Mejire Arubayi serves as the Contract Manager at WOODstyles Limited, a renowned joinery and fit-out company committed to delivering high-quality woodwork for luxury products. In this role, he provides strategic direction while also remaining actively engaged in overseeing project needs.
Mejire’s impressive portfolio showcases notable projects, including the development of 5-star hotels in Lagos, Oyo, and Abuja. Of particular significance is his leadership on the Envoy Hotel Development project in Abuja, where he successfully collaborated with a team of consultants to redesign and plan an existing structure into a 5-star boutique hotel. His responsibilities encompassed a wide range of tasks, such as reviewing designs, producing essential drawings and documents, managing procurement, and ensuring seamless installation. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, he speaks on how the foreign exchange rate is affecting the joinery companies in Nigeria and how WOODstyles has implored innovative ways to survive and stand out in the market.
What is WOODstyles about ?
WOODstyles is a bestspoke Joinery and fit-out company and we produce doors, wardrobes, kitchens, work stations, bookshelves and everything that is basically made from wood, for your house, office, restaurants, hospitals and anywhere else. This is basically what we do. We are project based and we are not a furniture company. Everything is built up to clients requirements including heights, colour, taste and whatever it is that the client wants, so long as you have a design, we build to your specification. We can do a whole house with doors, wardrobes, kitchens, houses or a villa etc. That is why I said we are a project based company.
How is the continuous rise in foreign exchange affecting your business?
It has a massive effect. Unfortunately, we are suffering from all sides. The price of diesel and petroleum have also gone up. The foreign exchange we use to buy raw materials has gone up and so many other things are affecting our business from end to end whether you like it or not. Some of these costs have to be passed on to the clients which are the end users because as a company, we need to stay afloat for us to be in business. We can’t keep prices the same and foreign exchange is going up. This is the unfortunate situation.
When you talk about increase in prices, how many percent increase are clients now paying ?
The dollar has gone up to more than 100 percent increase but our prices have only increased to about 30 to 40 percent. We also have to be careful. We are an innovative company. We look for innovative and more affordable ways of producing items without losing the quality of producing the items. Our major cost component is power as we run our generator for almost all the time. We just have to look for innovative ways, like running the generator at a specific time and shutting down at a specific time. It depends on what time of the year because we also need to meet clients programme and finish on time.
Apart from the innovative ways mentioned above, what other ways are you able to cushion effect of operating costs on your operations ?
Unfortunately, there is very little you can use to cushion the effects. It is what it is. As long as we are not in the commodity business, we also buy materials, produce and sell. The only way you can reduce cost is through cost of labour. If I was buying a screw at a certain amount of money and the cost of screw has increased, I still have to buy the screw. I can’t use a less quality screw. The only thing we can vary at this point in time is cost of labour and there is an extent you can vary this because even the workers want their salaries increased as well. So, that multiplier effect is there and it is hitting us from all ends. We just have to manage costs such as frequency of driving around, reduce vehicle transportation cost, consumption costs, and reduce overheads as much as possible to cushion effects. There is nothing we can do about the cost of raw materials.
Have you also looked at ways to reduce importation just to save some money ?
Everything we can get local that is best for us, we rather get local. Our first option is not to import but to get local. We need to get local quality, we need to get local that will give us on time and that is consistent. We also partner with a lot of local people as well to make sure they are able to serve us consistently and give us good quality because the nature of our business is that we cannot afford to make a mistake in quality, if not, the brand name will be affected. We import only what we need to import. We don’t make a lot of steel work in Nigeria here. We don’t make Ironmongery in Nigeria. Right now, there is no alternative and until we have an alternative here in Nigeria, there is nothing we can do. We just have to keep importing.
There is this global campaign about preservation of woods and trees. Has this in anyway affected the availability of wood that you use for your production?
We are not the first point of contact from the wood being harvested. So, we don’t really feel the effects per se. But that not withstanding, we have not had a shortage of wood. There are major producers of woods. There are woods across the world. There are countries that insist that for every tree you harvest, you plant 10 trees just to make sure you are covering up. So, we don’t feel the effects per se as a user.
Are there factors that influence the kind of wood, colour and materials you use in a house when you are given a contract ?
Woodstyles is a bestspoke joinery company and everything we do, we look at your designs and we advice you. Sometimes we advice so much that we just tell you we don’t want to take on this project because we know that what you are asking for, will not benefit you but will just be money down the drain. In the kitchen for instance, you can’t use wood that will be affected by water because there is water in the kitchen. In the bathroom too, you can’t use that kind of wood. For cabinets, there are certain woods you can’t use because of weight. For your doors, you can’t use woods that are excessively heavy, so it doesn’t slam and injure someone. Regarding colour, this is where we don’t really have a say because the client may have his or her own choice. We can only advice but we can’t insist. If the client wants the whole house white or pink or black, it’s his choice, we don’t have much say over that. But if it is choice of wood, then we would advice the clients. There are different woods we use for indoors and different woods for outdoors. There are different woods we use for wet areas and different woods for dry areas. There are different woods used for doors and different woods for wardrobe. There are also different woods used for kitchen cabinet.
