Inside the Mind of a Creator with Winifred Ezeani….

From a banking career that lasted almost two decades to moving head-on into the world of Logistics and then into the beauty industry to help women regain confidence in their bodies, IBIENE’s Creator of the Month puts the foundation of her story so far on a vision, a purpose and strong Faith in God.

She is Winifred Ezeani, the founder of the Marpe® Group of Companies, and in this sit-down with IBIENE, she bares it all – the journey, tips, and tricks plus a rare peek into what she tells her 15-year-old self.

We hope that as you scroll, you’ll get the much-needed inspiration to take charge of your life and help change others for the better.

IBIENE: What is your perspective on life?

WINIFRED: My perspective on life was just recently clarified. I know first-hand that if I get to choose something, I ensure I put my heart and brain into it.

I have also realised that you need to put in your energy with what scenarios and people you feel comfortable with, not just to be likelier”.

We continually try to fit into social circles, peer activities, etc., just because that makes us more ‘likable’. Feel free to exit such scenarios and free up your mental space.

If there are people who don’t match your vibe even after trying your best, leave them. People who bring you down, gaslight the situation, aren’t worth your time and energy.

In many situations, two people look at a problem from different angles, such as the famous 6 and 9. It’s just a matter of perspective, so I chill.

It’s essential to understand when to argue and when to discuss. You don’t have to fight every battle.

I am constantly working on making my inner world more beautiful than the outer world. Eventually, I know the external world will also catch up. Above all, I remain optimistic.

IBIENE: Let’s start with your experience as an ex-serial banker and what the profession has taught you about life.

WINIFRED: I started banking early in life; it’s the only corporate setting I know. I rose from a Management Trainee to the Managerial Cadre. A lot has changed from the time we started banking to what we have now.

In those days, being online in real-time was a distinctive competence because we did ledger entries manually. We were not operating on a cash lite system, so in a day, you may count up to a billion naira, not to mention the attendant risks. I watched the industry metamorphose.

I wouldn’t trade the experience I gained for anything. It shaped me, and my experience in the industry contributed immensely to why my transition into entrepreneurship was primarily seamless.

For example, as a banker, I learned how to value people, treat them right, and appreciate whatever business they bring my way because it all adds up. I learned diligence in its purest form and developed problem-solving and negotiation skills, to mention a few.

As you climb higher on the corporate ladder, your career growth will not only depend on how much you know or how competent you are. It depends, to a large extent, on how well you can play chess (if you know what I mean).

IBIENE: At what point did you make the decision to leave banking to start your own company and what was the journey like?

WINIFRED: It was a long time coming. The writing was boldly written on the wall, but I looked the other way. I should have left the industry earlier than I did; it was the set time, but just like most people, the fear of the unknown made many of us stay glued to something that was no longer fulfilling.

After Union Bank kicked me out, I decided to pursue other interests. I was tired of being judged by my ability (or otherwise) to mobilise deposits, which wasn’t my forte. I preferred tangible or actual transactions like credit facilities, etc.

2018 when I bowed out, I didn’t tell anybody I was leaving the industry for good because I didn’t want anybody to talk me out of it. All I had was a firm belief in myself (I never doubted my abilities) and a STRONG and UNWAVERING faith in God.

The story of how Marpe® was birthed is something I will take up in the second edition of this interview because it is very long and interesting. It was not easy because I started from scratch—ground zero. I didn’t have any prior experience or a mentor to understudy. I just jumped, with only God as a light on my path.

If for nothing else, starting a business with little or no capital is also advantageous because you don’t make ‘costly’ mistakes. I was working every single day and night, literally. The day before we went live, I worked almost 72 hours with barely an hour or two to rest.

Getting this far took a lot of focus, resilience, perseverance, and grit. Things are way better now. I have never regretted it for one day and have not looked back.

I set up the Marpe® Resource Bank to give back to society. I want to teach everything I have learned so that other business owners, especially startups, can start and run successful businesses while avoiding most initial hiccups associated with new companies.

It is a curated knowledge platform where MSMEs can get valuable resources and information to thrive in business. We have a complete small business starter kit that will help them launch and grow any business on a solid foundation, hassle-free.

We have various software (School Management ERP, Hotel Management Software, Church Management software, etc.). We have templates for different HR policies and onboarding forms. We also have legal documents in templates that are editable and downloadable.

There are online courses, training, and eBooks on entrepreneurship, leadership, etc. These will help businesses automate their systems and function optimally.

It is loaded, and companies in this category will benefit immensely. I’m so excited about this project and look forward to it when we go live.

IBIENE: In the digital age where everything can be ordered and delivered at one’s comfort, what work lessons can you give to small logistics business owners who feel like they’re not moving as they should?

