The Soft #NairaLife of the Engineer Making Millions Selling Shoes

October 17, 2022

Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.


The 30-year-old tech sis on this week’s #NairaLife makes ₦800k from her job. Impressive, right? Well, she also makes over ₦1m a month selling shoes on Instagram. And all her life, she’s only ever wanted to spend money on food and her family. 

What’s your earliest memory of money?

Staying in my mum’s shop, attending to customers and counting money with her at the end of each day. 

What did she sell?

Pure water and soft drinks. Before that, she was a hairdresser, and before that, she was a full-time housewife. She only started working when I was seven and the chickens in my dad’s farm started dying. I remember when she made her first ₦1k in a day from the drinks, and we were all excited. 

My mum was a hustler. From selling soft drinks, she somehow started importing fabrics from Cotonou to sell in Ibadan where we lived, and in a few years, she was making multiple Dubai trips, importing expensive fabrics in bulk. In the course of her business, she encountered some Chinese merchants, who wanted to import household and gift items, and partnered with them. Today, she has seven big stores. 

So you grew up rich

There were ups and downs. Before my mum had to start business, things were okay. They had four cars between them, all bought by my dad. But he never recovered financially from the loss of his birds, so there was a period when things weren’t so great. These days, my mum would apologise for constantly feeding us eko when we didn’t have money. In my head, I’m like, “I love eko!”

As my mum’s business got better, things picked up again — this time, even better. She made the money and my dad took care of us, especially when she was out of the country. We went from living in a rented apartment to building our own house, having cars, maids, and my sisters went to a private university. 

You didn’t?

I wanted to go to my dad’s alma mater to study computer engineering because we’d spoken about it for years, so that’s what I did.

Why computer engineering?

I was good at maths, and the adults around me said there was money in engineering and computers were the future. 

University itself was pretty uneventful. I survived on ₦7k weekly from my parents and faced my studies. I’ve always been confident and not-so-social, so people always thought I was a snub. Before each semester, I got everything I needed — bulk provisions, new clothes, a new phone, everything — so I didn’t really need anything from anyone. I didn’t have many friends, no boyfriends, no after-school parties. After each semester, I went home and stayed with my mum at her shops.

Why didn’t you have friends?

I’ve been like that since childhood. My older sister was the beautiful one, and I was the big one friends insulted and compared to my sister. So I learnt to be unfriendly, to insult people when they insulted me. I was always brilliant, so I always came first and got prizes. That’s how I consoled myself.

Because of my personality, my mum would jokingly say I wasn’t the best person to do business. I didn’t know how to haggle or persuade people.

Interesting. Back to school

In 2013, when I was in my fourth year, I worked as an intern in the IT department of a bank. The pay was ₦40k. 

About a year later, during NYSC, I overheard people talking about how the banking industry was the next big thing because a popular Nigerian bank was offering graduate trainee programs and paying ₦230k. That piqued my interest, but I didn’t do anything about it. 

What happened next?

I served in Lagos, so I lived with my older sister who’d married and settled there. She’d just started an event planning business, so I helped her do some running around. My NYSC PPA was kuku at a local government office where we didn’t do much. 

Did your sister pay you?

Nothing official, but there was the occasional ₦10k here and ₦20k there. I’ve never been a spender, so I was saving all the money. 

Seven months into NYSC, I saw a Tweet about the same bank offering graduate trainee programs, so this time, I decided to apply. My dad, ever the pessimist, discouraged me from taking the exams. “They just want to scam you!”

Did they?

Thankfully, no. I passed the exam and a few interview stages, but when it was time to resume, the bank was concerned that I was still a youth corper. The interviewer asked me to send an email when I finished serving, that my job would be waiting for me. 

I applied to two other places for work. I qualified for the first one but didn’t get the job because there was no space in technology advisory, the department I applied for. 

For the second job, I was disqualified at the second stage of their interview because I couldn’t find a Nigeria ‘96 jersey.

Huh?

Internships used to ask for weird stuff like that. I know someone another company asked to bring a white Nokia 3310. 

LMAO

By October, I finished NYSC, so I sent the email to the bank’s recruitment officer. They didn’t get back to me, so I just returned to Ibadan to help my mum at her shop. By November ending, they finally responded, asking me to resume training school in December. In May 2015, I fully joined the bank’s tech department at one of their Lagos Island branches.

What was that like?