Do you leverage partnerships with international organisations to offer quality services to your customers ?
We are an ISO company. We have our standards which we must strictly adhere to. We can’t come below that standard and for you to retain that ISO certification, you have to maintain a level of quality. So, that alone is an association with best quality in the industry.
Apart from foreign exchange challenge and power, are there other challenges affecting your business currently?
Sometimes the availability of manpower is a challenge because we keep training in Nigeria. We are big on local content, so sometimes it can be quite challenging getting more people. In Nigeria, after you have invested in training people, after sometime they want to move on because they feel they have learnt everything, meanwhile they have not completed the circle. It doesn’t discourage us because we feel we are also impacting the society. We can’t meet everybody’s needs. So the few ones we have trained can cater for a different category of people that need furniture.
Other challenges include infrastructures, roads, power and other things are limitations we have.
Has the current economic downturn affected patronage for you ?
Whether you like it or not, people will buy furniture whether the economy is bad or not except we are in a war situation. The industry has its up moment and down moment. During COVID-19, so many companies shut down but COVID-19 period was a very good year for us because a lot of people started working from home. Someone started to realise that he has had his bookshelf for 10 years but now it looks old, looking at it everyday. So people saw the need to change a lot of things in their homes. So the reverse was the case for us. Sometimes, people think the economy is bad but we sometimes think it is good for us. But right now, everybody is suffering it whether we like it or not. It is hitting our bottom line but we have to keep looking at innovative ways of producing to minimise costs and get profits to be able to stay afloat.
What differentiates you from competitors in the market?
I don’t know if other companies are bestspoke. First of all, we are bestspoke. For us, it is personal and not about making money. We feel our items should market us. If a client is happy with the products we deliver for them, they will speak so much about us. We sit down with the clients, we understand what they want, we get to help him with designs, we advice him and we negotiate, agree, produce and go and install in the house and make sure everything is being put in place. Until we make sure the client is happy, we don’t sign off. That is why we are bestspoke and that is what has propelled us to where are today. We have had a few negative cases but we learn from that and move on. Every project we get into is a learning process for us. We get honest client feedback; feedback on our staff and their professionalism, feedback on the project managers, the sales process, followup process, quality amongst others. All of these are documented as part of our ISO certification. We learn our lessons and then improve on the next process.
Are you looking at diversifying in the next few years?
We are carpenters and I don’t think we intend to be tailors. We intend to remain carpenters, delivering joinery products for homes, offices etc. This is our core competence and we are very particular about this core competence. We don’t want to deep our hands into different things. We want to do joinery work, deliver for you and if you are happy, we move on to the next one. For diversification, no. We focus on what we do. Year in year out, we keep getting better, improving and innovating.
What deliberate steps are you taking to ensure that you are not doing the same thing every other year but that there is an addition and innovation to whatever you do?
Our exhibition stand speaks for itself. Last year, during the Design Week Lagos, we had a 2.8 meter by two meter wide door and it was the talk of the exhibition. This year, we have raised the stakes. We have a 4 meter high door by 2.8 meter wide door.
Everyone wants to take pictures and videos of the door. These are various steps which we are taking to make sure we are ahead of the game. Look at our wardrobe system. It is minimalist. People are beginning to refuse a certain amount of wood. They just want it minimal. Why do I want a wardrobe with a door? What I’m I hiding? It is my house and my room, so I don’t need the door.
This will reduce the cost of the door and the cost of the wood. This will reduce the overall cost of the project. Houses are getting smaller now because of the economy. People don’t have enough space for wardrobe, they just want something functional. They just want to hang their cloths in a very neat and nice way. The cost of the doors can be almost half the cost of the wardrobe.
This cost is gone. So, these are steps we keep taking to ensure we are ahead of others in the game. So that is why we are not exhibiting kitchens, wardrobes amongst others. We are very minimalist. There are different ways to reduce cost but it depends on your style and what you want.
Typically, in bedrooms, people will use very high end material finishes and luxurious finishing and they will realise that no one gets into their room apart from them. So, why would you want to spend so much doing expensive wardrobe in the room? In the living room, they spend so much because that is where they receive visitors. So, these are the things we advice clients on.
If they can afford it, it is fine by us but if they have a limited budget, we don’t advice you to do such luxurious item in your bedroom. You can do something nice but don’t spend so much money in your bedroom. You can spend so much money in areas that when your guest comes, they can see them. So these are the advice we give to clients. We are not just all about grabbing and grabbing. We also want you to get value for your money.
In the next five to 10 years, where do you see WOODstyles?
Five years is a long time from now. We hope to be the number one joinery company in East and West Africa. We are gradually almost getting to the top in Nigeria. In the next two years, we are looking at getting to the top in West Africa and in the next five years, we want to add East Africa. We want to grow organically.