WINIFRED: What has worked for me and I believe can work for any business owner, irrespective of the sector, is to develop a unique selling point. There is no business you will delve into that you won’t find someone doing it so there will always be competition. But what will differentiate you from the pack is the unique value that you are bringing that is tailor-made for the particular market segment you are targeting with mathematical precision.

Firstly, you have to know who your customers are and you have to study their interests and behavioral patterns. You have to know and fully understand their pain areas and then design products and services bearing this in mind. Finally, you have to devise a unique way to deliver your product or service in a manner that will wow your customers and make them raving fans. The fastest and cheapest way to grow your clientele base is through referrals and you can only get that from satisfied customers.

These are the principles my business is anchored on. Following these exact principles play a major role in determining the types of businesses that I engage in and the way our products and services are designed and delivered. I always start by looking at myself and the issues I have and want to be addressed… and how I want it addressed.

I develop products and services bearing all these in mind. I found out that my problems are not peculiar. Many other people have similar challenges too. So, yes. That is a good place to start.

The world has over 7 billion people, meaning there is enough market for any business that brings value to the marketplace by solving problems. Any business owner who understands this will win. It only takes proper planning and focused execution. 

IBIENE: What tips do you have for consumers on what they should look out for before choosing a logistics company?

WINIFRED: I will talk about logistics associated with importing from China because that is my area of expertise. If you are wondering how to reduce shipping costs from China, and finding an affordable yet reliable and responsive freight forwarder in China, there is an excellent way to do so.

Generally speaking, larger reputable logistics companies will be more experienced and reliable than smaller or new companies. However, they may be less flexible, and for smaller shipments, it may be more advantageous to collaborate with smaller freight forwarding companies. A freight forwarding agent will be able to advise you on your best options.

Let me walk you through the step-by-step process of choosing a logistics company:

Firstly, you have to determine your logistics needs. These are some of the questions you can ask yourself

  • Is a forwarding agent sufficient or do you prefer to work with a 3PL (third-party logistics) company to assist you more extensively (e.g., procurement and sourcing, transport from factory to export port, export clearance, transport from destination port to the final destination, inventory and returns management)? This is basically all that we do at Marpe® Procurement Services.
  • What are the goods and volumes you are planning to ship as well as the port of origin and destination?
  • Is this a one-time shipping route or will you require regular forwarding services?

Being clear with your scope will make the process of finding a suitable logistics agent in China for your forwarding needs easier.

Other aspects to consider when choosing a logistics company are the following:

  • Industry Expertise – Ideally, you should collaborate with a company that can individually cater to your specific logistics needs and situation. You can consider the industry experience of the specific goods, key destinations, global setup, and offices near you as well as languages spoken when selecting a freight forwarder.
  • Risk Management – Global transportation is influenced by a large variety of economic and political factors. Therefore, conditions are prone to change. Your logistics company should be knowledgeable and able to plan ahead in order to mitigate risks and handle issues that may occur. Larger freight forwarding companies may also have cargo insurance to cover liabilities. Make sure to check this beforehand.
  • Services Offered – Depending on your requirements for logistics, you may require a combination of shipping methods, storing goods in warehouses, and other logistics solutions.  You should discuss your supply chain needs with prospective logistics company/3PLs to ensure that they can meet your requirements and needs. Services you may require include freight insurance, pickup and delivery, customs clearance, inspection, (re)packaging and labeling, and warehousing.
  • Communication & Customer Service – Does your selected logistics company speak your language? Do they respond timely, and demonstrate a proactive, transparent, and solution-based approach? Does the logistics company offer online tracking of the shipped goods, notifications, and customer service for questions and troubleshooting? These also should be put into consideration.
  • Licenses, Certifications, and Permits – Logistics companies are required to have various permits like import and export licenses to handle cargo, as well as special licenses for carrying sensitive and dangerous goods. You should Ensure that your provider has the appropriate licenses for handling cargo as well as special licenses if your products require this.

Once all questions have been answered and you are confident with your choice of logistics company or 3PL company, make sure to sign an agreement with them on the deliverable you agreed on with them. Logistics companies typically have standardized contracts, terms, and conditions.

For Express Delivery, you should Get your quotes directly from the largest CEP providers, e.g., DHL, FedEx, DB Schenker, UPS.

IBIENE: What’s the future of logistics?

WINIFRED: There is an unwritten rule in every industry. Disruptive forces are always at work and will change how organizations think about technology, do business, and plan for the future. The logistics industry is no exception, as market trends will have a significant impact on it.

There are various factors we will have to consider, such as new technologies to explore and use to our advantage, as well as shifting regulations that demand new strategies and tactics for compliance. To stay ahead and remain competitive, logistics companies need to stay updated on relevant and emerging trends.

