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INTERVIEW: HOW WE TOOK EBEANO SUPERMARKET TO CANADA –OWNER, CHUKWUMA

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“There is a very big difference between the way they do business in Canada and the way it is done in Nigeria. That difference is ‘passion’. Nigerians do business with passion.”

Ebeano Supermarket, a Nigerian consumer store, has expanded to Canada, opening a new business destination in North America.

The Canada branch was opened about the same time that Ebeano Supermarket lost its Abuja branch in a fire incident in 2021.

In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Chiamaka Okafor, Peters Ityohuna, co-founder of Ebeano Canada, recounts the journey to establishing the Canada branch and its sustainability plans, amongst other issues.

Ebeanọ supermarket is not a new name among Nigerians who live in Lagos and Abuja. At what point did you decide to go international with the brand and why Canada?

Peters Ityohuna: Opportunity played out that is why the choice of Canada came into play. Just like you might know, I was an employee with Ebeanọ. I was his manager in Nigeria while I was there at Ebeanọ Supermarket at Ikota Shopping Complex, VGC. From there he went into partnership with his brother Sunday Egede, both of them own the Prince Ebeanọ brand.

Chukwuma David Ojei, owner of the popular Ebeano supermarket

At some point, I was drafted to the new branch that was opened in Admiralty Way. I was running through three branches at that particular time after which I returned to the VGC branch.

In 2014, I moved to Canada, my family was here in Canada, and I started working. Because of the good rapport and good working relationship I had with my former employer, Ebeano, he came to Canada on a visit and got in touch with me.

He made the offer to me after we had a discussion, that we can do this (open a branch) together in Canada; we can put up something here and make a difference because that was his priority.

After that, I started running around trying to get the property, trying to get the lease and finally this is where we arrived.

We brought up the concept we wanted to put out there for the people and one beautiful thing is that we got everything right; it was going to be a national brand in Canada. We decided to come up with something in this very location in the province of Ontario in the region Niagara because the people here go as far as Toronto just for shopping which is quite a distance.

We decided to meet their needs and we came up with the brand, which is a multicultural store. When we get the feedback, one thing they keep saying is that we kept them from travelling so far to shop and with that I think we have achieved our goal.

How long did the incorporation and opening take?

Peters Ityohuna: We incorporated in August, 2019. He was in Canada in 2019, he called me then we agreed and that was when we proceeded for the incorporation. From 2019, we started a search for a place. The site is in the city of St Catherines which happens to be the largest city in this region. In 2020 we got the lease and construction work started.

What opportunities is your brand going to give to Nigerians in Canada?

Peters Ityohuna: We are just starting and when a business is just starting, the key challenge is salary. The way you pay here (Canada) is different from the way you do in Nigeria and the setup of the business is without any loan from any Canadian firm; so virtually everything we are doing is paid for.

Peters Ityohuna, co-founder of the popular Ebeano supermarket

So when it comes to employment, you want to make sure that you are not engaging employees of very high salary levels because you want to keep your salary at a particular level.

Ultimately, the dream is that when we are well established, we are definitely going to see managerial jobs and lucrative opportunities coming up with Ebeanọ. One of his (Ebeanọ) dreams is this, he said, “Peter nothing is stopping us from building a row of houses, we have our own personal accommodation, one bedroom, two bedrooms for Nigerians coming into Canada who have no where to stay, can stay until they find their footing and move out of the apartment to their own apartments. So this shop is an avenue where you can transfer skills from Nigeria down to Canada here and give the people a good life. They are able to come here and express their talents and we sell that.

Since the store opened in December, how many people walk into the store to purchase goods everyday?

Peters Ityohuna: On a daily basis, we have approximately 70-100 persons walking in.

What’s the sustainability plan?

Peters Ityohuna: One thing we have discovered is that it is a competitive and price sensitive market. In addition to that, there are stores that existed before Ebeano and so, you have to get your strategies right before penetrating the market. A major tool that businesses use is the pricing strategy. We looked at people driving over one hour to do their shopping; at what price do they get goods over there?

We have done the analysis and comparison in terms of pricing and we have seen that most of the things we import, we sell at a better rate than what currently exists. Having explored that, it is a very viable route.

We have a standard plan. As I am discussing with you now, we have a container getting ready to leave Nigeria to Canada and this time around, unlike the first time which was to test the market, it is going to be right on point because we studied the market and also we have gotten feedback.

