Ewaen Sorae did not grow up thinking he would own a Bedding company; the inspiration came during a trip from the UK to Nigeria in 2009. In this interview with FRANK ELEANYA, Sorae disclosed the growth trajectory for his company E’Sorae, trends in the market and projection for the bedsheet industry.
Tell me a bit on how you got into the textile business?
The idea for E’Sorae Luxury was conceptualized in 2009. I was based in the UK then, and on one of my frequent trips to Nigeria, I discovered that I had forgotten to pack a bath towel. I then began a search for a good quality towel, but the towels I came across in shops were either of low quality or too expensive. However, I did see some lovely high-quality ones, which I found in the upscale shops; but of course, with a designer label came a high price tag. With this discovery came the idea to create a Nigerian brand, with the sole aim of providing high quality luxury towels, bathrobes and other home essentials, at affordable prices. In October 2010, I quit my job as a Business development manager for a top financial group in the UK, and moved back to Nigeria to establish the E’Sorae luxury Brand. E’Sorae Luxury brand was focused on supplying quality sheets at wholesale quantity to hotels and corporate bodies but in 2015, we decided to concentrate on retailing and ensuring we put quality bedding in every home in Nigeria and across Africa, so we created a diffusion company, Bedsheets Express.
Quality, affordability and accessibility are the key attainment for a successful business. Does Bedsheets Express tick all the boxes?
Bedsheets Express products are premium quality. Our sheets are made from 100% cotton and are free from artificial ingredients. The feel, the look, the packaging is absolutely top notch. Our sheets are quite affordable mainly because we source our raw materials from the best. In addition, to speak to the area of accessibility we are looking to expand more because we have a huge customer base all over Nigeria. We have rolled out the company’s franchise and in the last four months we have gotten a lot of investors who want to sign up. We recently just launched a franchise store in Abuja. Within the next 12 months we are looking at opening 5 additional stores, and are currently accepting and assessing franchise proposals all over Nigeria.
How is Bedsheets Express better than the competition?
Our vision is not just to sell bedsheets, we are committed to revolutionizing Nigeria’s Bedding Industry and to do this, we have an experienced team who understand the company’s mission and vision. Our value proposition to our customer is to make quality bedding affordable and available to all. Lastly, embedded in the core values of the company is our customer centric attitude that is enshrined in the DNA of every member of our team.
What are the latest trends you have noticed as a player in this market and how are you serving this niche?
Contrary to popular opinion, Nigerians are quite sophisticated. They know the latest trends in the global market. Hence they demand for nothing but the best and we are always on top of our game when it comes to delivering luxury. We are one of the first Nigerian bedding companies, to make the oxford style pillow cases. Lots of bedding companies want to cut cost, avoid the oxford style pillow case, which is prettier on the bed because of the extra skirt it gives the pillow. We keep up to date with global trends and are always ready to learn and unlearn.
Technology is the new normal for every business, how are you leveraging it to provide better and improved services?
We have used technology in building our database to segment our customers. In recent times, we have actually used social media in growing our business. Bedsheets Express uses audience customisation to target prospects on both mobile and desktop based on their demographics and location. A couple of months ago, the company started placing promoted posts on Instagram where it has a couple of thousand followers. Instagram provides a great platform to tell brand story and engage people. Bedsheets Express has a robust email marketing program that targets consumers based on where they found the brand and what products they purchased. It also shares exclusive content and promotions that one wouldn’t have access to otherwise via email. There’s a growing number of online startups like Bedsheets Express that offer the right price for luxury quality through a direct-to-consumer model. Whether those companies will sink or swim remains to be seen, but they have more opportunities to scale than traditional luxury businesses.
Logistics is often a challenge for most luxury companies, what have you done differently?
We have a third party that we have outsourced our logistics to outside Lagos. But for within and around Lagos we deliver ourselves because of the fragility of our items and the detail we put into the packaging of our products.
Does Luxury sheets necessarily mean expensive?
Luxury doesn’t always mean expensive. A lot of the cost in business is associated with middle men. The E’Sorae Luxury group has brought this cost down by directly sourcing our fabrics from major factories around the world. We ensure that every fabric we use come from factories that use natural ingredients and are particular about ethical standards. That’s the reason we say our products are affordable luxury.
Bedsheets Express sheets are made by local artisans. How has creating high quality products here in Nigeria been?
It’s been tough ensuring a high level of quality control is put in place. That’s why we ensure our artisans are trained regularly. We also have a strong internal control in place to make sure that any product that goes out meets the E’Sorae Luxury Group standard. Because we are a brand hoteliers and Nigerians trust. We make sure we do not compromise both in our sewing and in the quality of our fabric.
For a CEO who sells good sleep, how is your sleep?
A wise person once said ‘Business is war’. That quote is as accurate as can be especially in Nigeria. It’s easy to get caught up in work through the night, but I always try to have a good night rest because it keeps me active during the day. The sheets and the pillows one uses can affect the quality of sleep, so I try to use the best products in my bedroom. My pillows, sheets and duvets are all Bedsheets Express products and they help me sleep better.
What’s the growth projection for the company?
The retail industry in Nigeria is one of the 6 sectors of the Nigerian economy that makes up 80 percent of the country’s GDP. E-commerce penetration has greatly improved the growth of retail in Nigeria, and it is an avenue that has driven Bedsheets Express’ e-commerce strategy.
Nigeria had the highest index growth in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 at $125 billion (global retail development index). The growth of retail sector is heavily driven by a growing emerging middle-class population. A recent PwC report reveals that the Nigerian middle-class population, which it defines as households that earn between 8,500 dollars and 36,000 dollars per annum, grew by 600 hundred percent between the years 2000 and 2014. This market is expected to grow from 4 million to 11 million by 2030. In terms of specific industry opportunities for Bedsheets Express, hotel groups account for a significant volume of sales in bedding and accessories. According to PwC’s hospitality outlook 2015-2019, the number of available hotel rooms grew to 22,500 from 16,000. This is on the back of $3 billion investment between 2010 and 2015. Based on these projections we expect that sales will grow at 220 percent by the end of 2018.