‘We want our Emporium to wear the look of luxury’

Luxury goods purveyor, Silky Touch Limited, recently renovated and reopened its emporium in Abuja. Chief Executive of the company, Ogbuefi Victor Okolie, sheds more light on reasons for the upgrade and other issues concerning the luxury goods sector. Excerpts: by Nike Sotade

Why the closure and re-opening of the Abuja Emporium?
The Abuja office was commissioned last year February for upgrade and complete reconstruction. Initially it was a project that was to last for 90 days, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it has dragged to 365 days. We decided to reconstruct the Abuja Emporium just actually to meet international standards and complement the luxury brand we stand for. I believe in upgrading all the time. As time goes on, I believe one should look back and look at one or two things. The luxury emporium has to wear the look of luxury, not only with the goods, but the interior ambience, comfort, technology must also speak luxury.

So what new luxury looks are you offering your customers?
The luxury is something you can measure with the best luxury shops anywhere in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia. That’s what we’ve set out to do; we want the Emporium to be at par with most luxury shops in the world or even better.

What does a luxury shop entail?
It has to provide all the comfort you can think of- a good ambience, the atmosphere must be well controlled, the display stands, the floor, the walls and the lightings. Not only that, we are also working on the staff, the personalities. They would be trained to have an idea of what they are there for. So comfort isn’t only with the shop as a culture, but it has also got to do with the people working there because customers have to be comfortable with the staff.

The after-sales service we render is also next (equal) to none. We have our Italian-trained tailors that do alterations to specification. Customers can be sure that they’ll be well taken care of.

What luxury labels do you stock?
We always go after the best. We have Stefano Ricci, who’s now rated to be the best and the most expensive luxury goods for now. We do Pal Zileri, a brand which has upgraded so much with their change of management. We also do Cortigiani, Umberto Biliancioni and in the leather section, we do NIPMAR, Mauri, The Bridge and Delga- all top-notch brands.

How has the current recession affected the luxury goods sector?
I like that question because during recession anywhere in the world, the luxury market is always the worst hit. But I’ve always said the truth that luxury is not a necessity, it is a success story, a way of patting oneself on the back, and not a must-buy. But it becomes a must-by if you have made it your lifestyle. You will find it difficult to step down and will only need to adjust your spending at times like this because you have other obligations to meet. The only thing is that somebody who wants to buy five suits for instance may decide to buy two instead. That is what recession is doing to the luxury goods sector, but we are not closing shop. We have faith in the economy. Recession comes, recession goes. I believe it would soon be a thing of the past…Recession can never be a permanent situation. I’ve been in this business for over 33 years and I’ve prepared for times like this. Recession can never be a permanent situation, it will soon go as government has promised us. It is not business as usual, we are passing through some slow pace in business, we are feeling it, but we are not closing shop.

You’ve been in this business for 33 years, what have been the challenges along the line?
There is no business that does not have challenges, either with government policies or facilities needed for the business but most importantly is the human factor, as we try to get the real professionals in this field because it is a specialized one. It is not like a bank or insurance firm that you can leave for another one and you know the human factor has got a lot to do with the success of any business. Once you can get it right, then you can get the business going. We also have some difficult customers. Because we are dealing in luxury goods, customers always want the full benefits for their money.

So we have to deal with every little complaints when they come. We cannot say no, so most of the time we’ve had to replace the goods for them. Apart from that, I can also tell you that one of our biggest problems are debtors. We are not good debt managers in Nigeria. Debts are owed all over the world, but it is better managed in some other countries. Here we don’t look at debt owing as a crime, we see it as a game whereas it is not a game and that is why credit lines should be better explained in this country. The issue of dud cheques and bad debts should be well addressed.

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