, I will tell them to have vision. The vision is like your guideline and goal. There will be obstacles but your vision will make you stand. You need to be prudent and have savings. Also try to be able to differentiate your needs from your wants. You need to be able to control yourself and your spending. You need to have a business plan and a strategy too. It all comes with sleepless nights. You need to stay focused on your vision no matter what. Finally, put God first in all that you do. For me, I believe so much in God and He is my guidance and I let Him run my business and that’s why I am not the CEO of TT Dalk Shoes, but God is the CEO. When you put God first, before you know it, consistency would fall in place and you would attain your goals.
Source : SunOnline