One shopping complex that is arguably the most patronised and most talked about currently in Ibadan is Ace Mall. The mall, located at Awolowo Avenue, Opposite Oyo State Housing Corporation, Old Bodija, Ibadan, is always a hive of activities on a daily basis. That is how it has been since its official opening in November 2020. It was commissioned by the Alaafin of Oyo, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi 111.
The reason for the massive patronage at the mall is not far-fetched; the mall is not just a complex but an all-in-one shopping mall. Where consumers not only find their daily needs but also at affordable prices and in a conducive, serene environment. Everything about the mall is grand and magnificent. The exclusive bar/lounge has become a meeting point for the top celebrities and upwardly mobile young men in Ibadan.
“Many things have since been introduced into the business,” MD/CEO of Ace Mall, Yinka Afonja reveals.
In order to make the mall a one-stop shopping centre, which is the original plan, other phases like Cinema, Boutique, Eatery, Bakery, Salon, Kiddies Fun Park, Arcade, Swimming Pool, Bar/lounge of course Supermarket and many other things have been brought on board. Within a short period of time, Yinka Afonja has been able to build the business that started as a small supermarket into a bigger brand. The very first phase of the business, Ace Supermarket, started at the Akobo area of Ibadan in 2012.
Today, there are well over five branches of Ace Supermarket in Ibadan alone. It has become a household name in the ancient city and a well-known brand across the major cities of the South-Western part of Nigeria.
Yinka Afonja, a retired banker, must have brought the entrepreneurial spirit in him and his banking experience to bear on the business. But apart from experience and hard work, how did Ace Supermarket get to this point?
“We started from scratch and tried many strategies before getting to where we are today. We opened Oyo, Ogbomosho, Ile-Ife, Osogbo, Abeokuta, Ijebu-Ode, Ilorin then this place. And if you look at the evolution, each structure got better and bigger as we expand along the line. So it is an organic growth that got to this. That is the idea. We started with a supermarket, then we introduced a bakery and later an eatery. We found out it worked out very well. That is when we started putting eatery in our branches when we did Ijebu-Ode and Ilorin.
Then we tried lounge, it also worked out. So we had to do a bigger one in Oyo, where we had a smaller one before. We did another supermarket, bakery, eatery, lounge, cinema and it worked out. So by the time we were doing Ilorin, we put all of that. Opening this place, we have now grown bigger. New things now came on board, the Kids Arcade, the Salon and all also came on board, which we were not doing before. Then the kiddies park with a swimming pool. Well, the cinema is also here, it has always been there. Again, here more tenants are accommodated because the idea is to make it a one-stop mall.” On how difficult or easy was it growing the business into a bigger brand, Yinka Afonja has this to say.
“Well, the belief, the passion. I went all out for it. When I first did Akobo, I saw opportunities in the business. My banking background also helped me. So by the time I wanted to quit, I didn’t mind. I was selling my shares, selling my assets to even do the other branches before the business could finance itself.
I had to sell up things here and there. But what worked for me is the brand. The brand-building was not easy but we really tried. We tried to cut an image, to be known and create a standard for the business, for quality service delivery.
We wanted to be known for the availability of products. We also wanted to be known for affordable prices. We went after all of that and we achieved it to a large extent. No system is perfect but I can tell you that we have really tried. We were also able to plug wastage and inefficiency gaps. Yes, I would say my banking background helped me.
Also, what helped us is integrity, because we were able to enjoy a lot of spontaneous financing. You don’t need to go to a bank to borrow money. My suppliers were and still very supportive. You know when I send my trucks to the market and they evacuate goods worth hundred million without signing any document. That is integrity. And when you finished selling you take your profit and return their money. So you apply the profit judiciously. Over time, we garnered the confidence of our vendors and suppliers, and that is the beauty of a retail business. I always tell any intending entrepreneur to first work on his or her integrity. Work on your character. Even to your staff, if you say you are paying them on a date, pay them on that date. Don’t mismanage the relationship. There are other traditional issues that I can’t describe here. But they are managerial which has to do with running links, running efficiently.
That is an act that I can’t discuss here but which people working for me understand. We don’t over trade, we don’t bite more than we can chew. We don’t buy what we can’t sell. Ours is taking goods, dispose of them fast, take other stocks. That is how we run.”
Now that the business has become a known brand, what is the next phase of Ace Supermarket?
Well, we are still within our medium-term strategy, to put our blueprint in all of South Western states. There are more locations coming up in Ekiti, Akure, Sagamu, Ilesa and Saki. After that, there are some locations where we are now that we need to go and re-invest. We want to do a bigger mall in Ijebu-Ode, we want to build a standard mall in Ile-Ife.
We want to do something bigger than what we currently have. Because it is also a kind of appreciation to the market that had supported us. So we have to bring more convenience and more varieties, as well as more options to them. Then we also plan to give the franchise to investors who don’t have much capital or who have some capital and don’t know what to do. We can guide them through our franchise, either set up a bakery for them, set up an eatery or supermarket for them to run under our model. Since the model is already successful, we want to also empower people now. And you can’t be everywhere, you can’t do it all alone. When we give out the franchise, it will take the brand farther than I can.”