CEO of Lady Cobbler& Company Nigeria Limited, Tosin Dekalu, speaks on her passion for entrepreneurship
What has sustained your brand thus far?
I have been running The Lady Cobbler, for a little over a decade but the brand has existed for over 35 years. I can boldly tell you that my passion for the job has kept me focused. I’m also motivated by the positive feedback that we have been receiving and the fact that we have customers who have been with us for over two decades.
Not a few are aware that your mum handed over the business to you. Can you throw light on this?
My mother actually closed down the business in 2000 and this was because at that time, none of her children lived in Nigeria. My siblings and I lived abroad and my mum didn’t think any of us was ever going to return to Nigeria. I was the first of my siblings to relocate to Nigeria and when I did, I wasn’t involved in the business. This was because I worked in the banking, telecommunications and oil and gas sectors at different times. Having garnered some valuable work experience, I embarked on a one-year hiatus to reflect on the next phase. It turned out to be Lady Cobbler.
At what point did you decide to make the switch to Lady Cobbler?
As the youngest child of my parents, I was already somewhat knowledgeable about the business. Although I studied Law at University of Westminster, I already knew so much about shoe repairs. I played with materials at the store before I turned six and they became a part and parcel of my life. When I took over the business, I refurbished the machines and engaged the services of some of the cobblers who had worked with my mum in the past. Because they knew me since I was a child, they put me through and in 2006, we were open for business.
Was transiting from paid employment to becoming an entrepreneur easy?
It was an easy switch. In hindsight, I am glad I had garnered valuable work experience. I feel like I was born to do what I currently do. I have also learnt a lot on the job and working with my brand comes naturally to me. Although we render a necessary service, it’s quite thankless.But, I think it is unfair to say so, because we do have customers that appreciate what we do. So far, I have no regrets.
How do you find working in a male-dominated industry?
I attended a cocktail party recently and a guest asked what I did for a living. As soon as I told him, I was a lady cobbler; he asked to look at my hands because he found it difficult to believe that I was being serious. When people complain about their shoes. I tell them that we can do a size reduction or make it bigger if it’s too tight. If they say that the heel is too high, I inform them that I can reduce the heel. They find it hard to believe that we are able to do all that I have listed. We do have the machinery, and experienced staff; some of them have between 20 to 30 years experience.
Aside from overseeing the business, how involved are you. Do you also repair shoes?
I do shoe expansions. My mum taught me that my staff can hold me to ransom when they realise that I know close to nothing about the business. To earn the regard of your workers, they need to know that you know your business. When I can’t carry out the repair myself, I can instruct my workers accordingly. For example, with regards to heel recovery, (this becomes necessary when a heel becomes trapped and damaged in interlocking stones, and has to be wrapped.), if you don’t put the heels in the heater and allow the trapped air bubbles to get out before you wrap it, you won’t get a smooth finish. This is one of the many tricks I have had to teach my cobblers.
How do you handle competition?
Competition is healthy and good for business because it keeps us on our toes. I know we are offering a good service and one of the best in town. I know my cobblers will do their best and we will go as far as we can to satisfy our customers.
What is your most memorable moment on the job?
My most memorable moment on the job was when an international airline engaged our services as official repairer for their luggage. It literally fell on our laps because we didn’t lobby for it. We later realised that an old customer of ours who didn’t live in Nigeria any longer recommended our services. We now have two stores on the Island and another on the mainland.
How do you unwind?
I like to go on holidays a lot, read and spend quality time with family and friends.
How do you keep fit?
I go walking every morning on the Ikoyi-Lekki Bridge. My brother is a fitness trainer/physiotherapist, so he helps me out with my fitness regimen.
Do you love fashion?
I love shoes and bags; I think I got that from my mum. I love classic pieces and I don’t follow fashion blindly. My first bag was a Hermes, which was passed on to me by my mum. The bag was much older than me and I was still able to use it because it’s a classic piece. Trends come and go but classic pieces are timeless. I can’t always afford classic pieces because I’m not wealthy. But,when I save enough money to buy something, I look out for timeless fashion pieces.