In a special segment to showcase the beating heart of Somaliland’s entrepreneurial spirit, we caught up with Saeed Sheikh Omar, the owner and operator of Summertime Enterprises to get him to divulge the secret to his success and advice the next generation of Somaliland entrepreneurs.
We suspect most people in Somaliland would’ve heard of you by now, but for those of us who live under a rock, Mr. Omer, tell us a little about yourself
Thank you, and call me Saeed, Sheikh Omar was my father! The best way I can describe myself is that I am a product of Somaliland and specially my beloved city of Hargeisa.
Take us back to how you get started in business, the very beginning
Well to be honest with you, starting a business was not my first plan, like most of my generation, I tried to go overseas on multiple occasions and though at the time, I felt very unlucky, in hindsight I am very glad that it did not work out.
It was terrifying at first, but going into business requires one to take some risk, so I sold a property I owned to use the funds as seed for my very first business which was a rental car to an Aid agency and it had its challenges where I could not get a permanent job with them, so just by chance, I was driving the employees to work one day and I saw a construction site which is where my restaurant is today and the rest is history.
What I learned when I look back and I am always mindful of how I got here, is you do your best when your back is against the wall.
What where some of the challenges in growing the business?
Distance was a big challenge for us, Summertime was the further restaurant in the city when we opened it, most people back in those days would go to the downtown area Gargaar area and the furthest would be Haraf and Ming Sing restaurants, and Summertime is a lot further than those so having people to come to Summertime was a challenge, not everyone drove back in those days.
The other major challenge of being in the hospitality business in general is knowing your customers, it took a bit of trial and error, for instance we started with just snacks at first and we saw many customers come in at night and turn around and leave. We had to quickly understand what the customers want and how to effective attract and retain customers . I think overcoming this challenge is to this day our secret sauce.
You have a construction of a large hotel in the Jijiga Yar area? Are you ready to challenge the big hotels in Hargeisa?
Naturally, I am a competitive guy but there is enough business for everyone in the hospitality industry in Hargeisa, after all it is the capital of Somaliland. From the mom who makes 50 Sambusas a day to Mansoor and anything in between.
Our hotel has been coming along for quite a while and everyone thought I went insane in embarking on a project of this scale, I think the fruits of our labor are nearing completion.
Our secret weapon has always been customer service with a personal touch, unlike the large hotels and entertainment venues in the country, while I have employees I personally run my businesses and attend to the smallest details. I think this is where we beat the competition who are mostly not involved in their business and are reliant on employees making major decisions.
Elaborate the last point, your secret weapon
Well, hospitality is a happy business, and unhappy customer will never come back to an establishment where they don’t think they were treated right. Unless you love the business you are in, chances of success are very low.
For instance, whether you are in my restaurant with your family or attending a wedding at our Green Plaza, we make sure our customers have the very best. It warms my heart when I see a bride and a groom having the best night of their life and we took a small part of making it as perfect as possible.
I have many friends who started a restaurant, a guesthouse or other types of businesses only to close down in a short period of time, it is not that they are not good at what they are doing, it is just that their heart was not in it. This is what I tell every entrepreneur , if you don’t love something, don’t do it because the end result will show.
So Our hotel, when it opens soon insha Allah, will be very different in many ways. Look, anyone can stick a bed in a room and call it a hotel, we are working to get international certifications to make sure our guests have the best amenities in Somaliland including an swimming pool.
Summertime Enterprises is a set of businesses that all build on one another, from the restaurant, the event venue, apartments and again very soon insha Allah the Hotel which will tie it all together.
What would you tell a young person who is aspiring to immigrate to western countries?
I have nothing against going overseas, but right now, Somaliland is where opportunities are. I ran into good friends of mine who are moving back from every corner of the globe back to Somaliland looking for opportunities. This is when I know I have made the right decision to stay and trust the motherland.
My advise to the young people is start a business, the size of the business does not matter, what matters is your passion for it and how much time you are willing to invest. Do what your peers would not do, that’s trick! do what others think is hard and stick with it and I guarantee that you will surprise what you can accomplish. And if you fail, do it all over again!