Kehinde Kamson, Founder of Sweet Sensation Confectionary Limited, a successful chain of quick service retail restaurants in Nigeria has an inspiring story every budding African entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur can learn from.
Her story is proof of how one’s passion can grow into something larger than one’s self and can become a source of livelihood for hundreds and even thousands of Nigerians.
Sweet Sensation was not her first business venture. She had earlier started a “little shop” called “Fishmongers” while working as an accountant at an oil service company where she sourced for fish among fish mongers around Lagos. She operated this business for five years but the business fell through as she discovered it was not sustainable.
She decided to instead start a pastries and cakes business which would tap into her childhood love for baking and cooking. She named this business, Citicate – the City Caterers.
Through Citicate, she catered for functions and continued to run it while keeping her full time job as an Accountant. According to her, she would wake up early in the morning at about 3am and then afterwards would deliver her pastries to various clients before heading off to work.
Eventually she quit her full time job to run Citicate full time when its demands became unbearable. She began supplying her cakes and pastries to University of Lagos where she says her pastries were quickly becoming popular especially Medilag, the University of Lagos Medical School. Soon, she began supplying to UTC and Leventis and then eventually, Mr. Biggs. This was a major win for her small but growing business and was part of the inspiration that encouraged her to found Sweet Sensation.
According to her:
Mr. Biggs inspired me beyond imagination. It was not just the boost in my sales but the impressions I had as I watched on a daily basis their sales staff counting away loads of cash. I must confess I found that cash counting sight very inspiring!… The cash counting at Mr. Biggs went on the whole day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. My prayer point became, ”Lord, make our money counting session be as long as Mr. Biggs!”
Four years after supplying to Mr Biggs, she decided to establish her own brand. This was how Sweet Sensation was born.
She started Sweet Sensation at a shed in the backyard of her family home where she set up a small bakery. She then moved to what she calls, “her first shop” which was the security/gate house at her father’s house in Ilupeju. Here she sold solid cakes, ice cream, rice, chicken and some Chinese food. Her young business expanded rapidly and she soon yearned for yet another shop. This led her to found the brand’s second outlet in Victoria Island.
Though other brands such as Tantalizers and Tastee Fried Chicken (TFC) soon joined the quick service retail space, she strove to differentiate her brand by focusing on creativity, specifically on menu diversity and the ambience of Sweet Sensation outlets.
Despite the growing competitiveness of the space, she set up yet more stores in Opebi and Ogba in Lagos.
How she funded her business
According to her, in the early days she didn’t rely on loans to fund her business. However, she took a loan of about N5 million during the fourth year of running the business and subsequently at different stages henceforth to fund the business’ expansion. She ploughed back the business’ profits and lived an austere lifestyle to support the business’ growth.
Like many business owners in Nigeria, Kehinde Kamson faced many business challenges while growing Sweet Sensation. Key among these was standardizing the business’ processes and recipes. It was also difficult to deal with challenges peculiar to the NIgerian business environment such as poor power supply. She also suffered from pilfering issues among staff. Most crucially, in 2009, she faced regulatory issues when the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) queried the company for falling short of regulatory standards in one of its branches. Though she insists that this was a false allegation, this was a trying period for the business as it impacted public perceptions of the brand.
Now in its 18th year of its existence, Kehinde Kamson’s founding of Sweet Sensation into a successful and well known brand offers many lessons to Nigerian entrepreneurs.
In her recently published book, Pots, Pans and Spoons, she dispels several entrepreneurial myths that she thinks aspiring entrepreneurs should be skeptical of. Check out some of them below:
1. That you need a great deal of money to start a business
2. That you need to start big and with a bang
3. That you need a lot of contacts to start a business
4. That the business will be profitable within the first year
5.That all you need is hardwork
6. That all you need is a great idea, business plan and a feasibility study report
7. That you cannot have a well rounded life as an entrepreneur who wants to succeed
8. That when you start a business you must expand immediately
Kehinde Kamson is an inspiring African entrepreneur worthy of emulation and we hope you pass her story on.