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Jean-Paul Feghali, CEO of IMEXCO talks about the challenges and rewards in selling premium brands in Ghana, impact of COVID-19 and more

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Jean-Paul Feghali certainly knows what it takes to run a business with a strong family heritage.  He is the CEO of IMEXCO Ghana Ltd, a company that was created by his late father, who came to Ghana in 1990.

Jean-Paul started part of his education in Ghana but completed it in France.  When he completed his studies, he decided to join the family business and he has been based in Ghana since then. He has also become a naturalized Ghanaian.

Mr Feghali holds two Masters degrees in International Project Management from the ESCP Business School, Paris and another in Finance from La Sorbonne University, Paris.

IMEXCO Ghana has been the leading distributor of some of the most distinguished and prestigious beverages in Ghana for the last three decades. The company has an extensive knowledge of the local market, and an exhaustive repertoire of exclusive drinks.

We caught up with Jean-Paul Feghali to find out the journey, the challenges, the successes and the future for IMEXCO Ghana Ltd.

Zeinat Ishahaku interviews Jean-Paul Feghali, CEO of IMEXCO

Zeinat Ishahaku interviews Jean-Paul Feghali, CEO of IMEXCO

What has been the journey so far for you and your business?

In terms of business, there will always be challenges but that is what makes it interesting. The start of the business from my experience in Ghana was a lot of mixed feelings about inclusion and also self-discovery. There was minimum mentoring, because my father passed away a few months after I had joined the business. So, I was exposed a lot of the time and by myself.

With my background in Economics and finance, I had a good foundation but of course, doing business especially in Ghana or Africa, you need additional competence and qualities such as understanding the market, human interactions and customer care. But the fact is that when the environment is good for business, it pays off.

What major successes have you scored since you took over the business from your father?

We have been able to develop the company from where it was to where it is today. With our beverage division for instance, which I run, we have been able to identify the needs of the market and satisfied them by introducing new products and identifying new channels.

This has made the company one of the leading companies in our sector. For instance, we were the first to introduce a real brand of coffee in Ghana. We initiated this with the very famous brand called “Illy”, and this also informed the market about how it is done around the world. Today, Ghana has been able to catch up. This has been one of our major achievements, in addition to all the work we have been doing on champagne and cognac activations.

We have been able to add more events and today, we have one of the best portfolios because we also supply other products in partnership with reputable beverage organizations such as the Campari Group. We also have a studio where we train baristas, bartenders and waiters; we elaborate on cocktails and menus with them. The studio based in Labone, Accra is one of a kind. It is also the only one in West, East and Central Africa.

On top of that, we also have a nice line of soft drinks. We distribute Pepsi and other products like energy drinks and fruit juices.  We are always looking for new and innovative products. Our company has always been associated with very famous and iconic international brands. And this is the way forward. We believe the market of Ghana will continue to grow, and we want to always be a part of it, and be a major leader in the sector.

How do you choose which brands to work with in Ghana?

Historically, we started with the LVMH brands, which are the very famous -Don Perignon, Hennessy, Moet Chandon e.t.c, and then we added some wines. The wines are from popular premium brands.

We add brands by attending exhibitions or beverage fairs outside Ghana. When we find a brand we like, we approach them and introduce ourselves. The fact that we already have a nice portfolio makes it easy for the brands to also want to attach themselves to us. This was how we added other brands like Illy and the soft drinks.  

There are some brands that do not want to expand into Ghana. For instance, some Japanese spirit brands seem not to be ready for  the African market or not on their priority list. Sometimes we also find resistance from brands that are not ready for our market. So, we always look out for the brands that are ready.

Most of your brands are seen to be luxury, how easy or difficult is it to market luxury in Ghana?

You are very right that our brands are premium and therefore the sales in terms of numbers are not going to be high.  But the fact that premium has good value; you don’t need to spend much to reach a good turnover. You also have to accept that Ghana is among the top ten countries in terms of biggest GDP in Africa and it is at a level where you can have customers ranging from middle class to premium to more high class, that want to have a nice drink and want to be associated with our drinks, which are leaders globally.

The market is growing because we have new customers every year. Each year, young people become of age because we have a young population in Ghana. We believe that the future is positive.

What has been the impact of Coronavirus on your business since most of the activities that support your brands are on hold? 

Definitely, we are severely affected. Our companies operate from both off-trade and on-trade channels. With off-trade, the customers get the product directly from supermarkets, wine shops, and wholesalers. But with on-trade, customers buy our drinks through an umbrella such as restaurants, hotels, and nightclubs, which is the sector that has mostly been affected because of the lockdown. Sales have dropped and people are now more scared to go out.

Off-trade has not gone down because people can still go to the supermarket to buy drinks, and drink at home. The habit of drinking is done more outside of the house, so that part of our business has been hardly hit. We don’t know how long it would take for us to recover.

What have you done creatively around it?

As an organization, what our executives did was to make sure that we maintained our staff on the job. Some had to work from home but we made sure that over 90% of our staff were still kept on the job. We understood that it was important to support the staff of the organization during these challenging times.

We also developed the cash-van system, where you call and we can deliver to your home. We gave customers a break by delivering to them free of charge. We also extended credit to those in the hospitality industry, just to know that they had stock but weren’t able to move it because of the lockdown. We are also trying to push online sales.

You are also in Ivory Coast, how is the business sector in Ghana compared to Ivory Coast?

I think the interesting part about Ghana is that it is an English speaking country. English-speaking countries are more driven by the market forces and dynamics. Meaning that, if you are serious and you do a good job you can have your chance. In Ivory Coast and other countries, if you are not very strong or powerful, it is difficult for you to succeed.

That’s why we believe that Ghana is one of the best places in Africa to invest; and I’m not saying this because I live here. I strongly encourage my colleagues and business partners to come and open up businesses in Ghana. I believe that Ghana has gotten better over the years.

What are some of the policies that you would encourage the government to put in place to help private businesses grow?

For all the years that my company has been in Ghana, we have seen that the government has always tried ways to assist private businesses but there are a lot of things that can be improved. We businessmen are on the field and we know what areas we need support in, and we think Ghana has a competitive advantage over other countries. So, I think having a business community close to the stakeholders, who take decisions, can only help us to air our issues and find solutions to them. At the end of the day, we want Ghana to grow.

Five or ten years ago, Ghana wasn’t part of the top 10 biggest GDP leaders in Africa but, now it is. How can we, the business community, make Ghana top three? These are all targets that we would like to push and reach. Because, the more the country gets bigger, the more the company gets richer and the more opportunities for other businesses.

What are your final words to brands that would like to be represented by you in the future?

At IMEXCO, we have a very strong relationship with the brands we represent. We consider them as partners and we invest in them. If any brands will like to join us, we will always look at their profile and motivation to enter the Ghanaian market and make sure to find opportunities and give them our full support and expertise to make them successful.

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