Ijeoma Sonia Ozurumba, is a fragrance connoisseur and the CEO of Scents of April, a home fragrance business based here in Abuja, Nigeria. She sources her scents from different parts of the world like Istanbul, the US, Azerbaijan, London, Dubai, Italy, etc. She’s both a wholesaler and retailer of her products. In this interview with JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE, she speaks on the successes and challenges of her business.
What is Scents of April about, and what are the successes you have recorded and challenges encountered in building your business?
Scents of April was birthed out of pure passion, at a time I was emotionally down. Although when I started, I was sceptical and scared because I wasn’t certain how the average Nigerian would perceive my business. I wasn’t sure they would relate to it because the economy was already down; people were not earning enough, they had bills to pay, and now I expect them to buy scents. I had too many questions and doubts before I started. But because it is my passion, I decided to attempt it regardless. I bought a few things from the US at the time. What inspired me the most to start Scents of April was I had gone through a downturn in life and needed to do something I would enjoy and make money at the same time. I have been amazed so far because Scents of April has been successful. In fact, the only downturn the business had experienced was in 2019 because of COVID. Importation became really difficult; I couldn’t travel to restock as often as I would normally, so I had to settle for ordering via WhatsApp. My cargo which usually takes a few weeks now took months to get to Nigeria. That was the most frustrating time of my life. With the COVID rules everywhere, traveling now felt like a chore. Regardless, I’m really pleased to be able to cater to everyone; from luxury fragrances to very affordable ones.
COVID was a global issue that affected global businesses and economies. Locally, what are the challenges you experienced in the course of running Scents of April?
I started Scents of April in Abuja. The local challenges I experienced were, first of all, I didn’t have a store for five years. I was running the business from my home, so it was basically an online business. I created social media accounts (on Instagram and Facebook) and I had to build a website. So those three tools helped me. Now that I have a store, it’s hectic, you know, there are electricity and water issues, and then rent increments regardless of the COVID situation.
Was the rent the main reason you ran your business from home?
Well, not really. I started out with very little capital so I wanted to build a clientele before investing money into rent and bills when I wasn’t even sure that the business would derive this organic growth. I got really motivated to get a store because people wanted to be able to walk in and explore their options. Although I have a lot of catchy content on my social media accounts which are all being made by me, I’ve also had a couple of customers tell me that they would like me to talk them through the experience of using fragrances in their homes and spaces. I obviously couldn’t do that from the house. So I decided it was time I got a physical store so that I could have a better relationship with my customers who come in to buy scents.
Many businesses suffer because of disloyal staff. What’s your story with regards to that?
I’ve been very lucky with my staff and they had been with me since the beginning. They’ve been very efficient. In the process, I’ve taught them a thing or two about scents. Before then whenever customers come and I’m not there, the attendants would just watch them shop. But now they’re able to guide them in making decisions. Also, when I walk into the store, I notice they burn oils, candles, and diffusers without being told. So it makes me really happy because I’ve opened up a path that they probably never thought about in their lives. I’ve been lucky with the staff to be very honest.
How did you raise the capital to start this business?
This business is very capital intensive. I started with just N300, 000 at the time. I had worked in a firm for six years. After I left, I decided to make my passion my paycheque. So I ventured into it with the advice of my sister. I didn’t even believe in myself at the time. Then I thought that if nobody buys, I can use some for myself. The products came a few weeks before Christmas so I also thought to myself ‘if nobody buys I’ll just pack them up nicely and give friends and family as Christmas gifts.’ But as soon as they arrived, people close to me bought them because they always knew I had a special thing with fragrance. The scents didn’t even last up to one month because everybody knows I love scents, so they trusted whatever I offered. At the time, I didn’t even have any social media account. It was more of word-of-mouth. I told a couple of people who also helped to spread the word, some of them didn’t even understand what it was about, so I had to explain and that’s how I started with N300,000, seven years ago.
Why the name Scents of April and how has the patronage been especially as your line of business is not common?
April is my daughter’s name. I wanted her name incorporated because she is my motivation and inspiration. Surprisingly, the patronage has been good. It didn’t start off well because it was only based on word-of-mouth. Besides my social media and website which are contributing factors to the growth of this business, the referral has also been a major factor. My friends, people at the salon, when they have visitors who love the scent of their houses, they give my contact. I had to make cards immediately since I didn’t have a shop. I started distributing my cards and even when I sell to one person, I ask, ‘please, can I give you five cards in case people ask; just give them my card.’ So far it’s been so good and consistent. Really, it shocked me but I’m very grateful to God.
How do you source for forex to buy these things abroad?
My bank gives me $5000 BTA (business travel allowance) per quarter or something like that. What I do, because I travel often, is, most times after I had bought my $5000 I still need more money, so I go to the black market and buy as much forex as I need.
So will you say that Nigeria’s economic climate is favorable to businesses and do you collaborate with others?
Yes, I’ll say it is. I believe once you’re focused, there’s nothing you can’t sell in Nigeria, no matter the situation and economy. I believe that once your products are good, your services are top-notch, Nigerians will always patronise you because we love good things. Basically, your product and service should speak for you, and with that, you can weather any storm.
What would be your advice to women, especially those that believe that their husbands or friends must give them that initial capital?
First, my advice would be that they follow their passion and no capital is too small. Just start; focus and consistency are key. Secondly, nobody really owes anyone anything. That’s the honest truth. Even your parents don’t owe you. They’ve given you an education which is the basis. You don’t need to wait for anybody to give you capital; start from somewhere, start with whatever you have. No matter how small, make the move and watch it unfold.
Earlier, you talked about Nigerians not accepting fragrances produced in Nigeria. Do you plan to open your own factory in Nigeria?
Yes, I would love to open a factory in the nearest future. The only thing limiting me is the capital. I actually intend to change the narrative of anything being produced here is substandard because I don’t do substandard. Anything I sell, I can use. I produce what I can defend anywhere. You know, Nigerians appreciate foreign products but I’ll give them a mix of both worlds. At the same time, I’ll create job opportunities so I’m trying to see how I can raise the capital to do that beyond running the business.
You don’t want to go to the banks?
I honestly don’t like credit. I like to live within my means. My bank has actually approached me a couple of times but I turned it down.
What has been your outstanding moment in your business?
That would be my award. I have been nominated for best fragrance connoisseur three times in a row by the African Leading Women Award. It’s a nationwide women’s programme. They reached out to me four years ago and I asked how they heard about me. They said, by my works, art, and write-ups online. This made me realise the work I put in. I don’t do it to be recognised but people are actually watching. Also, three years ago, I was featured on a show on AIT which they still air till date where I spoke about fragrance with Namure of AIT. She reached out to me after reading my post, my content, and all. Before then, we had never met.
How do you spend your leisure in the midst of all these and what’s your favourite holiday destination?
I have a couple of interests but I love to travel. In fact, traveling is my hobby. The benefit of this business is that while doing business, I also experience a pleasure. I love to try out different restaurants when I travel. I love music, the best of Andrea Bocelli is my favourite. I don’t have a favourite holiday destination but I would say my best vacation has to be in 2019. I went on a cruise ship from Miami to Mexico, Haiti, Barbados, and Jamaica; it was indeed very exhilarating.