Samoa’s largest book, stationery shop marks 10 years
Promoting education through a bookshop was the inspiration behind the establishment of the Samoa Stationery and Books on December 8, 2008.
Ten years after its opening, the company has successfully opened seven stores locally and abroad, including Samoa’s first ever megastore in Togafu’afu’a.
The company president and Chief Executive Officer, Tofilau Fiti Lafaele-Leung Wai, said the hard work is now paying off.
“All the glory is to God, for it has not been a smooth journey. But when we see the development of life through the products we sell, the people we employ, the contribution to schools, donations to non-profit organisations and I can say it is all worth it and hard work does pay off,” she said, in an interview with Sunday Samoan at her Moamoa residence.
“Stories play a vital role in the growth and development of children, and those books are a useful source of information and that good reading skills are important for success in their future lives, which has always been my foresight for our children.”
The daughter of the Late Fuimaono Lafaele Vito and Nino Tofilau Stanley, Tofilau is married to Tuatagaloa Aumua Ming Leung Wai and they have four boys: Joshua, Alrod and twins Elisha and Elijah.
A strong Christian, Tofilau credited her faith in God for overcoming various challenges over the last decade.
“It is never easy managing branches all over Samoa and of course overseas. But when time gets tough, I always pray and it brings peace, and of course my day is back to normality,” she added.
A lawyer by profession, created the bookshop and stationery company out of passion for education—and with no skills in running a business.
The company started at Tamaligi and was relocated to Lotemau in 2009.
“Due to the high demand from the public for innovative electronic products – SSAB set up its first electronic store on the ground floor of Ming and Hana building in 2010.”
“The following year, residents of Savai’i were persistent in their request for SSAB to have a branch, despite all odds and limited stock we had to open Savai’i we didn’t in 2011,” she added.
Tofilua then told the story of a Savai’i teacher who came all the way from Savai’i to purchase a stapler.
“So this teacher, caught the bus to the wharf in Salelologa, caught the ferry to Mulifanua then caught another bus to reach a store to purchase a stapler—an everyday necessity when you are a teacher. And this story depicts the difficulty of our Savai’i people to get school supplies hence opening the branch in Saleloloiga.”
Samoa’s first ever Megastore, which also serves as the company headquarters was opened in 2012. Two years later a Copy Centre was opened at Vaivase, followed by SSAB Pago in Ili’ili, American Samoa in 2015 and SSAB Sei Oriana in Auckland, New Zealand. Due to the high demand from Savai’i for printing and internet services, another branch was opened there.
During the course of the interview in Moamoa, her twin sons came running and jumped onto their mother, showing their homework on phonics.
Turning to this reporter, Tofilau said: “I have not seen them in three days…that is the sacrifice I have to make to ensure the business flows smoothly.”
She then revealed how she put her family plans on hold to focus on growing the business.
“In 2012 my husband and I agreed to have more children, but when the time came for the plan, I opted to focus on the business and put my family on hold.”
“However, as my plans are not of God’s, not long after I was blessed to be pregnant and lo and behold—not one baby but two and they are a blessing indeed.”
“They keep me grounded, Elisha and Elijah, who are very energetic and happy twin boys,” she said, smiling.
Tofilau also acknowledged the support of her husband.
“Behind every successful woman is a supportive husband. They are the push you need in life, and for Ming—a very humble person—I can say I am blessed with a great man.”
“I never looked at puffy men, I was attracted to the quiet and humble guy, who is the pillar in our family, and which is why our foundation is solid,” she added.
Going back to the success of her company, Tofilau said to date they employ close to 200 staff.
“I have a great team of people who are highly intelligent, we consult, brainstorm on our market, how to attract customers, bringing down quality products at good prices.
“We also fellowship within our team, we have a prayer room, I can confidently say our work environment is quite healthy.
“I am a firm believer that success comes when our team, prays and fellowship together,” she added.
Asked about the monetary value of their donations to the not-for-profit-organisations, Tofilau declined to say how much the company has donated.
“As I said education is the drive behind SSAB’s establishment, hence investing in scholarships. Aside from our reading programs, our social groups also donate to Mapufagalele the Home of the Elders, pediatric, the pensioners and sports,” she said.
Earlier this year, Tofilau won three awards at the annual International Samoa Business Network 2018 Awards in Auckland, New Zealand. The awards include the People’s Choice Award, Samoa-based Business of the Year Award, and the Businesswoman of the Year Award.