A university lecturer turned entrepreneur, Mrs Bukola Adeshina, is the MD, A & Shine International Limited, a company that has become a household name in Nigeria and other parts of the world in the production and packaging of natural honey. In this interview, Adeshina spoke on what has kept the business going.
Tell us about the business you do.
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We are into bee keeping, honey packaging and we also have honey infused with other natural products like ginger, garlic and moringa. We also have other beehive products like the beeswax. Recently, we accessed other products like cashew nuts, peanut, and some essential oils like coconut oil, moringa oil and sesame oil.
What would you say gives you an edge over your competitors?
Sincerity would be the first thing. Looking into what motivated me to start this, it was when I had an operation. The doctor told me to use pure natural honey as it will help me heal faster and for the scar not to be visible. However I couldn’t get the original honey needed for that purpose as prescribed. Most of what people sell around as natural honey is actually adulterated. The search was not easy but I finally got the quality I needed. At a point, I was to travel to Saudi Arabia and I bought it in large quantity. When I took it to the market, I realized that it was appreciated. Gradually, I started supplying supermarkets and kiosks.
Some supermarkets asked me about the NAFDAC number and I approached NAFDAC.
What were the hurdles you crossed with NAFDAC to register your products?
I met some people from the Ministry of Science and Technology, who were from the Incubation Technology Centres.
They were able to help us and all they required was available space, fumigation, and others which were already available at the incubation centres. We just had to take our products there and invite NAFDAC; and we met the other requirements.
So, it made it so easy to get the NAFDAC registration. You know we started with just honey and it became boring. Along the line, we added other products like ginger and garlic. And at the comfort of your home, you can get it easily. With that addition we never knew that the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC) was also interested in what we were doing but we got an award in it in 2002.
What motivated you to go into business despite a lucrative lecturing job?
I was a lecturer at the Federal University of Technology, Minna but I realised that I had the traits of an entrepreneur which I got from my mother who is an entrepreneur. I also thought that in the comfort of my home I can do my business. Those were some of the factors that made me to resign my job as a lecturer and follow my dream.
We moved out and tried to see how this product will get to all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. We came to Abuja and stayed in Kuje where we got a land for farming. With God helping us, it has been wonderful so far.
Agencies like the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) helped us. The council took us on trips when they were going for international exhibitions. The basic thing is to try to maintain quality and not to make your product too expensive. We realised that to treat a wound with sugar is to cause more problem so we did not compromise.
We have our own laboratory where we could test and be sure this is real honey. This made the USAID to partner with us and they have been helpful in the area of capacity building and training. We have been trying to enlighten our local farmers to use the smoker rather than just burning the bush because burning the bush to harvest the honey denatures and adulterates and it is not accepted internationally.
What advice do you have for the young women entrepreneurs?
I will tell young entrepreneurs to get their records properly. When we started, the incubation centres taught us a lot on record keeping. This will help so that at a point, when you need to approach a bank for funds, it would be easy. Thank God for one of the commercial banks then that had the COT free banking system which we leveraged on and opened an account. To borrow money wasn’t an issue then. We were the one saying no to the offer.
For the first time we were able to access a N100,000 loan from the Bank of Agriculture in Minna. We repaid the money and they were impressed. We actually approached them again and got well over N30 million. As long as you have your records straight, people would come looking for you. If you maintain your quality and good packaging you will stay in business; your labelling, packaging and branding matter in staying in business.
Nigeria is really blessed, that is why if I hear people say there is nothing to do it really sounds funny because there are a thousand and one things you can do especially in the agricultural sector. You can decide to be buying and selling, or even packaging. There are lots of things you can do in the comfort of your home.
I advise women entrepreneurs to join associations and get information from there. It helps to get information on how to source for materials, packaging and other things you may need for your business. I joined the African Women Entrepreneurship Programme (AWEP) and that has helped me a lot. They set an online platform where we can showcase our products for people to see and we are able to get information with that.
What challenges do you face in doing business, especially with the present economic situation?
Challenges will always come but if you are ready to take correction, you would succeed. Even in the home front, when you show understanding, things would work better and your partner will be able to support you. And when it comes to business, so long as you are sure of your product, you are an authority there. When people want to override you, your products will speak for you.
You won an award during the national MSME award recently, how did receive the recognition?
It was actually a very big surprise. The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has been very helpful, particularly in the manufacturing sector. There is this SME clinic that he runs all over the nation. He attends the meetings himself to speak with us and ask of the challenges we face. He also checks our products. During the clinic, agencies like NAFDAC, SON, BOI and others would be present and entrepreneurs would tell them about their challenges. Must times, it is one-on-one discussions and it has actually helped the manufacturing companies. That has really helped because before, NAFDAC registration could take years but now it is possible within months. The ease of doing business has actually improved.
It was based on that and to encourage those in business, despite challenges of lack of water and electricity that they wanted to encourage us through the award. They advertised for different categories and received over 300,000 entries from MSMEs across the country. It was a surprise that we were awarded Nexim bank MSME award in agriculture 2nd position. It was actually a good surprise a morale booster and call to greater productivity.