Nigeria has a growing number of young, middle class professionals with enough spending power to purchase upmarket goods. Adama Baba reports
Lagos, Nigeria's financial hub and Abuja, its capital, are vastly different in nature. The former is energy-charged and crowded while the latter is rather laid back. One thing they have in common, however, is a fast-growing number of professionals and entrepreneurs, most of them young. This rise is creating a new kind of consumer in the Nigerian market, an 'upmarket buyer' if you will. These upmarket buyers are a mix of professionals in the fields of banking, finance, telecoms, energy, marketing and even information technology.
"Professionals in certain fields are now more well-paid than in the past," says Hassan Usman, an HR Manager at a telecoms firm in Abuja. He says the emergence of upmarket buyers is the result of a boost in salaries of workers in certain fields. "An entry-level telecoms professional could earn up to N100 000 while one in mid-level as much as N350 000. Now, with an earning power like that, tastes would have to change," Usman adds.
But fat salaries can't be the only source for upmarket buyers. Where would additional finance for newly-acquired tastes come from? Banks. New generation banks offer varieties of loan and finance packages to people in certain income-earning brackets and the upmarket buyers willingly apply and utilise the packages. With the power of a bank's loans behind them, the next questions is 'What to buy?'
Young professionals and entrepreneurs mostly have a point to prove, says Yemi Solade, an accountant at a finance house in Lagos. "They need to show that they have 'arrived' and what better way than to purchase the latest cars in the market?" Solade says a need to impress drives most of his colleagues to cruise nothing less than the current year's models of luxury brands like Honda, Lexus, Mercedes Benz and even more exotic brands. "I own a 2008 Honda Accord, whose purchase was of course financed by a bank," Solade says, adding that he will finish paying off the loan in four years.
Cars are not the only things upmarket buyers zoom in on. Hadeezah Gambari, an IT consultant at an Abuja-based firm says: "I make so much money and I love to shop. It's a no-brainer that I'd go for luxury goods. Italian designer shoes, bags and other accessories are all that'll do." Gambari, single and in her early 30s, says she takes home a minimum of N400 000 every month. "So, for me, it's perfectly healthy to spend a good chunk of it on retail therapy," she added.
George Nnaji was getting fitted for a suit in the Pierre Cardin store at Ceddi Plaza, home to outlets of Barcelo's, Nu Metro, Wrangler and other consumer brands. "I don't care if this suit costs a quarter of my monthly wages. It's worth it, and besides, I earn more now and that means I can afford it," Nnaji said. The 27-year-old is visiting in Abuja as he works at a PR firm in Lagos which handles the briefs of two big telecoms companies. "A senior copy writer has to look good during presentations, you know. Plus I have actually grown a taste for sleek, costly suits," Nnnaji said.
The Nigerian luxury market is currently dominated by imported goods. High-end perfumes, clothes, gadgets and automobiles are not produced in the country, but there is an ever-climbing need for them from upmarket buyers. "I like Nigerian clothes. I own two or three sets but I love Italian suits and Swiss watches," says Igbagbon Olumide, a self-professed 'power-dresser' and self-confessed 'couture junkie'.
Upmarket buyers, it turns out, are not limited to Lagos and Abuja. Port Harcourt, in oil-rich Rivers State has a large number of expatriates who rely on imported goods for a taste of home, and that makes it convenient for Nigerian upmarket buyers with a taste for the foreign. Daniel Oko, who works for an oil company says he has been working with the firm for two years but he has changed cars thrice, each following one more expensive than the last.
Recognising the increased presence of upmarket buyers in Nigeria, local and foreign investors are cashing in. Non-Nigerian brands like the aforementioned Barcelo's, Wrangler and Nu Metro, Nando's, Shoprite, Game and many others are making a recognisable impact on the economical – sometimes cultural – landscape in the country. In restaurants, long queues are ever-present, indicating a large yet-to-be untapped market. Many an unhappy customer walks out of clothes stores with his money because he wants is out of stock. "I want to buy the latest iPod Nano for my niece, but they have none," says Ladidi Abdulkareem of a large shop of South African origin. She laments that she will have to wait till late December when she travels to London for Christmas before getting one. "Or I’ll ask my brother to send one from South Africa," she sighed.