Sunil Kumar is the Director, Consumer Electronics, Samsung Electronics West Africa, Ltd. At the just concluded Samsung Africa Forum in Monaco, Kumar spoke with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, on the strategic importance of Nigeria’s market to the South Korean firm, amidst other industry germane issues.
Can you shed light on some of Samsung’s challenges in Nigeria so far?
Definitely there are challenges, but as a very strong brand, we are coping and coping well. Firstly, I think in the health sector, the issue of Ebola virus scared virtually everybody, but thank God, the country successfully overcame the scourge. The other challenge has to do with the economy; I mean the fluctuation of the naira. But we are equally coping.
How have you been able to address them?
The Nigerian authorities successfully contained the Ebola scourge. However, in our own space, we actually did all what we could to prevent employees contacting the virus. We took some measures in our offices to prevent contacting the virus, which everybody sticked to. We equally told our partners on the dos and don’ts around Ebola. Samsung actually partnered Etisalat on Ebola prevention. We provided gadgets on how to curtail the menace.
On the currency fluctuation, there is little that we could do to remove the risk around it. We had to manage the risk without exposing ourselves too much and our partners. There was actually little we can do as regards that.
How will you describe Samsung’s market share in Nigeria amidst fierce competition from other brands?
As far as the consumer electronics market is concern, Nigeria is actually Samsung’s biggest market out of Africa. When I say this, it is probably bigger than South Africa. This is because South Africa has reached a saturation point.
From a growth perspective, Nigeria is the focus now and in times to come. Our focus is not even about competition, but the ability to service efficiently and effectively the Nigerian market. We have made huge investments in the country both on corporate citizenship side and market space that we occupy.
South Africa and Egypt have Samsung’s manufacturing plants, when are we going to have a plant in Nigeria?
Setting up a manufacturing plant requires having some certain capacities that it could deliver. When citing a plant, it is not about the country alone, there is need to consider the neighboring markets and how well we are able to service those markets from the facility.
So, it is more about the assessment and doing it at the right time. The choice of Egypt and South Africa was because the two countries don’t cater for their own markets alone. For instance, the South African plant also caters for markets including Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and other countries within that region.
The plant in Egypt currently services the demand in Nigeria. In the past, majority of our products used to come from our plant in Vietnam, but that has now moved to Egypt. I think it is representative enough to show how we are trying to move to markets in this region as quick as possible. I can’t really say when we are going to have a plant in Nigeria. I am not privy to that information. But I think with time something will happen, especially looking at the need to cater for the ECOWAS region. Egypt plant actually came up last year. So Africa has two.
Nigeria is a strategic market to Samsung and would remain so, but because of larger economies of scale, well developed infrastructure network and tax reliefs, Samsung had to start with South Africa and Egypt.
So many innovations have been showcased at the Africa forum, from latest washing machines to televisions, mobiles, among others. What is Samsung doing to popularise these innovations?
For the past six years, some of these products have to do with addressability across segments. From what you have seen at the forum, we have products for naturally all the market segments.
Samsung is doing its best to address all the markets. We also cater for the entry markets. Samsung is not just a premium brand; we try as much as possible to get the message across to the people that we serve all market segments. Samsung is an aspirational brand and is about everybody being able to afford its products. Our products are accessible and affordable.
One thing we have come to realize is that once a Nigerian sees a product, which is appealing to his or her needs, he or she goes for it. So it is more about understanding the consumer and his or her wants.
Our strategy is to tailor products to meet consumer demands and expectations. For instance, we know that power is still a challenge in Africa, which is the reason we have TV sets that are surge and lightening protected. We have addressed challenges around our TVs with new modules such that anybody can now enjoy and have a better TV experience.
What are Samsung’s footprints in Nigeria?
Samsung has an engineering academy in Nigeria, which is operated in partnership with the Lagos State government. We also in April 2015, launched the first digital village in Oban, Cross Rivers State, providing innovative healthcare and education services to community members.
Our engineering academy targets 100 graduate engineers per academic year. As part of follow up, Samsung will after the process, employ some of the engineers and also provide other forms of opportunities for others.
Samsung currently has 39 manufacturing plants spread across the globe, targets empowerment for 84,000 young people with necessary ICT skills from 2013 to 2019, across the globe. The engineering academies are expected to fast track the entry of African youths into the electronics job market and thereby reduce the shortage of scarce skills in the IT industry.