Bolanle’s Nigerian Hustle: Turning Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones

Founder of Dreambee Stores, Bolanle Abudu, is a testimony that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Here's her story of how it all started.

Bolanle Abudu doesn’t come across as a typical business owner – she’s more like an ideal entrepreneurial model. When she walked into 635 meeting room dressed in a vintage floral jacket, a checkered green skirt, and an enchanting smile, she cut quite an unassuming figure. However, after the charming entrepreneur shared her story, which interpreted that the most brilliant minds are sometimes found within simple people, we were enlightened more on the power of hard work and determination.

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Bolanle is not a stranger to people judging the book cover before the content. She recalls an incident in the early days of her business when a customer cancelled a purchase because she underestimated the business owner. “I went to Marina in Lagos to deliver a bag to a female client,” Bolanle recounts, “before making payment for the order, she asked me to deliver a message to my madam. I simply smiled and told her I was the madam – a sentence I don’t regret making, even though the client was taken aback and refused to buy the bag because she thought the business was run by one big madam and I was the delivery girl.” Today, Bolanle is a testimony that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. This is how it all started.

Bolanle was a student of Anatomy at Olabisi Onabanjo University and had discovered that her choice of outfits drew admiration from her fellow students. She decided to explore the profitability of her unique sense of style by buying outfits during the holiday and selling them when school was in section through the time tested method of door-to-door gorilla marketing.

“I started out with buying clothes worth N10, 000 and in just two days I sold out everything,” she recollects. “I was able to merge my studies and business by selling during the day and studying at night. Sometimes, prospective clients shut the door in my face and sometimes they welcomed and patronized me. However, I’ve built a strong clientele over time that made orders in advance and gradually, I became the go-to-person for outfits by many students.”

After Bolanle graduated, she deferred from the pursuit of a 9-5 job and opted to continue her business, still maintaining her clients form school who were now working class. It was 2009, and Facebook was all the rage. Bolanle aptly tapped into the momentum and opened a Facebook page for her business, put up pictures of her goods and registered her business under the name Dreambee, with a mission to provide affordable women clothing; heels, handbags, purses, and more. Business bloomed and in the flurry of the success of her business, Bolanle made her first major mistake as an entrepreneur.

“I got carried away with the influx of profit and invested 2 million Naira into a showroom in Surulere. The irony was after putting in all that money into a showroom, I had no money to buy goods to put in the store.” Bolanle recollects. “I was also straddled with the responsibility of spending N600, 000 on staff salary and growing utility bills on a monthly basis. To top it up, I got overcharged by a tax agency. My business was a contrasting reality; just months ago, I was a mobile retailer and was basking in the steady flow of revenue. Now I was going bankrupt; I had to close down the showroom.”

Bolanle took some time off the business and got a corporate job. Despite doing well with her new job, she longed for the freedom and expansiveness that entrepreneurship offered. After a year as an employee, she decided to go back into business – this time, taking baby steps all over again. “Everyone had moved on. Online business was in major bloom and I had to win over old clients while drawing in a new crop of clients,” says Bolanle. “I gave discount on goods, ran promotions and expanded my business to feature more products. I knew it would take me a while to stand again, but I was determined to win.”

Today, Dreambee stores has expanded into a clothing, household appliance, and grocery store worth millions – a place you should check out. One of the key factors responsible for the growth of her business is the SME MarketHub, an online vendors’ hub that promotes small businesses by offering them free online storefronts and extensive visibility. “I’m genuinely grateful for the platform SME MarketHub provides. When anyone tells me they need to open a business, I tell them to key into the Hub. It’s a blessing to small businesses everywhere.”

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Having gone through many of the motions and hurdles of a Nigerian hustler by starting a business after a major crash, Bolanle has her two cents on running a small business; “It’s simple, knowledge is power. You don’t have to go through every mistake yourself. Learn from those who have gone ahead of you,” she advised. “Learn the ropes before jumping. Success is possible but you need the right knowledge first.”