Richlife Commercial and Logistics Limited is a young real estate company founded about three years ago by three young men with a determination to redefine Real Estate business in Nigeria. The three men, Bankole Oluwaseyi Babatunde, Managing Director; Oladunni Adeyemi, Executive Director, Sales and Marketing and Sunday Ezekiel Executive Director, Admin decided to come together to form the company after leaving their former company where they worked together. They first established an NGO, but discovered shortly that they could not find fulfillment in that sector and decided to come back to their area of specialization, Real Estate, by floating Richlife Commercial and Logistics Limited. Within a short period of three years, the company has recorded tremendous growth and accomplishments, and is a force to reckon with in the Nigerian Real Estate industry. Within this period, they have been able to grow the Richlife brand from zero level to a N4 billion Real Estate Power House with about 16 locations spread across Lagos and Ogun States, providing land allocations to over 500 people and with a plan to expand operations to other parts of the country as well as Dubai, UK, USA, etc. The company, which is riding on its integrity and knowledge of the industry, is aiming to be in the top 10 list of Nigerian Real Estate companies in the near future. In this interview with the team of The Top10 Magazine led by the publisher, Tony Iji, the three directors share the story of their success journey so far, challenges, and future plans.
Q: May we meet the three of you?
A: My name is Bankole Oluwaseyi Babatunde, and I am the Managing Director of Richlife commercial services and Logistics Limited while my other two partners are Oladunni Adeyemi, the Executive Director of sales and marketing and Sunday Ezekiel, the Executive Director of Admin respectively.
Q: Can you give us an insight and background information of the company on how it all started?
A: First and foremost, we want to thank God for where we are now. We want to thank God for what we went through before we got to where we are. Richlife Commercial and Logistics limited came into existence exactly on the 3rd of March, 2016 and that was the day we got our Certificate of Incorporation from the Corporate Affairs Commission. But before the existence of Richlife Commercial and Logistics Ltd, we have been with a real estate company called Pertinent Limited. We did not just wake up one day and decided to float the company in a real estate sector. We have been with a real estate company known as Pertinence Limited and we did not start with the company together but that was where we all met. Each of us worked a minimum of 3 years with the company and we learnt every act of becoming a realtor in the real estate sector. As a result, the nitty-gritty of what the real estate business entails, that was where we got it from. Pertinent limited are the owners of ABC garden and VIP gardens. But you know at a point, we never intended to leave as at the time we left. But you know circumstances will push you to do some very wonderful things or taking some wonderful giant stride in life. And even when we made up our minds to leave, we did not start with real estate because we didn’t have it in mind that we would leave pertinent limited to go and start our own real estate business. Infact, at a point while we 2 were there, we had the intention of even doing huge business having gotten to a particular level in the organization as at then, we were part of the management executives but majorly the three of us taking decisions with the directors, strategizing on what the rewards/benefits should be to the sales force and so many other things like that. But when the time came for us to leave, we just had to leave. Then, we came up with the charity organization idea, that was when we came up with Richlife International Organization, basically for the purpose of charity. As at the time we started, within 3 or 4 months, we already had our presence in more than 16 states in Nigeria. It was an online thing. When I talk about presence, we talk about “presence”, we talk about people coming online to key into opportunities counting for them, and you know having gone through it online. We intended that whatever income that comes from whoever is subscribing to the platform, we intend to push it towards the charity, and within a short time, we started having a lot of members on the online platform to a point whereby some people started requesting that we come. Infact, Delta state was a hotspot for us as at that time. They even sent a representative to come around. As at the time we were leaving Pertinent Ltd, there was really no plan to leave but you know, things just happened, but we just had to leave. Basically, it was Pastor Sunday Ezekiel that was the brain behind the whole idea of starting Richlife, he just told us “guys, it’s time for us to move.” But I and Mr. Oladunni were still foot dragging. Mr. Oladunni used to be referred to as the “Jagaban of Sales Force” at Pertinent Ltd because he was the number one sales person then. I also followed suit. When we left, we had no inclination of where our office would be, and what we need to get fully functional. But a friend was magnanimous enough to allow us share his office space with him and that was where we started from. It was online and we were having issues with our platform, Richlife International Organization, that is, the charity organization, it was then we had to sit down and re-strategize and we told ourselves that it was time we go back to what we know how to do best and that was what gave birth to Richlife Commercial and Logistics Limited. We did not want to do away with “Richlife” because of the NGO, so we decided that the name “Richlife” is the name we are going to use in breaking into real estate sector. We now decided to put on hold the NGO and focus on the Richlife Commercial and Logistics Limited. We got it registered and by March 3rd, the Certificate of Incorporation was out and so far so good, this is where we are today.
