This article was first published on AllAfrica. Read the original post here.
After experiencing firsthand how difficult it can be to get high-quality, safe, and budget-friendly baby products in Nigeria, Toyin Bajomo did what all moms do—she solved the problem.
In 2017, as she was caring for her first child, she launched BabyBliss, a “one-stop shop” that sells certified, high-quality products for moms and babies.
“My journey into BabyBliss came as a result of having my own children,” she says. “I have two: one is six, and one is three.” When Bajomo was pregnant with her first child, she had plans to give birth abroad, but the baby arrived early.
“I didn’t get a chance to leave the country. And all of a sudden, I was sort of confronted with the reality of having a baby here and realized just how difficult it is to get the products and the services that are standard everywhere else. That’s where the passion for building BabyBliss came from,” she says.
The company simplifies the lives of parents in Nigeria and Kenya by helping them get the products they want at affordable prices without having to import them on their own. It also helps women navigate the transition to parenthood. In 2020, BabyBliss merged with MumsVillage, an online community for African women offering localized content, advice, and a way to connect with each other.
Now, to fuel the company’s continued growth, BabyBliss is working with Prosper Africa—the U.S. Government initiative to increase trade and investment between the United States and countries across Africa. Prosper Africa support “increased our visibility to investors interested in our space,” says Bajomo.
BabyBliss has already made a name for itself in Nigeria and Kenya as one of the most trusted and respected brands for baby gear and products. “But we hope that as we fundraise, and as we build out, we can then roll out the baby brand across more countries in Africa,” Bajomo says. “We want to expand strongly within those two countries, and then go beyond that to countries like Ghana, Uganda, and Rwanda.”
Bajomo intends to focus on markets where BabyBliss can fill a significant gap. “For example,” she says, “South Africa is miles ahead in terms of accessibility to products. So we are looking for the markets where there is a strong need.”
The merger between BabyBliss and MumsVillage created a powerful platform combining commerce, content, and community, and it positioned the company for future growth.
“Our long-term goal is to be an African player, to be the name you think of when you think about mothers and babies in Africa, beyond just the products. So looking into maternal health services, looking into credit offerings, looking into insurance offerings…. Everything that the African mother would need to support her in this journey of parenthood, we want to be able to provide it or support them with it,” says Bajomo.
Changing shopping habits, increasing access to the internet, and a growing demand for eCommerce are on her side. According to Bajomo, there are still plenty of unsolved problems for businesses like hers to work through, though she thinks the opportunity makes it all worthwhile.
“I think that, for us, one of the biggest challenges is that the infrastructure around us is still developing,” she says, and logistics can be difficult. In addition, many customers are still hesitant to make important purchases online. “We have to have physical stores because the market is not really fully ready for eCommerce alone. There’s still a lot of trust issues because this is something still so new.”
Still, the appetite for online engagement and sales is large and growing. “We would not exist if the technology hadn’t grown to this stage,” says Bajomo. “We’ve seen a lot of advancements driven by the FinTech space. So things like payment platforms, which are essential to an eCommerce business, have developed strongly over the last few years. We’re working in collaboration with ‘buy now, pay later’ credit agencies that are able to offer credit to our customers.”
With population growth, increasing Internet access, and a growing middle class across the African continent, the pool of possible customers is growing all the time. “There are at least nine million pregnant women in Nigeria and Kenya, which is our focus market,” says Bajomo. “The internet penetration rate is now at 40%. And technology allows us to reach people a lot more effectively.”
COVID-19 and increased ecommerce
Amid the rapid global spread of COVID-19 in 2020, many governments enforced broad lockdowns. These restrictions forced retailers to rethink the way they do business and nudged many shoppers toward online purchases. Businesses with strong ecommerce capabilities were able to meet the needs of their customers during this time, and they remain well positioned to take advantage of longer-term shifts in shopping behavior that the pandemic has accelerated.
As with all businesses, BabyBliss was affected by COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns. But fortunately, demand for essential baby goods “increased significantly,” according to Bajomo, and the company coped well with supply-chain issues caused by the outbreak.
“When the government enforced a lockdown in March, we had to shut down some stores for a month and reposition the business because we were not sure whether or not the business would survive, quite frankly,” she says. “But the second we opened up, we had probably one of our best months to date. This reassured us that we were building a business based on key needs. People are having babies every day and need the products that we’re providing for them, easily.”
Advice for other entrepreneurs
The pressure is high for entrepreneurs, but Bajomo says that the key to her success is being her own best advocate. “I like to control, plan, want everything to go in a specific way, but living in Africa, that’s the quickest way to get high blood pressure,” she says.
She advises women to remember that “you’re not a superwoman, or a general and commander of the universe—meaning that you cannot control everything, save the world, predict or know how tomorrow is going to go. So you need to take each day as it comes!”