Gbemisola Elekula is the Managing Director of Dream Home, an interior design company that also deals in soft furniture, art and fragrances. In this interview, the banker-turned entrepreneur shares how she turned her hobby, into a money-making business. Read excerpts:
How did you transition from being a banker, to an interior designer?
I’ve always been fascinated by beautiful spaces and banking was never really what I wanted to do. It was a means to an end. So what I did then was to work weekdays and then go and style people’s homes during the weekends. Then I was doing it more of pro bono (at no cost); seeing people’ satisfaction was enough payment for me. So
I always knew that it was what I wanted to do. So, during the weekdays I’ll go to the bank and during the weekends, focus on decorating homes. I also had to go back to school, nurse my kids and by the time the last one got into school, I fully went into business.
I travelled to the US and I went to a shop where I saw plain pillow covers on sale. So I bought them and decided when I got back to Nigeria, I’d decorate them to look nice. I started sewing buttons on them and used them in my living room. I thought of making a business of it at the time, but I told myself that it was furniture I wanted to do.
So, I went into the wood and fabric market, did my research on everything on making furniture. And I saw this man selling pillows with very local covers, and saw people pricing the pillows. That’s when I said this is actually a business that many people haven’t looked into.
How far would you say you have come since you started?
After I left the bank and became pregnant, I started my MBA in 2013. After completing it in 2014, I thought I could buy other people’s stuff and retail them. So I wanted to create a website for people who were selling all these home accessories and provide a platform for them to sell their wares. But what hindered me was inventory taking; how do we keep up with what we’ve sold? But I didn’t have the capacity then so I ditched it and started making pillows. But we’ve grown since then.
From 2015, that’s when we started producing our own items like couch pillows and then we started dispenser bottle covers, sleeping pillows, blankets, kitchen mats, front door mats, table runners, pillows for babies, and started retailing art works and we now have a gallery. We’ve also gone into customised fragrances.
What were the main challenges you faced since starting, and have you overcome them?
I started the manufacturing aspect with N30,000. When I left the bank, I wasn’t paid a lot of money so I found myself really short of capital and I’m grateful for that, to some extent, as it helped me plan better. Imagine if I had so much cash at my disposal! It helped me become very strategic; I budgeted everything accordingly. I didn’t even own one machine then. I had to outsource to the person making them and give her commission. And any small money I got from any other thing went into the business to make another batch.
Nigerians also haven’t done the needful in patronising Nigerian brands. It’s still about that false perception that if it’s foreign, it’s of better quality. But people are coming around and are impressed when they buy and even ask if the products are imported.
How do you think women can harness their entrepreneurial spirit?
The first thing I’d like to say is identify that thing that you want to do and you know you’re good at. Someone may say she has reached a level of success because she was making pillows, and by the time they don’t turn over that profit, they start wondering what went wrong. You have to have a passion for whatever you’re doing. Breathe whatever it is you do. When that is in place, then discipline comes into play. Yes, you work for yourself and there’s no one to tell you what to do and undo, so you think it’s okay to slack around.
I always tell people that the attitude you have to your work and the approach you have greatly affects how it will go.
How profitable have you found this business?
Every home needs a touch of décor and glamour; every home needs to smell nice and Dream Homes provides the accessories to do this. We’re just trying to make every little thing to make a difference in your home; to make it a happier place, we want Dream Home to provide that.
Where do you see Dream Homes in the next few years?
Like I said, our end vision is a one-stop shop for every home-related need. We plan to introduce more product lines. In the next 15 years, we will definitely not be there, because we would have expanded. We’ll be bigger. I’m seeing us grow big and I’m enjoying the journey. I didn’t go in with all the technical know-how. I’ve been learning along the line. I’ve made my own mistakes and learnt from them; it’s part of the journey. We won’t have our competitors get a single dime from our customers.