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‘How foreigners are taking our opportunities’

When did you start this business?

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It has been in existence since 2002. That is 16 years ago.  It is a family business and my husband asked me to join him.

What were the challenges you faced when you started? And how did you handle them to get to this point?

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Becoming a household name and getting people to patronise the business was a challenge. But one major thing that helped us was when the Obasanjo regime banned the importation of furniture; that was when we saw a springing up of furniture companies in Abuja.  In Abuja then, real estates’ business was booming because a lot of construction work was going on in the new capital city. So we were able to have our footing and grow our business.

The business started from a humble beginning in our home and the premises where we lived. Our living room was the show room. Now we are in a 2000 square kilometres show room space. And we are presently in Abuja and Lagos.

We are still in the process of becoming a full-time success. Technology, machinery have helped us grow but maintenance of the machines is a big challenge. All businesses have electricity issue and fluctuation of power affects the machines. The machines need consistent maintenance and we need skilled personnel to help maintain them.

Also, access to finance to expand is a challenge. Hence, we have to rely on the jobs we are getting whose profit margins are not much because of the intense competition we have in the market. Those are the challenges. And the environment too contributes because of challenges in the ease of doing business.  You can put a vehicle on the road to deliver goods in Bwari but you are not sure it will get there because of challenges with task force and other things.

 What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who see access to finance as a challenge?

A lot of the time, it easy to say access to finance is a challenge, but we really need to X-ray the business to see if money is the real issue we are having. When you do an X-ray, you ask yourself if there are solutions to the issues you’re having as opposed to going after a loan.  Because most of the time, some businesses don’t need a loan. They can be issues they can handle by negotiating with suppliers or negotiate better payment terms with their customers. What I am saying is that we have to be innovative about how we do business in Nigeria. Because the reality is that the way people do business is changing. 

Customers are becoming more sophisticated; their knowledge level is becoming higher. So, do you even understand what they need? Or you just provide what you think they need! Sometimes, we produce some items, and in a day, they are sold out, and again we have some items that stay long. That is why I said we are yet to get to the level of success that we want. But what we have to do is learn very fast. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but pick yourself up and keep moving.

 What are the key lessons you have learnt thus far?

Like I said, don’t berate yourself too much about mistakes you have made in the past. Learn very fast from them.

Also, don’t let other people’s failure determine your success. You can learn from it and pay attention to it, but don’t let it inhibit you. 

Opportunities are right before us but most times, we tend to overlook them.  We discard them and say they are not important.  Don’t be afraid of exploring and doing the research that is needed. Don’t always look for the easy way out because there is no easy way. Because that thing that looks so easy and juicy may be a trap. And when you just dabble into it, it would end up costing you a lot. So do your research, test what you want to do, and make sure it is what people want; make sure you are providing what people want. It’s not all about you.  Find that need and make sure you are meeting that need, whether service or product. Then you will make profit at that end of the day.

 How have you been able to grow the business, despite competition?

We have been able to grow organically.  Our growth has been organic in such a way that we are sustaining it so we are not backpedaling in any way.  Because we are growing organically, we have been able to understand our clientele to a large degree and know what they want. That is the key to any success.  We did not grow very fast. If we were 16 years in other countries or an organised environment, we know where we would have been by now. Things like infrastructure have affected our business but our plan is to transform the business a thousand times what we are doing right now. To be a house-hold name in Nigeria and beyond the borders of Nigeria in specialised furniture.   

 Are you solely a made-in-Nigeria products company?

 We import  some furniture components, but everything is made here.

Do you get the required skills for the job in Nigeria?

Some of our staff are trained here and some learn on the job. Some of them come here unskilled but we have expatriate staff that train. A lot of it is learning on the job. We also have structured training programme for our staff because we don’t have a lot of training institutions for people who want to learn furniture making.  

What is your staff strength?

We are 45.

What advice do you have for that start-up that is just beginning?

People say it a lot but it is not enough. Focus on the positives. There are a lot of positives in our society but we focus on the negatives. The negative overwhelm the positives so we don’t see the opportunities there. And foreigners are coming and taking these opportunities right under our noses. Whatever is driving you or making you want to provide that product or service, keep focusing on that. Don’t allow the environment to discourage you because Aliko Dangote  and MTN  are operating in the same environment.

What is the vision of Necas Network of Entrepreneurial Women NNEW?  And having taken over as chair of Abuja chapter, what do you hope to achieve?

NNEW is Necas Network of Entrepreneurial Women. NECA is Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association. What they do is add to the employers just like the unions add to the employees; we are the women arm of NECA.

What we are established to do is to empower women to build businesses that will last for generations. And for them to do that, we train them to build structures in their businesses, and we encourage them to run their businesses the way they should be run and have businesses like the Coca-cola of the world . If you look at it, women are doing one business or the other even while doing their jobs. So there is this entrepreneurial spirit in women.

NNEW has been in Abuja for about 10 years now. I was the first vice chair when it was set up. What we want to do as executives coming in now is help women have scalable businesses. We have done a lot of training for women via workshops, trainings and online learning that we provide. So, what we are now saying is that we want to improve  the quality of these businesses, because we have noticed that women get comfortable doing businesses at a certain level.  So we want to increase the quality of these businesses. 

But for us to achieve this vision, we have to push the women to that next level; we want them to  get to that point that their businesses are scalable – that is grow, become bigger – so to get them there, there are certain things we have to teach them. After training some are able to implement just a certain percentage of what they learnt  so we know that it is ‘the doing’ that matters. 

We have decided to have a study faculty, and we have business clinics. We are providing mentorship programmes in the faculty for the women.  We tell them to have goals for their businesses and encourage them to attain the milestones. 

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