I wrote this interesting article for The Spark Magazine March edition but decided to share it here again, in case you missed it! For more other amazing business articles, feel free to visit their website and download their monthly magazines. Meantime, gear up for the fierce brand battle below, between Nigerian retail giants Montaigne Place and Essenza. Enjoy!
It is almost impossible to succeed in business without passion, you must love and nurture your business, but that passion is primarily driven by something, you are either passionate because of the money or a cause. Both are great passion points and largely dependent on the personality of the brand owner. Which is why some school of thought believe that the personality of the brand owner is embedded in the personality of their brand. This is quite true in the case of Essenza and Montaigne Place, the personality difference between these two luxury brands is glaring; noticeable in every move their owners make. But before we delve into these moves, it is important to note that they pioneered the industry they both dominate, which has grown to be quite huge in the last 30years.
I never knew how huge and profitable the personal care industry in Nigeria was until i took interest in 2017. Dominated primarily by global brands, the industry’s profitability and constant expansion stem from the country’s large and increasing population, emerging middle class, urbanization, and rapid internet penetration among others. Product categories include skincare, hair care, bath and shower, cosmetics (whose sales are at an all-time high right now due to online cosmetic trends) and of course fragrances. The fragrances category of the market may sell the least volumes but surely makes the most profit of all the product categories; this segment is the secret massive money maker for both Essenza and Montaigne Place, as fragrances make up to 70% of both brand’s product portfolio.
Interestingly, unlike other industry competitors throwing shades at each other with their advertising, these two seem to be doing well and unbothered by each other’s success on the surface but in reality, they are in a fierce competition, driven by their different passion points and resultant business strategies aimed at outsmarting each other and increasing market share.
Founded by Alali Hart in 1997, fresh off her MBA program at the University of California, Montaigne Place’s goal was to provide luxury at its best. The founder had a passion for beauty and fragrances, which is why Montaigne Place started out as a spa and blossomed into a chain of over 20 retail stores across Nigeria stocking perfumes, skincare, and cosmetics, with select stores still offering Spa services. Because of the founder’s love for perfumes, Montaigne Place invested heavily on premium scents and became the first and only authorized official stockist for the prestigious Creed perfumes in Nigeria. Montaigne Place grew the Creed brand with strategic marketing and first of a kind personalized counter in Nigeria, so much so that competitors began to stock them albeit illegally.
Furthermore, to prove that the business was fuelled more by passion, when competition increased especially in the sales of popular celebrity & designer fragrances, (brands that basically sell themselves because of their popularity like Beyonce Heat, Channel, Calvin Klein, etc), rather than compete in that product category, Montaigne Place went deeper into the premium perfume world and in 2016, pioneered the revolution of niche fragrances and innovative high end skincare products like Murad in Nigeria. Today, Montaigne Place stock the largest collection of Niche fragrances and attracts elite customers who love to smell different. So it is no surprise that their social media is 100% dedicated to promoting the niche fragrances they carry. And because they were very particular about attracting only people who value their premium products, the brand only invests in PR and other strategic marketing activities that target her customer type. A good example was when after redesigning their flagship store at The Palms, Lekki, they installed a large art on their outside wall which became the center of attraction for elites and art lovers.
To date, Montaigne Place even with stiff competition refuses to toe the line of everyone else but continues to pave her own path and lead by innovation. It is pretty clear that although these strategies most definitely affect the bottom line positively, they were however inspired not by profit but primarily by passion.
Founded by Kayode Kasumu, Essenza has a brand name that rings a bell nationwide. Although they opened their flagship retail store at The Palms Lekki, in 2003, they have been in business for over 30years under the name Beauty and Fragrance Limited. Judging from their aggressive marketing, lower price strategy and investing only in popular fast moving products, one can deduce that Essenza is very passionate about turnover. This is evident even in their social media posts which mostly features popular global brands. In fact, the first official distributor of Creed perfumes in Africa did mention to me that during their initial attempt at penetrating the Nigerian market, their first choice for stockist was actually Essenza, not Montaigne Place, because the former had been in the business longer. However, Essenza turned them down, not because they weren’t aware of the brand’s prestigious reputation abroad, but probably because the idea did not align with their business strategy at the time. Today, Essenza sells Creed perfumes. The reason is not far fetched, they found a way to source and stock the brand when it became a popular fast moving product in Nigeria!
In addition to Creed, Essenza now stock several niche brands and also offer spa services as well, not to mention their expanding skincare and cosmetics brand portfolio. Their strategy seems very clear, in order to increase turn over and maximize profit, they only take calculated risks; they study the market, and competition, discover what’s working and apply the same to their business. This strategy has been working very well for the brand.
Another pointer to their passion for increasing turnover is their rapid expansion strategy: currently, they have over 30 stores across the country and are the first to expand internationally with footprints in Ghana. They also invested in advertising aimed at the masses which paid off. Today, Essenza claims to have over 50% of the luxury market share and has been able to register a strong presence in Nigeria.
In conclusion, both businesses are very successful even though driven by two completely different entrepreneurship styles.