We have also made some contact here with other major importers of Nigerian products so we are using that link as a kind of stop gap for sourcing in case we are running out of products and our container has not arrived.

How does selling at lower prices than your competitors affect your profit margin?

Peters Ityohuna: In business you have to understand that monopoly plays a role in terms of pricing of goods. If you are the only seller in a market, you have the liberty to fix any price you want because you have no competition. But as soon as you have competition, you start looking at the prices at which you sell. Nobody exists to make a loss, we have looked at it and we are still making profits, reasonably making profits.

It gets to that point you want to explore the benefit of turnover, you study the indices, you study the market. I cannot just import anything to Canada because I feel it is coming from Nigeria and everybody will buy it. No. I have to study the market and know what they want. It is based on that that I draw up my inventory so that when I bring goods in it does not last on the shelf.

If I am able to search right, if I am able to bring the right product in and get the right price on this product, my turnover is going to be very high.

What is the composition of your current workforce? Do you have more Nigerians or a mix of nationalities?

Peters Ityohuna: We have a mix of people of different nationalities. We have Nigerians as well. There is this mentality that we need to get out of our people (Nigerians). Right from the onset, we had it in mind that the workforce should be diverse. However, we know that advantage may weigh in on our nationality.

I approached some Nigerians before the store opened and I made an offer to them but did not disclose all the details because I needed to find people who were willing to work. All the Nigerians we approached turned the offer down but other nationalities we approached grabbed the opportunity with excitement because they saw the future and that is what I was trying to achieve to make sure I got the right people.

What stands you out amongst your competitors in Canada?

Peters Ityohuna: Prior to Mr David approaching me for this, I had been in the retail field for close to two decades. I did some research when I got into Canada, I went into some stores and found out that there is a very big difference between the way they do things here and the way it is done in Nigeria.

That difference which is a plus on our side in Nigeria is “passion.” We do business with passion. I saw there was no passion in how they do business here. For example, I walked into a supermarket and was looking around for something; with the way I was looking, an interested employee would have noticed me and approached me but no one came.

I had to beckon one and asked her where I could get what I needed and she pointed to the back while walking away and her hands were just going round and round. I ended up confused and did not buy what I wanted.

With that, when we were recruiting I said we will be engaging and collect feedback on a daily basis. I told our employees that no customer comes in here and leaves empty handed.

Chukwuma David Ojei, owner of the popular Ebeano supermarket
Chukwuma David Ojei, owner of the popular Ebeano supermarket
Secondly, in most of the stores you only have pre-packaged meat in different sizes. But I told Mr David, “let’s have a butcher area in the store.” So we have a butcher area; we buy goat in full size, it is killed and we hang it in the glass showroom so everybody can see the types of meat available and can point to their choice.

We also have a kitchen for takeout where we will prepare breakfast, lunches and at times even dinner, it is not opened yet.

It appears this branch has been handed to a constantly moving and working brain. Tell us more about yourself.

Peters Ityohuna: My name is Peters Ityohuna from Benue State, born in Lagos to a trader mother and a military father. I grew up in the barracks but the barracks was a more structured one. I am the third child of the nine children my parents have.

I did a diploma programme at the Benue State University before I proceeded to get my HND in marketing at Federal Polytechnic in Nasarawa. I returned to Benue State University to take a course in personnel management; a diploma in business administration and management before my marketing.

Late last year, there was a fire incident at Ebeanọ supermarket, Abuja branch. This incident happened at about the same time you were setting up the Canadian branch, so how did it affect the setting up in Canada?

Peters Ityohuna: It was an unfortunate event, which I am not in the position to speak about, because I was not in Nigeria at the time. But I saw the video.

We were neck deep, at a very significant stage in what we were doing over here, so to be honest, it did not have a direct impact because quite a lot of things were already done here.

A video surfaced of an underage girl setting the fire; what has happened to this girl? What is going on with the case?

Peters Ityohuna: I would not be the best person to answer that. But I know that the case is on, they are investigating. Because I have quite a lot on my hands here, so it is just once in a while I flip.

It is a learning curve and it is part of experiences. Those are part of the challenges as well and it is quite unfortunate. When you are trying to make an impact you see these things happening here and there but if you are focused all these things can become a stepping stone. At times certain things that happened to you are actually taking you to the next level. So attitude is key in life, it is unfortunate there are some losses there but when you stay positive, there is nothing that cannot be achieved.

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