Samuel Douglas a Country Sales manager of Sovereign Brands, owners of the Luc Belaire brands, Bumbu Rum, Cloud Chaser and Skeleton wines. An American-based company, dealing in Nigeria through Ekochiv Ventures Nigeria Limited its local distributor. During an Exclusive interview with SIDNEY NWACHUKWU, Country Editor of Saharaweekly, he states that Belaire brands, are fast-rising products and have come to stay with its dynamic approach to changing the climate of Bubbly market in Nigeria/ Africa.
What made you bring your business to Nigeria?
Firstly, Nigeria is the most populous Black nation in the world. Meaning there is strength in numbers. It shows there are lots of opportunities. Also Nigeria is one of the most vibrant markets in terms of social life. People are most desirous of good lifestyle. All around the globe, you would find out that of two Black people you meet, one is a Nigerian. And it’s easy to know who the Nigerian is. In terms of social circle, they are the people who would turn up the most. So it is an opportunity for any brand that wants to grow to be in Nigeria, especially in the wine/spirit business.
Nigerians are some of the most stylish people in the world. In fact, we run the entire African market. The growth of the bubbly brands is driven by Nigerians. They took the lifestyle from Nigeria to the world. They seek out their fun and leisure time; what they want, they seek it and pay for it, and it has become the norm. The South Africans had to learn from us. So we will always be the key market, not just for wine/spirit, but also for luxury goods. I believe we have the highest number of luxury cars on the streets in Nigeria across the Africa.
Your brand of champagne, Belaire and Bumbu, seems more like rum. What is behind the captivating names?
Sovereign Brands is a company that thrives on innovation; we are very creative minded people, we thrive on creativity and innovation. It’s a business that is blessed with a lot of talents. In every field here, you find some of the best hands, in marketing, sales and commercial departments, you would find people that are tested and know what they are doing. So the business is very careful and selective of the brands they deal with. It seeks out brands it wants to create, sell or do business with. It looks deeply into the heritage of these products and tries to understand what suits the market and what would be best for the consumer, as well as easy for them to manage and easily deal with it.
Belaire is actually a French word that means ‘one with a pleasant demeanor’. It’s very easy for anyone to relate with the brand. First, it’s a playful brand; it can function in any space. As a person, you know who has a nice lifestyle; when you are jovial and playful, everyone wants to be around you. You can see that the growth of the brand is very organic; it’s what everyone wants to be part of. Part of the style – the name, colour of the bottle, luminous label, that’s what people want to see. They are driven by what they see. And as you know, when you walk around a lot at night, very bright colours attract your attention like bees to honey.
For Bumbu, is based on the original recipe created by 17th century sailors of the West Indies, who blended native Caribbean ingredients into their rum and called it “Bumbu” – the original craft spirit. Just like the Bumble bee, you love the sweet taste. It’s just to get the consumer to understand that it’s a drink and something you can easily relate with. Truly, it’s a pleasant thing.
What has been the response or acceptance for these drinks?
You tried it yourself, did you enjoy it? For everyone that has tried Belaire, they all have one or two things to say – all positive. So far we are just a year old in the market. I am the first Country Sales Manager for the brand in Nigeria. It has been an awesome journey so far. Where we are coming from, the equity we have been able to build in the market, over the years is huge. It has got its positive and negative sides; but for us, as a business, it’s been positive and it’s been an awesome journey. The response has been tremendous and our growth has been very swift. For a product that was not mainstream trade product to have this kind of response, it’s been awesome. I can only thank God for it; and a lot of hard work. At the end of the day, it has been grace. I have always attributed every success in my life to God because he is my only source of power & inspiration. I hold that very dearly. Everything I touch I am always positive they will receive positive response. It doesn’t matter how much opposition arises.
What are your strategies in the business?
Strategies? You don’t discuss that in public. Truth is, once you have a good product, good team, the right market space discipline and good management skills, you can sell practically anything. I don’t know any strategy better than that.
Any plan to leverage on media?
We are already doing that. One of the major strengths has been the leaning towards media. We’ve been highly focused on new media. We are very focused on ensuring that we have very strong foothold, thus we aim to extend our use of media, but we are very focused on where we can gain more serious advantage, not just visibility.
As you well know, online platforms come and go. Strategically, what media areas do you want to use to gain dominance/consolidate?
First and foremost, we are a luxury brand. Did you say we are a high-end firm, well, not from my point of view? Our products are affordable, though it depends on who is buying.
Back to the issue: now there’s a middle-class that can afford our prices to an extent. Let’s say someone picks 10 bottles of our product but comes in once in a while. But another regularly picks just two bottles. That is okay for us. I believe we would find many that are comfortable and want to be in that class field compared to other brands. However, we are not competing with anyone. We are special in our own space. We’re Black and love to do things differently.
So if you love the brand, you’ll pay anything for the product. It’s not about the money; it’s the value the brand is putting out there, that’s what you want to see as a consumer.
Your products taste so great, what are you doing to push it into the public eye?
I spent years with Hennessy; I played a key role there, only a little has changed in the market. We in Belaire are doing what we have to do. In just 12 months, look at the kind of response and acceptance we have gotten in sales, visibility and acceptance. That should tell you that we know what we are doing. It took Moet Hennessy 10 years of intensive trade activities to get to where they are today, but again you can say the market wasn’t as saturated as it is now. Secondly, we are a brand to watch out for and we have done fantastically well and still growing.
At some point in the life of this market, the biggest products making sales in the night life then were, Red Label, Wines and Beers. As far back as 2006. I know how many bottles of wine I would sell in those days in my club; not much Champagnes in those days. I sold far more Whiskies than Cognac. So I know. We’re a part of the growth. Things are so much competitive today. Most big brands have made so much money and are investing majorly in the market.
Every product within the wine segment has a competition in terms of volume but that’s all that it is, we are just doing what we want to do and we are growing. I can’t tell you our position in terms of bubbly. But I can tell you that if we want to look at figures, give me three years, and the market will understand exactly where we are coming from.
How do you get 95% of parties in Nigeria to Petronize Belaire?
I may not be able to post figures and percentages now, but today we are at a lot of weddings, anniversaries etc with Belaire, there is a working template for the market?. Yes! Every business has a template and all players know that.
Once you get the template right, you will see the results, as people will come forward. And so far, people have been coming forward.
Recently, I visited Abeokuta for an appointment, and I decided to check out the market. I was at about 5 outlets, and I was super-impressed. There were outlets I didn’t even know, and they all had Belaire well arranged on the shelves. They had our products in their bars, fridges, on display. And I smiled because my sweat and stress is paying off. So to answer your question, guys are already picking the brand. I asked the bar-men about Belaire and they said that it what is new and cool.
We are not just in Lagos State I have been to the East, South, parts of the North as far as Kaduna. we are spreading, pushing our frontiers. We are also in Jos, Makurdi and Abuja.
Besides the earlier reason told, is there any other reason for bringing your products to Nigeria?
In 2014, we threw a party at an outlet across my then office, to celebrate a product. I later had a routine check of the tables across the venue, I was surprised to find a guest drinking Belaire Rose. I was furious and asked that they take it out. They pleaded that it was their last bottle. In our industry, there’s always that thing against competition and they know me well to fight tooth and nail to protect my product; as I turned my back on that table, I asked one of my trade guys to watch out for that brand (Belaire).
How do you marry your faith and career so well together?
I remember someone once asking me how I cope with managing my work and being so close to God. It’s just like my daughter once answered somebody on coping with seeing dead bodies as