Q: How has the journey been so far for 3 years down the line?
A: Actually, we should give thanks to God for the support we have so far. Despite the fact that we decided to move to what we know how to do best, Real Estate is a business of money, so if you don’t have capital to start the business and you don’t have the knowledge at the same time, you might not be successful because we have lots of people that started the same way that we started and are no more in business, maybe, just because they didn’t have enough knowledge about the business. You might have business that is very huge in terms of profit, but if you don’t have the idea of how to go about it, you might not be able to get anything out of it. When we started, the first thing we did was to make sure that we settled everybody that was on our NGO platform. The problem that made us to move out of the place that was not comfortable to us, that made us move to our comfort zone was because we had good intentions, we saw other network that is moving and we want to have our own and our intention was to avoid having something that will put us in rivalry with where we were coming from, so we decided to go into something entirely different, that was the idea behind the NGO.
Q: Presently, what is the scope of your operation?
A: We thank God for where He has brought us. There is nothing more encouraging in life than when you have a dream and you pursue it and God backs you up. There are so many people that started business 3 with us and are no longer in business and that is why we can say that God backed us up in everything we are doing. And to the glory of God, we started with one or two location of estates but today we have about 16 locations spread across Lagos and Ogun State. Presently, our coverage is within Lagos and Ogun State but within the next year, we are going to have branches in Abuja. People have been calling us from the East and they are offering us lands in different places within the country. Within this year by the special grace of God, we shall be opening our branches in two major locations, which is in Dubai and UK. We have that as one of our plans this year. We have been to Dubai and we have taken 20 of our staff there and we have network of people and a lot of customers that have been buying from us even before we moved to Dubai. So we are going to have a branch there and we have a lot of customers from UK and they are working for us there preparing for us to start a branch there. We have people in the USA but we may not start a branch there this year and we have a lot of customers in USA too. So our scope of operation, looking at the network of marketers that we have, we have about one thousand of them. Also by the grace of God we can say that our company is worth #4billion. We started from nothing but as we are talking now, looking at the number of estates we have, some in 50 acres while some in 100 acres. In just three years, the company is now worth Four Billion Naira. We have a branch in Ikeja which is our branch office which is also doing very well and we have close to 20 full time staff. The system we operate is either you are a full time staff or you work as a freelance marketer, whereby you are still a staff but you have the freedom to go anywhere you want to market for us. We have a lot of people who also market for us online. As a matter of fact, on the average, we get calls not less than 5 online telling us that they saw our advert on internet. And we still believe that we can do more than what we have done now. And that is why we have it as one of our plans for the year- a branch in Abuja, Dubai and UK.
Q: You mentioned earlier that take-off was difficult as a result of lack of funds. Where did the major breakthrough come from?
A: Yeah, we started officially in March 2016 but most businesses start before their official time of starting. We started selling lands since February, 2016. At that time, our Certificate of Incorporation was not yet out but we had started the business. We had a lot of challenges just like you have heard. Challenges in terms of, where we would get money to buy lands, Where we would get money to pay land owners and all that and how we would pay marketers because we are going to be paying them salaries. These are a lot of challenges that we face. We came up with the idea of commission, how we could pay good commission to them. By the time we attract them with the commission, we can bring them into the company as freelance marketers. We call them Richlife Business Associates (RBAs). God also favored us on the “Omo-oniles”. The breakthrough really started when we organized our first promo launch on August 20, 2016. Promo launch is an idea of how we can reduce the price of our lands, bringing people to come and key into that promo at a particular event. Over 500 people attended and that was where our major breakthrough started. People started buying and we were able to get 300 new customers. We call them customers or prospects. From then, we started having promo launch every 3 months.
