Mrs. Stella-Rita Awelle Asogwa is a serial entrepreneur. This earned her an honourary doctorate alongside 12 other Nigerians from Janus University, Califonia. She is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Macoriano Chinese Restaurant and Zarita Group. In this interview, she speaks about her life as an entrepreneur.
You were recently honoured with a doctorate, what earned you that award?
It was my role as an entrepreneur. I have been in business for over 10 years. I started as a Mary Kay beauty consultant; doing door to door services. This matamorphised into Larita Beauty and Spa after I went to Beauty Academy, London.
About eight years ago, Marcariona Chinese Restaurant came up. We started as a franchise of Marcopolo Chinese Restaurant until we started this. We have branches in Maitama, Wuse II and now in Gwarimpa.
The business is doing well, but it can do better. The recession affected the business just as it affected so many businesses. It affected people’s purchasing power, so patronage reduced. It was a shock, but we have loyal customers that still come here and it has kept us going. Thank God that the economy is trying to stabilise now.
Then I have the Zarita Kouture. I am very passionate about this one. I have always known that I would do something in the fashion industry. It’s a women, men and children’s wares fashion brand.
What strategy do you use to stay in business, especially as it went during the recession?
I am a shy person when it comes to marketing, but I had to put myself into the marketing aspect. I had to enroll with some marketing agencies to help us in marketing the brand. The social media is the in-thing now. I am still exploring that medium. All our businesses have their social media handles on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Technology has helped in enhancing our business. What are the qualities you think an entrepreneur should have?
To be an entrepreneur, you have to have a steady mindset. You have to be stubborn to start and also remain in business. You need to have passion as well. For instance, in the restaurant business, there are people that started and after one to two years closed shop. Because the economy was tough during the recession, so many businesses closed down. So for you to hang in there, it is the persistence and doggedness that will keep you. Stay on when things are tough because the storm is for a while.
How many people has your business employed?
At the restaurant, we have up to 40 staff, but we are down to 28. People had to take up other tasks and roles so we could stay on as a business. As an entrepreneur, you have to be strategic and learn to manage situations well.
What is your take on start-ups seeking loans?
I don’t encourage people to borrow funds when setting up a new business. A new business will take time to pick up, but you have to start servicing your loan from the first month. So you don’t need that pressure as a new business. Start with what you have. If you want to start a restaurant, you can start cooking from your home and then start supplying people in banks and other places. And with support from family and friends, you can set up the business properly. When people and banks see what you are doing, they will buy into your idea and business will grow naturally. Start with the savings you have.
Also, when starting as a small scale business, seek collaboration. If you are making drinks like smoothies, you can collaborate with restaurants where you stock them.
How do you manage the home front and business?
As a mother, I do the school runs, so I schedule my time properly. I set time to be at a particular branch of the restaurant or the factory for the Koutour and when to be at home. At weekends I rest. My spouse has been very supportive to help me become a better entrepreneur. This has helped me as a woman in business.
Recently, I enrolled for She Trades, a United Nations (UN) project. I attended one of their trainings recently. They trained some of us who want to export our wares.
What is your educational qualification?
My dad was a military man, so we moved about a lot in the North. I attended primary schools in the North. I was in Command Secondary School, Ipaja, and Holy Child College, all in Lagos. I graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, with a second class upper in Economics in 2000. I have a masters from Business School, Netherlands, in 2015, and now an honourary doctorate from Janus University.