For the CEO of Rare Gems Limited, Mrs. Talatu Olulana, providing quality and affordable jewelleries to Nigerians is of utmost importance. Having started with a capital of N5, 000 lent to her by her mother in 2000, she hopes to give jewellery a face in Africa and compete with well-known international brands. In this chat with MARGARET MWANTOK, she spoke on the launch of her new brand of wristwatches, urging CBN to create a separate currency distribution chain for SMEs to further boost the country’s GDP
Tell us about your business
We started 17 years ago. Today, we are launching our own brand of wristwatches into the market. Jewellery line has been in the market over the years and we have 200 distributors across Africa.
Do you manufacture or import jewelleries and the new watches?
What we do is design our products and out-source to manufacturers. We produce abroad. We also design for the Nigerian market. Our jewellery brand is made five times stronger than the conventional to fit into our climate, because African climate is a bit harsh. When jewelleries made for other climes are brought into African market, they wash off. Even the engine life of the new watches are made to withstand our climate and higher temperature, thereby elongating the lifespan of the product. The wristwatches are called Rare Gems and they are water resistant. We are launching seven designs and some of them are water resistant.
How has the forex challenge also impacted on your business?
One of the major challenges we are facing is foreign exchange. Firstly, the value of our currency to the dollar is very low and this means our pricing structure is greatly affected. For instance, if you import a product at $1, by the time other things are factored in, the price will skyrocket, and to the importer, there is really no profit. Secondly, the banks are not helping Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Entrepreneurs are being frustrated. The multiplier effect of what the SMEs are doing, creating job opportunities are enough for banks and government to support them. If banks help SMEs, the sector could do more for the country and GDP. I am advising the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to create a separate currency distribution chain for SMEs. There should be a data bank of entrepreneurs in Nigeria for proper monitoring of allocated forex. This would enable them to understand that we are not using the forex for shady deals. When this happens, unemployment will reduce. Some of our distributors make up to N150, 000 re-selling our products. This will create some balance in people finances.
Again, government should solve power problem in the country to enable SMEs to manufacture here and reduce forex demand. This will give room to more production and exportation, and invariably strengthen the Naira.
What are the other opportunities for the jewellery industry?
The potential we have in the industry cannot be over-emphasised. The huge potentials are here. The main metal that is used in making durable jewellery is steel and Nigeria has the highest grade of stainless steel. Look at Ajaokuta and the rest of them, Nigeria has the finest steel but unfortunately, these steel products are being exported at lower value. But if we can harness them and begin to manufacture here, it will spell out good for Nigeria and create employment opportunities. Our counterparts abroad are ready to partner with us by bringing equipment that would lower the cost. But so far, we have not been able to do that, because of power challenge, as the overhead cost alone is huge.
Tell us more about the Nigerian jewellery market?
The market is large. Rare Gems alone gave it a face. Before now, importers just bring them in from anywhere. There was nothing like responsibility or accountability to what they are bringing, and consumers didn’t really know the quality of what they were buying. But we came in and changed the face of the business. We have the Rare Gems Standard for two years guarantee and Rare Gems Premium for five years guarantee. On the table, the consumer knows what he/she is getting. With a big population, Nigeria has advantage in jewellery business. If one per cent would use jewellery, which is about 1.9 million, then sometimes we cannot even meet demand. Statistics from Rare Gems operation alone, we are doing more than N70 million yearly, an indication that we have not harnessed the potential enough.
Who are your foreign partners?
Our foreign partners are in Switzerland. All our watches come with guarantee and free servicing. We source about 25 per cent of our raw materials locally like the stones.
What kind of jewellery do you have?
We create a balance to satisfy choices. We conduct random opinions to determine taste of consumers. This enables us to have a balance of all kind of jewelleries, from pure gold to others.
Is there any agency on jewellery regulation?
For now, there is none that I know of and it is sad enough because there are metals that contain chemicals that should not be imported at all. For instance, lead is dangerous to the body. It would be good for regulation. To some consumers, what they are interested in is price, but lack knowledge of the components of the product. By the time they know that the product is made from good metals that are healthy for the body, they would appreciate the product.
You have operated for 17 years, what has kept you going?
Passion has kept me on. I started from a bowl of jewellery where the profit margin was small. I have been dreaming of a Nigerian brand while I was operating small. In the international market, it is difficult to find Nigerian brand, but Rare Gems has come to make the difference. In the near future, we would be competing with well-known international brands. We want to give jewellery a face in Africa. I belong to International Jewelry Designers Association. I have designed jewelleries that are listed for awards. I see a future when we begin to manufacture here, if the environment is right.
How long does it take you to clear your product?
The clearing is another issue at the ports. If they can hasten the clearance time it would help us and reduce import duty for SMEs. It is now 20 per cent, which is high for small starters like us.