Q: What do you think accounted for this major growth? What are the factors that speak for you to record this fast growth?
A: There are a lot of issues in the real estate business. But first, we make sure that we are dealing with the right people so that our customers get the portion of land they paid for without any issues. Customers do not want to hear omo-onile and that’s why they come to us in the first place. They believe that you are a supernatural person because when the Omoniles tell you there is no problem, they are deceiving you. Omo-onile will collect your money and they won’t render you the service. So, we try to make sure that we protect our integrity even if we are going to lose money. We try to keep our words. We 4 don’t tell people lie. It is not easy for three people to set up business especially people from different backgrounds with different characters. But as long as our business is concerned, we are of one mind and character. We do not involve personal affairs with the business. There is no good or bad business. It depends on how well you handle the business. People that are involved in real estate business keep learning every day. The more the capital, the more the opportunities you get. The more money you have, the more opportunities you will have. Real Estate business is sweet but when problems arise, you could decide to leave the business.
Q: You were talking about the investors’ forum. Can you shed more light on what the investors’ forum is all about and its benefits?
A: The event which we captioned, Richlife Real Estate Investors Forum was held on the 30th of March, 2019. The idea behind the forum is for us to raise huge amount of money from people that have free funds. For instance, when we go to the market and begin to advertise, some people will say that they already have land in different places, they don’t need land again. But even Dangote still purchases land. So we let them know the benefits of investing in the real estate business which will bring back a lot of returns for them. We tell them that if they invest 1 million naira into the real estate business, they would get back two hundred thousand naira in just one year. Which bank can give that? Based on our research, we found out that banks can only pay a maximum of 75,000 naira per year on your 1 million. But in real estate investment, we are telling you that we can give you 200,000 for 1 million per year. How? That boils down to what we mentioned the other time. We want to buy a plot of land from omo-onile and it costs 1 million and we have 100 million naira and we will buy it for 700,000 because we have a huge sum of money with us. They will rush you and collect the money because that money is much and they wouldn’t want to lose it. So they sell the lands for you at 700,000. With that, we have been able to beat down the price of the lands. So, by the time we start selling the lands, we would be able to make enough profit to share with the investors. That’s the essence of the investors‟ forum. We want to raise not less than 500 million naira which we are going to put into real estate investment not only in lands but also in little aspects of building. But we want to go fully into building structures now. So, this investors‟ forum was to help us raise huge sum of money that we will put both in buying more acres of land and also start building in some of our estate locations. So, that is the idea behind the investors‟ forum. We can guaranty the investors that their money is so sure to come back to them because we are able to negotiate the price of the land down, you will be able to make enough profit and from the profits, we share with the investors. So, that is the idea behind the investors‟ forum. Many people, when it comes to doing business with any real estate company, primarily, it’s all about buying lands and building houses. But beyond that, we are looking at the situation whereby; potential investors that have been used to investing in different investment portfolios can have the opportunity to diversify. Now, what are we trying to say? You will agree with me that going years back, we are talking about over 30 years. Now, we were basically used to investment in the stock market, that is, investing in shares. You have leading organizations like Dunlop, First Bank, and many of them then. We will still have them on the stock market but to the year 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, etc, there was this heavy crisis in the capital market that so many heavyweight investors lost huge funds due to the crash in the global capital market. And up till now, majority of them are still battling with it. We have one of our directors that actually invested over 20 million naira and his total money worth now in the Stock Market is about 2 million. The same way many of these investors tried investing money in other investment values in the banking sector like doing fixed deposit, buying treasury bills etc. Go out and ask them or check them out, what is the return currently in this type of investment. It is not encouraging. 5 The only thing that teach them is probably they feel relatively safe putting their money in hands of these big banks but you know what, beyond fixed deposits and treasury bills, these banks too have other businesses they put money into. Since you cannot think of what to do with money, we will do it for you and put it in all these big investments that will grow bigger. Now that we are in the era of doing all these big things in the real estate sector, we look at trying to draw all these potential investors closer and making them understand the opportunities inherent in also investing in real estate. Majority of them, if you tell them to come and buy land and properties at a location, probably their response might be, “I have a lot of land already. I have built enough houses already.” which is not a lie anyway but what we are trying to tell them is that they should put their money in the real estate sector just like the way you have in your minds to put your money to work in the capital market and in the banking sector. Let your money work for you and bring you heavy returns. And that’s what we are trying to tell them to do. Let your money work for you while you sit back and relax. Yes, they might want to ask that, “What is the guaranty that your money is safe?” “What is the guaranty that the return of this investment is as you said it?” and so on and so forth.