Successful companies are those that embrace the latest trends and challenges in the logistics industry and use technology effectively to capitalize on them. I believe the logistics industry will focus more on automation in the coming years. Adopting new technologies will be critical for logistics companies to remain competitive globally, where every other company wants to outdo the other.

IBIENE: You also delved into a pretty sensitive area, providing beauty for women through the sale of shapewear, what suggestions would you give for women as regards getting the right shapewear and then taking care of their body?

WINIFRED: Marpe® Xtreme Kurves is a professional shapewear brand that focuses primarily on selling premium quality, medical-grade post-surgery, and postpartum recovery garments.

Our main offerings include post-surgery fajas and compression garments, postpartum and other daily shapewear such as full body girdles, posture corrector bra tops, panty shapers, shorts, etc. We also stock post-op accessories such as Liposuction Compression Boards, Brazilian Butt Lift Pillows, Urination Devices, Massage Roller Sticks, etc.

There are different types of shapewear/ compression garments, and they all serve various purposes. The Marpe® (Xtreme Kurves) brand focuses on medical-grade compression garments for post-surgery and postpartum recovery.

We have effectively helped and catered to the recovery of patients after surgical procedures and in managing chronic medical conditions such as varicose veins, Deep Vein Thrombosis, etc.

Our goods are mostly made of 45% spandex and 55% nylon, the medical industry’s preferred elastic bandage material because of its significant compression, resilience, and elasticity.

I will specifically advise that our post-op garments are used following surgery to help with pain management, to reduce swelling and bruising, to contour the body, and to lower infection risk. Additionally, using these quality garments after surgery will help hasten the healing process and minimise the appearance of keloids.

There are four significant things to look out for to get the right Body Shaper. These are:

The material the garment is made from is something you need to consider. When it comes to material, there are many options to choose from. Most shapers for the tummy and waist are made from lightweight fabrics and materials like polyester, nylon, and spandex.

To have a breathable and more comfortable fit, since it is something you are required to wear for prolonged periods, you should select a cotton spandex or cotton-nylon blend. But you can pick rubber or spandex if you prefer a more stretchable and durable fabric.

Regardless of your chosen material, ensure it won’t overly constrict your body or aggravate your skin.

Another thing you should consider is the closure type. Most shapers have closures, usually hook-and-eye, snap closure, or zipper. Hook-and-eye closure is typically in the back of your shaper and offers the snuggest fit. While this helps you get a secure finish, it may take much work to put on and remove.

Snap closures are buttons you can snap on, which is the most convenient option. Zippers, too, are a suitable alternative; however, they may peep through clothing, and caution is advised as your skin may get jagged in the zipper. Removable straps are another welcome feature.

Sizing is vital when it comes to shapewear. I will recommend ladies try shapers before purchasing them. If you’re buying them online, it is always wise to seek guidance from the sizing chart provided by the brand.

Most women will size down when purchasing shapers, which may cause more harm than good. Sizing down may lead to tingling and numbness and, in severe circumstances, may cause rashes and skin allergies.

I always recommend knowing your body type, whether hourglass, rectangular, apple or triangle. Body shapers come in different styles. Knowing your body type will help you choose the garment that fits your needs.

IBIENE: What 5 lessons would you tell your 15-year-old self?

WINIFRED: There are so many lessons I have learned in all these years of my adult life that I will tell my 15-year-old self. But since you have asked for just 5, I will list the most remarkable ones.

  1. Firstly, I will say believe in yourself. Believing in yourself is the key to success. It is particularly important to remember that Rome was not built in a day. When you are starting out in life, it can be overwhelming because there is so much information and so much to learn. Do it afraid all the same, ride the waves. There is this quote by the late Stephen Keshi, a one-time head coach of the Country’s National Football Team, that has become like a mantra for me. He said, “People don’t have to believe in you for you to succeed. Just work hard when you succeed, they will believe”.
  • Secondly, no matter how good you are, someone is always going to be against you but never let them be the limit of your success. Every adversity, every failure, every heartbreak carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit. Everyone faces defeat. It may be a stepping stone or a stumbling block, depending on the mental attitude with which you face it. Keep looking ahead with great expectations, whatever the expectations, just look ahead.
  • A little progress each day adds up to big results. Always ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow. The secret of your future success in any area of your life is hidden in your daily routine. The more actions you take, the more rewards will follow.
  • Again, never stay focused on the frustrations because there will always be something lurking around the corner waiting to frustrate you. Faith is trusting God even when life doesn’t make any sense. Every problem can be solved and solved right if we pray. You can be afraid but learn how to go ahead anyhow.
  • Finally, if you want to make real progress, focus on skills. Choose your skills carefully because some skills are more valuable than others. Skills don’t add up, it multiplies.

Do you have any question or comment for Winifred Ezeani? Do share with us in the comment section.

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