Small businesses are the lifeblood of developing economies. And as Africa’s emerging markets continue to record steady growth figures, the pertinence of SMEs to sustained economic progression cannot be overstated.
In Nigeria, young, bold micro entrepreneurs continue to defy infrastructural limitations, cashing in on opportunities and feeding the demand culture of society, despite an array challenges. One of such entrepreneurs is Chukwuemeka Oji, the founder of fast-rising furniture maker, Dazzle Furniture. From tech to fashion, Nigerian youths are gradually embracing entrepreneurship. Influenced by zeitgeist, they’re starting small, but dreaming big. “When you get out of school, the best way is to start something small. It helps you learn while you climb the ladder,” says Oji.
“Don Oji”, as he likes to be addressed, appears boyish spotting a shirt, pants and a converse sneaker but his business acumen defies his leisurely looks. When asked about what inspired him to start a business, Oji remarks, “philosophy plays a part here. Wanting to create opportunity/jobs for others, we tapped into an avenue no one knows.“ According to Oji, In Nigeria, architects hardly go into carpentry. Most of them end up as designers for companies. Thus, armed with his late father’s philosophy: “Whatever you do, make sure it is something that is self-employing”, and a can do spirit, he launched a furniture making business against the odds.
The Nigerian economy houses several SMEs, albeit not much are thriving. The country’s economy may be recording steady growth rates with more foreign investments, but economists argue that the focus is more on the major sectors: oil, banking, power and manufacturing. Thus, for small businesses like Oji’s to survive competition from the big players (Julius Berger is a major player in furniture business), they have to be innovative.
Dazzle furniture had to become a “carpenters carpenter” to survive, Oji says. This reflects the level of support given to small businesses in Nigeria. “If you don’t want to be crushed by the big players, you had better start with small innovative ideas than will ultimately launch you.” Dazzle Furniture leveraged on innovation. They found a new market and began to perfect the jobs of other local carpenters in Abuja and its environs. Soon enough, they were able to raise N5.5 million as startup capital.
According to him, the company carried out a feasibility study and found that there are no places where commercial carpentry is done in Abuja. However, they also didn’t have enough money for the machinery needed to start-up. “We had no formal business plan and little or no contacts. But we noticed every other furniture company didn’t support smaller companies. So we decided to start out by supporting smaller carpenters, instead of waiting endlessly for a big contract.” They made a list of machines needed and prioritized which one should be bought first.
With a smile informed by nostalgia, Oji goes on to recount start up days. “We did drawings, coupling and designs. Carpenters didn’t have the machinery so they all came to us to do their production. By then, we started a little marketing and delved into our Abuja network.”
Chuwkuemka Oji has arguably succeeded in building one of the most innovative furniture companies in Abuja and is currently partnering with Turkish professionals in the industry as Dazzle Furniture looks to expand. He’s also keen to encourage and educate other sspiring small business owners on the path to follow. When asked for steps he’ll advise budding entrepreneurs to take, he listed some poignant points:
– “Be very positive – progress or failure is in the mindset. Deal with all negativity. It will weigh you down if given the chance.”
– “Don’t blame anyone for your failure. Take responsibilities and make changes quickly.”
– “Balance your ideas and creativity with sound business/financial strategy and understanding.”
– “Finance is not everything. You must have passion for what you want to do. Take time to think. Write. Plan. Think again, and again until things are clearer.”
– “Reputation matters. Start building a strong brand name from day one.”
He, again, reiterated how important it is to be passionate about business especially during early months of start up . “For small businesses to survive, they must be powered by passion”, Oji says. Creating your own happiness, by doing what interests you, you remain motivated even when the chips are down.
The company also realizes its role in human capacity development. “We know how important our workers are to us, so we invest in their development,” he says. Although vocational schools is often derided in Nigeria, the company manages to put young men through vocational training in furniture making till they can gradually stand on their own.
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