We talk to Simba Group about how a simple idea to adapt a bicycle for local needs has transformed into a multifaceted, empowerment-driven conglomerate reaching all corners of the country.
FIT FOR NIGERIA
“I remember the first model we co-created with our manufacturing partners –it looked so different to anything else that was being offered.
“It may have been a struggle to sell the first hundred, the first thousand…but it wasn’t long before the product, and the range that followed, gained traction and popularity. Within a few years, we took a commanding leadership position in the industry, with our five brands sharing 30 percent of the market.”
Vinay Grover is talking about the humble bicycle.
With origins tracing back more than 200 years, when Kral Drais invented the first steerable two-wheeler, it has played a fundamental part in human mobility ever since, the simple yet effective design providing an economical, efficient means of getting around.
But even the simplest, most successful inventions can be modified for the better.
Grover is Founder and Managing Director of Nigerian conglomerate Simba Group, its multifaceted nature built on the foundation of a simple observation –that imported bicycles were not suited to Nigerian farmers.
“The average weight of a Nigerian adult differs from that of a Chinese or Indian person for whom the cycles offered here were being developed for,” he says. “The road conditions differed greatly, and so too did the garments worn by Nigerian farmers. All these seemed to be important considerations to take when designing a bicycle.”
The quickfire success of the Simba cycle prompted Grover to explore other products that could be adapted for Nigerian tastes and usage conditions, a concept which has stayed true to the group in the 30-plus years since it was founded in 1988.
“Though we are a much larger company now than we were back then, offering a diverse range of products and solutions to the Nigerian marketplace, I think this simple, yet fundamental idea still strikes at the heart of what we do at Simba,” he adds.
“We are still about offering good quality products, customised for local tastes and the operating environment, backed by dependable customer service.”
Indeed, today the company operates through a network of 10 branches across Nigeria, enabling it to extend its reach to the remotest corners of the country.
Its products and services cover a number of vital sectors, notably agriculture, energy, IT and automotive, Simba’s 1,000-plus staff working across diverse industry verticals but united by a common vision –to enrich Nigerian lives with innovative products and solutions in partnership with world class organisations.
These include the likes of TVS Motor Company, Mahindra EPC, Luminous Power and Genus, major market-leading brands which have entrusted Simba to represent, build and, if necessary, adapt their products to suit the Nigerian market.
Enriching lives is, for Grover, the major motivating factor behind the group’s success.
It does so in many ways, the first and most obvious being the empowering impact of its array of products, the Founder and MD highlighting proudly just some of the ways Simba is uplifting the fortunes of Nigerian citizens.
“Our motorcycles and tricycles touch the lives of millions of Nigerians everyday –taking them to work, to school, to pray –driving them, and driving the economy in turn,” Grover explains. “Our inverters and solar solutions bring light into people’s homes, and our agricultural solutions help improve efficiency across the agricultural value-chain so that that the food they eat is affordable.
“But our impact is even more direct in terms of the employment generation our products create, even beyond our factory walls.
“Firstly, there are the riders of the motorcycles and tricycles which are used as taxis, who earn a daily wage for ferrying passengers to and fro. Then there are our dealers, microfinance partners and fleet owners who play critical parts in our value chain and ensure that the vehicles are made available to potential owners and investors.
“Finally, there are the tens of thousands of mechanics and spare parts dealers who repair and service our products and ensure that they are back ‘on road’ or ‘online’ as soon as possible.”
Beyond the transformative effect of its day-to-day business, Simba is also empowering communities through a sustained series of corporate social responsibility activities.
Grover identifies the Queen Riders programme as a particularly pride-inducing example, the scheme designed to promote female empowerment by building a safe environment for them to own and ride tricycles, the company providing assistance with purchasing and safe driver training.
Another impactful initiative involves the running of health check-up camps. Here, Simba vehicle riders are invited to take part in company-sponsored health screenings for the likes of diabetes and eye problems, attendees also having their vehicles serviced free of charge at the same time.
“And of course, there’s our sponsorship and support of the Nigerian Football Federation,” Grover adds.
“We are proud to be the official motorcycle and three-wheeler of the ‘Super Eagles’ which has enabled us to not only contribute to the nation’s greatest pastime, but also bring our customers and rider community closer to the action with dedicated fan events and opportunities to meet with the players.”
The bedrock of the Simba community, however, are the company’s staff, those inside the factory walls that Grover has already eluded to.
Indeed, this dedicated team of people create what the Founder and MD describes as the company’s point of difference –an unrivalled attention to detail in the area of customer service.
“That’s in our culture…in our DNA, if you will,” says Grover. “How do we ensure that every member of the Simba Group knows this and knows how to respond to customer issues? It’s through the importance we place on training.
“This not only includes a deep understanding of the technical parameters that define our products and services or an ability to respond to maintenance and customisation issues, but also the managerial skills that help build an ecosystem centred around providing timely, affordable and accessible service for our products.”
Grover also points to how investment in training stretches far beyond Simba’s direct employees, training which also contributes towards an enhanced customer experience.
For example, the TVS motorcycles and three-wheelers division has carried out advanced training for over 2,000 private garage mechanics from its training centre in Lagos. Another 20,000 have been trained across the length and breadth of the country, around a fifth of this activity in collaboration with the Nigerian Automotive Design and Development Council.
The group’s specialist inverter business is also busy training technicians to service its products. Known as Simba Service Kamps, these sessions have been carried out by Simba’s manufacturing partners, including Luminous Power Technologies, Genus Innovation, Kstar Power and Sollatek, covering subjects such as power protection, safety, efficient deployment and technical aspects of the products.
Such a devout commitment to building expertise within the organisation and its partner network will continue to differentiate Simba as it progresses into the next chapter of its development.
This includes exploring and expanding into new sectors, agriculture representing a key focus for Grover in 2020.
“Nigeria is primarily an agrarian economy with more than 65 percent of its population deriving livelihood out of farming,” he explains. “The country, which was once a major exporter of crops such as cocoa, cotton, ground nut and palm oil, has become dependent upon food imports to feed its growing population.
“The paradox has demanded urgent intervention from the government and participation of private entities like us to step in and contribute to the revival of the sector.”
One of the agribusiness areas Simba has expanded its offering into is irrigation, identified as crucial to Nigeria improving its levels of farming productivity and output.
“Today, one fifth of total farmland is irrigated, but it produces almost 40 percent of the world’s food,” Grover continues.
“To attain self-sufficiency in food production, Nigeria has no other option but to adopt irrigated agriculture on a massive scale. Currently only one percent of cultivated land here is under effective irrigated agriculture, meaning substantial room for productivity improvement exists.”
Despite the pressing need for mass irrigation, Simba is determined to support such efforts in a sustainable manner, ensuring that water resources are not overexploited for short-term gain.
And it is this longer-term, sustainable development ethos that Grover is determined to maintain moving forwards, the company primed to contribute substantially to Nigeria’s ongoing socioeconomic development across many industries.
This will be achieved first and foremost through excelling in its own operations, progress which will be ensured through increased training opportunities and establishment of a stronger presence throughout the country.
“And we will continue to pursue new opportunities which are in line with our investment philosophy, in tandem with our vision, and consistent with our values,” Grover adds in his concluding remarks.
“We believe in the future of this country, and will continue to invest where we see opportunities to enhance economic development and contribute to socioeconomic improvement, whilst building value for our stakeholders.”