Rakiyat Odunsi is the CEO of Interior Dimensions, a woodwork company. Her vision for promoting made-in-Nigeria products drove her into manufacturing woodwork which can compete favourably with the imported variety. In this interview, she spoke on what will make the furniture industry in Nigeria thrive.
Why did you decide to go into woodworks production?
I am woodwork and an interior designer, a wife and a mother of three amazing children.
I worked with an Israeli and a Nigerian firm for about 15 years. Though I studied accounting, while working as a sales person, I discovered that I was always interested in the doors they sold. I was curious about what makes their doors different from a regular door in the market. I was inquisitive about what makes the foreign doors we import more unique. So actively, I started my own woodwork business in 2015. I acquired a lot of knowledge while working with the companies. And because of the standard I saw, I knew that we can produce something better than what we were importing.
When I started out, I wanted to be a middle ‘’man’’; that is connecting the buyer to the manufacturer. Looking out for companies that were producing high standard quality products. But some of the companies did not know the importance of making their products of standard. That pushed me into going into the business myself. I started importing, and later, I went into manufacturing by partnering with other local manufacturers. We still produce but import some items based on what the client wants.
My vision is to see that local manufacturers meet up with foreign standards. We partner with local manufacturers to see that they get the basic techniques and produce up to standard.
Did you get a formal training for this business?
After I started my business I had this desire to know more, so I went to the school of interior designs and furniture making in Lagos. Also, I listened to the artisans and I have friends that are into manufacturing. We are manufacturing but not on a large scale yet.
How did you get funds to start?
I raised funds myself. We had clients that trust us and paid us part of what they ordered for and then we made supplies with that, but we still got a facility from Diamond Bank when we did our first importation to clear what we had. They also funded our office equipment, they bought the computers for us and ACs and more.
How would you say the patronage is for made in Nigeria goods?
The earning power of Nigerians has increased. Nigerians from the middle class to the upper class are not just looking for any products; they are looking for high quality products made in Nigeria. Patronage for Nigerian goods has increased from 40% to 80% in woodworks. Also, in the fashion industry, Nigerians are patronizing more of made in Nigeria goods. But you know the higher class still prefer luxury products which are mostly imported.
For some made-in-Nigeria products, the challenge is poor finishing. And most of the things used to produce quality woodworks are imported; the nets, handles, edging, boards, keys are all imported. We still rely on the foreign market. The only thing Nigeria does is coupling. The machines we used for manufacturing are also imported.
How has technology enhanced your business?
Technology is everything. It has expanded our creativity, it has given us an understanding to know what is happening around us. It gives us privilege to connect with other people in our field. Technology has made my work easy. I can use my phone to do my drawings and make presentations on the phone. Another way technology has helped is in my accounting system. I can type my receipt on my phone. My client does not need to wait for a physical receipt.
About 50% of our clients do not come to the office. They contact us by phone, on social media, by mail, we then send them pictures of what we have and then, we negotiate. They can send drawings, measurements and other specifications as well.
What is the secret of successful business?
Consistency, patience and passion. The Nigerian environment is very challenging, so you also have to be creative. Also, success lies on you retraining yourself as the CEO as well. Also remember to be creative.
You studied Accounting, at what point did you decide to go fully into business.
I did my OND with University of Abuja, and then HND at Benue State Polytechnic. But all the while, I was already working. I just did the course to have a certificate. I am more of a creative person. I am more hands-on. I like doing things with my hands, so it was in me.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurship startups?
If they have not gotten any formal training in any field they have interest in, they should do an internship. I say this because sometimes, I look back and think about when I had opportunity to work with a woodwork firm, but I did not take it serious. If you do internship with any industry you intend to do business in, it gives you hands-on experience. It will eliminate a lot of mistakes as a start-up. And your growth will be steady.
But secondly, they should go into partnership. They should do a lot of synergy. In this industry, you can’t do it all. Partnership is key. Also, have integrity and trust.
My husband is a more practical person. He has eyes for good finishing. He is a civil engineer but we partner. So, most times I ask for his input before I deliver a job.
How do you think we can support and improve innovations in Nigeria?
Any business that has been established more than five years should do more of training. Open your does for people to come in to do internship. They should allow young people to come in and do internship; we should open up and bring in more young people who are very innovative and creative.
Where do you see your business in the next five years?
I see this business as a hub for the woodwork industry; where people in the industry will come to us for ideas, partnerships and we will be able to connect them with the right people. I see Interior Dimensions occupying a big space in the industry. I want Interior Dimensions to be a hub for creativity promoting Nigerian made products.
How do you juggle family and business?
I thrive on family and trusted friends’ support. I have people with me who have supported me on the home front and my husband has been very supportive. He understands and supports me. I also carry the children along.