My parents were excited. They thought it was great that they didn’t have to do anything for me before I got a job. They didn’t even have to buy me a car like they did my older sister because my job came with one. 

It did?

Yes, but I had to pay ₦88k monthly from my ₦236k salary until I paid off the ₦5.84m it cost.

I was on the product team, and I became popular because I was handling an application that was crucial to the operation of the entire bank. This meant more work and less time for myself. I had to go from deep in the mainland, where I lived with my sister, to the island everyday. I even lost weight and was breaking out on my face, but at least, I enjoyed my work. It’s ironic because the one thing I never play with is food. Till today, I don’t spend money on a lot of things. But when it comes to food, I have no budget. Every time I was on leave, I went to Ibadan to be with my parents and regain weight. 

Love it

In 2018, I ordered six shoes on ASOS for $15 a pair, and they were delivered when I was on leave in Ibadan. When I got back, I tried on the shoes. None of them was my size because I’d grown fatter, and my legs were bigger.

Because they were good quality shoes, I decided to buy them again in my new size. When I got back on ASOS, I saw that the same shoes I bought for $15 were now on sale for $7.50. I bought six pairs again, but with the intention to keep one and sell the rest.

How did you sell them?

I showed them to my coworkers who liked and bought them for ₦10k per pair. The dollar rate was about ₦400/$1 then, so I made a profit. 

I guess you weren’t so bad at business

LMAO. A friend who was impressed that I sold everything in such a short time brought up an idea: shipping in shoes from China to sell. The stereotype around Chinese products being fake first made me reject the idea, but she persuaded me. 

An old secondary school colleague was doing her PhD in China at the time, so I reached out to ask her about it. Coincidentally, she was already into that business. So we partnered. 

She sent pictures and prices of shoes. I selected the ones I liked and could afford. We paid for the items and got them shipped by air to Nigeria. Everything happened so fast. From the time my friend presented the idea to me to when I paid for my items, only one month passed.

How many did you buy?

I’m not a risk taker, so I started with five shoes. Each pair cost ₦3500, shipping inclusive, and I sold them at ₦8500 to colleagues. 

With time, I increased the number of pairs I bought, quality of shoes and selling price. I started buying at ₦5k and selling at ₦10k because Instagram vendors were selling the same shoes at ₦15k. The ones I bought for ₦7k, I sold for ₦15k. Instagram vendors sold at ₦25k. 

You didn’t sell on Instagram?

Not until 2019. It was just referrals and WhatsApp stories. It was the same friend who advised me to start selling on Instagram so I’d make more sales. Initially, I didn’t, but once I started running ads, sales were flying in left, right and centre.

I also started my master’s in 2019.

Were you still at your job?

Yep. By 2019, I was moved from the technical development department to the projects department, and my salary jumped to ₦374k. Everyone in the office already knew me as the babe who sold shoes. I was getting in-house offers from people who weren’t even in my department. 

Because I was making steady sales, my business partner in China pushed me to buy more shoes. Our relationship transcended from friendship into a business partnership in which she charged me commissions. That’s how it is till today.

I was earning more money from my salary and still not doing anything with it apart from feeding and transportation, so I decided to throw more of it into the business. I started buying over 100 shoes a month. 

By the end of 2019, I was doing up to ₦1 million in monthly sales and between ₦180k and ₦300k in profit. At some point, I couldn’t meet up with sales because I was getting too many orders to handle while I still had a bank job. Business was that good. 

You keep saying you weren’t spending your money

That’s just how I am. I only spend money on food and my family. I used to give my dad the occasional ₦20k before business got much better. The first time I gave him ₦50k, he called me and said, “For you to be able to give me ₦50k, I know you now have plenty money”. 

LMAO

At the end of 2019, a colleague got his Canada permanent residence permit and needed some money to move. I loaned him enough naira to buy $4k. The catch was that he had to return the money in dollars. That was the first time I ever got dollars. Since he returned it a few months later, I haven’t touched it. 

How much money did you have at the end of 2019?

Let’s say ₦5m. 

How did the COVID year treat you?

Business stopped. In April, I left my bank job to join the engineering support team at a fintech company. My salary was ₦450k.

I eventually managed to sell all the shoes I had left. And because the job was remote, I went to Ibadan to stay with my parents for a few months. In this period, I partnered with my dad to start fish farming. I lost a lot of money.

