Mrs. Sara Kalejaye is one of the major bread distributors in Lagos. She started the business 20 years ago and receives supplies from about 15 bakeries in Lagos state. In this interview with AMAKA IFEKANDU, she tells her story and her Journey into bread distribution business, excerpts
Could you tell us about yourself, Ma?
My name is Mrs Sara Kalejaye. I attended Baptist Primary School Shomolu and Igbobi Girls Secondary School, Yaba Lagos. My state of origin is Oyo State but I am married to Mr Afolabi Kalejaye who hails from Shagamu, Ogun State and I am blessed with three kids.
How did you get into bread distribution business?
Actually, before I went into bread business, I used to travel to Cotonou to buy bags of rice to sell in Lagos. But because of constant seizure of our goods by the Nigerian Customs I felt discouraged to continue with rice business and decided to change my line of business. But before then whenever I am traveling I noticed that at Idiroko Border in Cotonou people were selling big breads and I now decided that instead of buying bags of rice and customs will seize our goods, it is better for me to buy those bread and sell them in Lagos. That was how I started bringing bread from Cotonou border to sell in Lagos.
In fact, as I introduced it a lot of people had interest in buying the bread from me and the level of patronage increased on daily basis. Because of the high patronage I now found a place at Conoil filling station at Onipanu for customers to locate me easily. The business was growing on daily basis to the extent that people were coming from a distance like Oyinbo, Yaba to patronise me. I sold Cotonou bread for some years before some Nigerian bakery companies introduced sliced bread into the market. It was then I used the opportunity to switch over to bread baked in Nigeria. I felt it is no longer necessary for me traveling to Cotonu since I will get similar goods in Lagos. That is how I started bread business.
How do you get supplies and how many years have you been in bread business?
I have spent about 20 years in bread business. What happened was that when I was dealing with Cotonou bread and some local bakery companies introduced sliced bread and also needed somebody to be distributing bread on their behalf, I met them and they started supplying me bread. But with time, the companies began to realize that I do buy higher quantity and sell them without much difficulties, they now classified us as major distributors. Only what they did as major distributors was we were given target that if you sell about 1000, 2000 or 3000 loaves of bread a day you will receive one to three per cent incentives depending on the company. The market is growing, as at today I have two shops at Akpata street Palmgrove and Oregun was just an extension of my office just to meet up with my customers demand. I just registered the business name of the company as Reblem Enterprise Service in July this year. As the business started growing bigger and bigger that I cannot manage it alone, my husband joined me. Today we have 15 bakery companies supplying bread to me and I can say that it is family business.
Do you have any regret going into bread business?
No. I don’t have any regret at all. I just thank God for strengthening me and giving me such an opportunity to excel.
What are the challenges you are facing as a bread distributor?
The challenge I had initially about ten years ago was the inability to distribute bread to all parts of Lagos because of lack of personal buses. But as I speak I have about four buses that help me to transport bread within Lagos. On the other hand, I am thinking of extending the distribution of bread to Badagry and Seme border. A lot of people advised me to go there, that bread will sell in those areas. Although I have not conducted market survey but I have strong belief that I will achieve that target in the nearest future by the special grace of God.
Do you think of having a bakery in future?
For now I am not thinking towards that direction. What I am doing now is that we are looking for a big warehouse that would enable me to have concrete agreement with different bakery companies in Lagos whereby I can be selling bread to consumers and retailers at companies control prices. This will give me more opportunity to operate better and get more retailers to patronise me. It will as well reduce stress for companies going out to a particular environment to sell bread because those retailers will be coming to our office to buy bread at the same price the company sells to them.
What are the major attractions that make customers leave other distributors to patronize you?
I believe that good relation matters a lot whenever we are dealing with people because we do not know tomorrow. I have the belief that if you relate very well with a customer, the person might be in a position to help you in another area of life tomorrow.
Since you have been in the business for 20 years, have you introduced the business to other people?
Any way, what I normally do is that whenever I see some women who are idle at home, I encourage them to come and join me in the distribution of bread.
Those women will pack bread from me and take it to other areas and sell them. In fact, from their sales they make their own profit and this has been helping them to take care of their children’s school fees and to attend to their needs.