Q: You do promo from time to time. What is so special about your promo? What are the benefits that your customers look up to?
A: Basically, when you have the opportunity of buying something at a discount, many of us would rather say, “let me wait for that time that you will be discounting the price of these your lands at different locations, then, I will key into the opportunity and that is primarily the reason for promo. Added to this, it is an avenue where we gather a minimum of 1000 potential customers as audience. Now, if you compare that opportunity, we have over 500 sales forces. They go out every day to look for customers. Now, compare that activity with one time opportunity of having a thousand persons in attendance to buy your products at a discount. Which will you prefer? I’m very sure that you will rather prefer even as a sales person for the opportunity to gather a whole lot of persons and I’m talking about a minimum of 1000 persons and it could be more. Fine, it doesn’t stop you from doing your daily routine as a sales person but that opportunity avails customer, the opportunity to buy lands from different locations at a very reasonable discount and it also gives the company the opportunity to sell to potential customers that are willing to buy at discounted prices. We have a huge number of them coming and keying into the opportunity. Imagine amongst an audience of about a thousand plus and having like 300-400 customers in just one day. Sometimes, we don’t have 300-400 customers in one month if by virtue of daily activities of sales force members and comparing it to these promo programmes that comes up like three times a year. We have done the promo event up to 10 times since the reception of the company.
Q: What is your relationship with the company stakeholders, customers and your workers?
A: We will start with our employees. It’s a symbiosis relationship and it means, I gain, you gain. What do we mean when we say it’s a symbiosis relationship? First, when they get employed, apart from the fact that we give them the opportunity to earn salaries, they also earn commission when they sell lands. Easy does it. There are other rewards too attached regardless of the fact that they are employees. There are other rewards attached when they reach a particular volume (target) and they have the opportunity of being sent to Dubai, an all-expense paid trip. We did the maiden edition by November last year. It was out of this world for every employee that was part of the train to Dubai last year. They are the only ones that can share the experience they encountered. So, they have met the target we told them to meet and we have in return lived up to our promise and that is for every employee. 6 Then for customers, if you are interested in buying a plot of land and you approach us and you filled the forms and we will give you an ample time_ minimum period of payment if you don’t have the opportunity to pay out rightly. The minimum time we give for you to pay in installments is 3 months. We have a period of 6 months and we have a period of one year for you to make payment. Having done that, customers haven’t seen that the organization is very flexible. They decided to refer more customers to us without even advertising to them. All we just hear is the fact that a particular customer comes around and tells us that Mr. A was the one that referred him to our company that he (Mr. A) has bought from our company at a location and he would also like to buy. Now, you can see, it’s a win-win. So for our employees and our customers, it’s a symbiosis relationship. Everybody is a winner.
Q: The three of you are able to remain together in the business. What is the binding force?
A: In my opening speech, I said that we came into our previous company at different times. Truly speaking, we were not the only ones there. There were a whole lot of sales persons within the system. But at any point in time in a society, community, or organization, there is no way for people of like minds not to find themselves when it comes to reasoning, projections, planning, etc. It got to a point where we got to realize that the way we reasoned, perceived things and project, we were people of like minds. And that was the binding force. We have our individual differences but when it comes to this company and business, we have a common goal and objective, and that goal is to succeed. So essentially, the binding force is that we are people of like- mind.
Q: What do you have to say about government policies and how it affects your business?