Ah

The fishes were stolen. I’m not saying it’s my dad’s fault, but a lesson I’ve learnt from that is nobody can run a business for me the way I’d run it myself. 

Thankfully, by August, COVID restrictions eased up. I hadn’t done business all year, so I decided to buy ₦1m worth of goods. My business partner was shocked. I’d never spent up to ₦400k on a single shipment before. That was when she introduced me to the game changer. 

What’s that?

Sea shipments. 

I thought they were for big business people, so I never even tried it. She explained that the reason people don’t ship by sea is packages take three months to get to Nigeria. But it was way cheaper. They charge according to size of package, and not weight, like air. If I was doing air for ₦1 million worth of goods, the delivery prices would be crazy. 

So I made payments for the goods in early September, hoping to get them in time for Christmas. They didn’t come until January. 

Do you know why?

The world was still opening up since COVID, so operations weren’t in full swing. 

Between goods, shipping and clearance, I spent about ₦1.3m in total. My total sales were about ₦2.4m and I made over ₦1m in profit in like one month. 

Whoa

Because air cargo is delivered in one week, I did an air batch in February so I’d have goods at hand. After that, I did seven sea shipments between March and August so that as one is being delivered, the other is in transit. For the ₦1m I spent in September, I got 190 items. From March, my shipments increased to about 290 items and ranged between ₦1m and ₦1.5m.

In 2021, I finished my master’s and moved out of my sister’s place. I also got my own apartment. Rent is  ₦800k per year.

Also, I got promoted six months into my job because I was excellent, and my salary increased to ₦830k.

By December 2021, I had about ₦5m in cash and millions in goods.

How did you go from not being good at selling to making millions a month in sales?

Recently, someone asked me who my role model was, and my answer was my mum. I think I got my business resilience from her. She’s even trying to get me a shop in Ibadan so I can sell shoes there. I told her I’m fine doing it all online for now. I saw her working and striving hard to meet her goals, and somehow, I turned out like that. I don’t think it works out for everyone, so I’m not even sure it’s all resilience. For example, it didn’t work out for my dad, and I won’t say it’s because he didn’t put in the effort. 

His experiences in life have made him a pessimistic person. He constantly tells me he’s scared of how much money I’m making at such a young age because it could easily be gone, so I should be watchful. I just say, “God forbid”.

I’m still not the chattiest person. If a customer is spending too much time trying to confirm the quality of my goods, I just move on. 

Are you still not spending money?

These days, I spend on my family. I recently gave my sister over ₦1m as a gift. My mum has her money, so whenever I go home, I just take her out — movies, dinner, etc. For my dad, I still help him with his businesses. Just last week, I gave him ₦250k. 

Other than that, it’s just food. I order anything I want to eat whenever I want to eat it. That’s where I get my comfort — trying new recipes and satisfying my cravings. If I’m not ordering, my housekeeper is cooking. 

But my sisters have been putting pressure on me to enjoy myself, so I tried to apply for UK visa earlier this year. Denied. 

Why?

Apparently, the money in all my accounts — personal, business and domiciliary — seem a bit suspicious for a one-person business. 

What they didn’t know was I’d just spent about ₦7m on goods. 

How much do you spend on one dispatch now?

About ₦3.5m. I currently have three separate shipments enroute that cost ₦15m in total. At this point, business is moving really well. Even if I don’t do ads, I make at least ₦50k in sales a day. I sell nothing less than 300 shoes a month. 

How much do you make in an average month?

My salary is ₦830k, and in an average month, I do over ₦1m in profit from the business.

What’s something you want right now but can’t afford?

My own house, maybe. I’ve been thinking of buying land, so that might happen soon. Just not in Lagos. Maybe in Ibadan. I’ve been making enquiries. 

My parents are steady on my neck about marriage. I turned 30 this year, and I’ve never had a boyfriend. Again, I’m just not the most social person. 

What do your finances look like?

And your monthly expenses?

I spend ₦200k to ₦250k on myself monthly, barring any unforeseen circumstances. I also randomly give my dad money. It could be between ₦100k and ₦300k, or even more, as I feel led. 

For my business, I spend about ₦30k monthly on Facebook ads and ₦50k biannually on packaging.

What’s your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?

7. I derive happiness from seeing my family members smile. I don’t have expensive tastes, so there really isn’t much I’m looking to spend on.



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