Soft-spoken Yvonne Okocha was seated behind her desk when I visited her luxury boutique at the Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel, Victoria Island. Her smile broadened as soon as I was ushered into a private office by her staff. The first time we met was at the Baselworld 2019 in Switzer-land. We hit it off immediately sharing our experiences on the African luxury industry.
From our conversations, I could tell Yvonne knows where she is headed in her entrepreneurial journey into luxury retail.
Yvonne’s expedition into luxury retail began when she ventured into high-end real estate after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in estate management. Afterwards, she travelled to Monaco, where she dabbled into luxury concierge services. She worked with local concierge and event companies to carter to Nigerian and African clients visiting Monaco for holiday or business.
Whenever she returned home to Nigeria for Christmas holidays, Yvonne would buy hampers from Harrods, Galleries Lafayette, Selfridges to resell. She later started getting requests from her clients to assist in purchasing Hermes Birkin and Kelly bags and other exclusive luxury goods.
After her Master’s degree in Monaco, she worked a bit for Bottega Veneta (part of the Gucci group at the time). Her experience at Bottega Veneta would mark a turning point in her decision to go into luxury retail.
“I realised there was a common denominator in all the businesses I had been involved in and that was catering to High Networth Individuals,” Yvonne tells me.
When she moved back to Nigeria, she continued her personal shopping services and also started selling Verafina customised iPhone. These are gadgets customised in gold or rosegold personalised with owners’ initials, names or company logos with diamonds.
“Eventually, I realised I had to increase my product offerings to meet the demands of my clients better and to also put some structure to the business by way of a physical retail boutique that sells everything from luxury Swiss watches, jewelry, writing instruments to leather goods (shoes, bags, luggage), accessories, bespoke gifts and hampers,” says Okocha.
Coined from her mother’s first name, Vera and Italian word ‘fina’ meaning pure or beautiful, Verafina, Luxury has a mission to provide her sophisticated clientele with exclusive curated pieces that reaffirm their status and express their personality and style through a selection of expertly curated luxury goods which epitomises her values of quality craftsmanship, exquisite designs and timeless elegance.
Verafina Luxury’s offerings but not limited to; Stefano Ricci, Berluti, Hermes, Bottega Veneta, Guiseppe Zanotti, Chanel for leather goods. While for watches, jewellery and writing instruments, we source pieces from Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Jacob & Co, Tiffany, Montegrappa and other brands.
“For jewellery, we also offer a bespoke service and work with mostly diamonds to create a unique design and piece that fits the client’s budget. We stock items for both men and women and have a personal shopping service for children and items we do not have in stock,” she says.
With a limited supply of luxury retail spaces in Lagos, Okocha believes Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel is a great place to situate her cosy store.
“When I was space shopping, my primary concern was finding a location that fit the Verafina brand DNA. I needed a place that already had filtered traffic and my target market, preferably in a luxury service cluster so we could leverage on the footfall from other businesses like hotels, restaurants, spa etc. It also needed to be discreet yet easily accessible and secure. Thankfully, the Radisson Blu Hotel in Victoria Island was a perfect fit,” she adds.
From its flagship boutique on Victoria Island, Verafina Luxury offers next day delivery to clients in other states in Nigeria, making them accessible from any part of the country. As the brand grows, Okocha says she will be looking to open more boutiques to continue catering to the needs of her clients.
Okocha tells me her experience with luxury retail in Nigeria has been a fascinating journey that comes with its challenges, but it has also been rewarding.
“From my experience, my clients are sophisticated and above all want convenience. Yes, they travel abroad and have access to these luxury brands, but they are busy C-level executives who don’t have the time to go shopping and even when they do, they might not know what to buy or what is trendy. Secondly, impulse buying and instant gratification; clients want to make purchases and receive their items immediately.”
These are the gaps that Verafina Luxury seeks to fill. “As a company that understands the concept of quality service, we focus on providing our clients with truly personalised service, she continues. “Also, Nigerians have a high appetite for luxury consumption, and as an emerging market, there are tremendous opportunities in the Nigerian luxury retail space. We have the numbers, and global brands are beginning to see the revenue potential of this market and are increasingly looking to partner with indigenous retailers like Verafina who have access to the right target audience, understand the local market, the global industry and can grow these brands locally.”
Verafina Luxury caters to the needs of High Networth Individuals (HNIs) and high-income earners. With an understanding that luxury consumption can be aspirational, they stock entry-level accessories for that market.
Owning a business in Nigeria can be challenging; Okocha has not been spared at all. She has encountered challenges in varying degrees. However, she believes “there is a high barrier to entry in the luxury retail industry, and in Nigeria, access to finance and credit is a significant challenge and when credit is available the interest rates are ridiculous. Secondly, the current foreign currency exchange rate. A few years ago, it was N150 to $1, and now it is around N360 to $1, so do the math. Thirdly, there’s a bit of a negative perception of doing business in Nigeria, getting some of the global brands to understand the revenue potential of the Nigeria market is a considerable challenge but increasingly they are catching on to the fact that Nigerians have a high appetite for luxury goods.”
In spite of the challenges, Okocha’s academic, professional background and network have provided her with the necessary access to the right people for mentorship and strategic partnerships. “I have been persistent and consistent, and I am extremely bullish in attaining my goals and objectives at every milestone in my business journey.”
The next big step for Okocha is to focus on growing the Verafina brand and positioning it as the go-to luxury shopping destination in Nigeria for exclusively curated pieces from some of the world’s most prestigious luxury brands.
Verafina Luxury is a Radisson Blu Anchorage Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Instagram: @verafinaluxury Email: firstname.lastname@example.org