A: What policies are you talking about? We are paying our tax but government doesn’t know that there is money in real estate business and they are complaining that there is no money. We don’t have any problems with government because we pay our tax. Though we have an abnormal system in Nigeria but the best place to do business is a place where they have an abnormal system. But if Nigeria has a normal system, people will run away. And in Nigeria, we have a population that will bring money to you. We have no problems with government policies.
Q: You are situated in Egbeda of all places in Nigeria. What is the attraction?
A: Affordability! That’s the major reason. Is it in a place like Ikeja, Maryland, Magodo, Lekki, Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Festac, that you will be situated when you have nothing as at the time you are starting? Affordability, that’s not a lie. Now, having been able to afford anything around this environment, even if we have grown, we talk about branching out even beyond Lagos and Ogun State. It’s only because we have been able to manage what we have come up with when we were nothing. That’s the reason why we can sit down and say we want to start expanding. And again, where we were coming from, they also started in Egbeda. So affordability is the reason. Also looking at this environment, business is kind of lucrative in this environment. At least, if I compare Agege and Egbeda, if we are talking about a place where business flourishes in terms of corporate world. It is better off in Egbeda than in Agege. Even when you are in the Island and you hear that my office is in Agege, you will look at me as if I can’t do the business. Now, looking at Egbeda, I’m sure that they can still cope with one or two businesses around or some other factors attached to the environment here in 7 Egbeda. It is very affordable. We got our office at a very low rate because we didn’t have much, I mean financially. We just wanted a location where people can easily access our business when we took off.
Q: What is your message to that potential investor or customer who is not informed about real estate business?
A: To a lay man, the message is very simple. When we tell you to come and buy land and you say that you have many lands already but you have the money that you kept in the bank, we will tell them that this money can generate more money for them if they put it in business. But they might say that they don’t want to do business and we will tell them that we can help them to do business and we will share the profit of the business with them. The person might ask further questions about how we want to do it. Then we would come up with our investment plans which we have written down and is well tabulated so that they would know how much returns they would get on their money for a period of time. Once we are able to tell them that and they know few things about the company, then they will be able to invest their money and they will be sure of getting their returns at the time stipulated. That’s the message that we give to them and with that message, they should be able to release the money that they have in the bank, which may not yield anything for them but if they bring it to us, it may yield a lot for them.
Q: How do you deal with competition?
A: Well, we might be in the same market but we are not doing the same thing. We used to tell ourselves that we are in the same business with other companies but we have been able to carve a niche for ourselves. The truth remains that we are not in competition with any of them in the sector. We are only in competition with our goals, visions, projections and whatever it is that you can talk about in this company appearing as one of the top 10 in Nigeria and globally in the nearest future. We are in competition with destiny and that is what we can say about competition. To buttress what my partner just said, truly we are not in any competition with anybody because we don’t even think they exist. They are not our headache. We have a lot of customers. What we are selling is what everybody wants. Government is not providing and we are not praying that government should be providing houses for everybody. In America, President Donald Trump started real estate business and today, he is one of the richest. Where we would lay our heads is most paramount. It is very important but this mentality around African people is that, “if I don’t buy a house, I’m not yet somebody in life. As we are going, it’s in our brain that we must build a house. In Africa, a single person may desire to build a thousand houses. Who is going to provide these lands? It is the business we know and it is a business that we are going to grow to the level of not needing to advertize to people before they come to patronize us. And we are going to that stage already.
Q: Finally, what do we derive from the story you told us about your attempt to go into NGO before you retraced back to Real Estate?
A: Do what you are happy doing even if you are not going to be paid for it. We have about 16 locations now. Abeokuta, Ewekoro, Ifo, Ibeju Lekki, Imota Ikorodu, Atan, Shagamu etc. For us, branching out of Lagos and Ogun State is next in line. So, do what you are happy doing even if you are not going to be paid for it. It will get to a time that someone will notice you and help you. I always tell people something that, success in life is determined by the desire of an individual to succeed. So, you must have a desire to be successful and step out and with that desire, your success is sure. When we started, we had nothing 8 but we had a desire to succeed. There was nothing on ground for us but we were determined to make it. Sometimes, we think and strategize and also rock our brains because we had the desire and determination to succeed because if we don’t succeed like we have succeeded, we would have been like the dog that returned to its vomit.