‘Poor power supply and cost of transportation major production challenges in Nigeria’
Ifyugo Mgbemene is the brain behind Leo Ela International Limited, a beauty product manufacturing firm which she set up over 25 years ago. In this interview with NGOZI OKPALAKUNNE, she spoke on what it takes to become a successful business woman in a harsh economy like Nigeria. She also, lauded the efforts of the government in the fight against fake and substandard products in the country. Excerpts:
You have been in business for nearly three decades. What does it take to be a successful woman entrepreneur?
It takes a lot of things to be a successful business woman. Success does not come easily. When I was in the university, l told my friends that I would own a company and today God has brought it to fulfilment. Part of business success is hard work and anyone working with me that is not hard working, anyone working with me that cannot meet my target, I will drop the person because such an individual can’t help me to move forward.
I keep only friends who are ready to move with me to success. Those that are only interested to consume and are not ready to sacrifice and allow business to grow to maturity, I don’t involve them in my personal and business lives.
If you eat up the yam that would fill your barn tomorrow, that would bring a major setback in your business. Most great business people started both their lives and businesses in a smaller way. I started small and grew with time.
My late father so much believed in me and when l got married, my husband and children supported me as well.
The fact is that Igbos believe that when you plant a corn, you have to allow it germinate, then nurture it till harvest season. In the same way, that is how entrepreneurship works. That is what Igbos are known for. Even though the process may take you years. This is what helped me in business. I didn’t steal money, or take bank loan. I started small till this level I am today. Till tomorrow, I still work in my factor. My children when they are around and my relations living with me also go to the factory to work.
There is no easy way to make it. So, anybody that knows what he is doing in business shouldn’t spend his capital. I will advise women who are in business to be strategic in their businesses, they should minimise profit to maximise it.
In business, you must know when to move, study your environment. Produce what people will buy and come back to ask for it. I made sure that whatever we are producing for the public must be in order. It took us years, and our products have NAFDAC registration numbers and we are not hiding. We have our market strategy; we treat our agents or distributors well and sometimes we grant them credit facility and after two weeks they pay back. The major challenge is epileptic power supply, employees who want you to pay them huge salaries; they don’t consider factors overhead expenses. Some of them want to be boss and they don’t know when and how you started.
What has been your experience since you started producing beauty touch in Nigeria business environment?
I started production in a small way until I grew to the level of attending exhibitions. I have been on world exhibition right from the first time it was held in Nigeria in 2004 and it was published in BusinessDay Newspaper with the caption, ‘Lady cosmetics dazzles Obasanjo.’ It was also aired on a television station.
There was another one published with a caption, ‘Kanu cosmetics is lion in the market place.’ I have been moving. I also go to Research and Development (R&D), and I have been upgrading my machines to suit the modern way of producing beauty products. However, to be an entrepreneur in Nigeria is easy and at the same time difficult.
But I advise anybody to start small. As I tell you now, there is no machine in my factory I cannot handle. But the major production challenges in Nigeria is poor power supply and cost of transportation and employees’ attitude. Sometimes, my husband would help me convey my goods from area of purchase to my factory. Even my children do help my business online, they order things when I asked them to do so, sometimes from abroad.
How do you source your materials?
Some of the materials we use for production in my firm, I source them from the United States, Korea because I have a big factory. Machines I import from Korea are been used for the production of hair attachment.
I started making hair attachment since 2005. I produce tablet soap which they call Kanu soap. We were formerly called Kanu Cosmetics before we changed to Beauty Touch. Since I left University, I have been working. I worked in the Pharmacy department in General hospital, Gigawa.
I won state award in Gigawa which gave me an automatic employment in 1996. But I didn’t want to go back to hospital, then I had registered my company. I had also lectured physiology, pharmacology and drug supply in school of Health Technology, Gigawa state. When I got married, I resigned officially and relocated to Lagos in 1997.
Since l started, I have never taken any loan from any bank, I got contract to produce for some companies like Johnson Wax in 1999. In 2005, I won another contract for Gongoni Company in Port Harcourt and those contracts helped me a lot. God has been kind to me.
Covid-19 affected global business transaction, and cost of product is increasing on a daily basis, how are you coping in terms of standards and others?
Though it has not been easy with production process especially since the advent of Covid-19, but that has not made me to reduce standard of our production or change cost. Reason being that before Covid-19 broke out, I bought some newly automatic machines.
So, before the pandemic, we had started producing sanitiser for companies and friends. We didn’t know that pandemic would break out. In production, if you know what you are doing, you can navigate through any situation.
Take for instance, when the price of plastic increased, the price of chemicals will also increase, but since we are in a competitive market, I didn’t want to drop in standard. So, what I did was to maintain the standard and added increased cost just little. My strategy has always been little profit with rate of turnover will sustain your customer. You don’t drive away your customers with high prices.
What do you think government should do to curtail inflow of fake products from some of the Asian countries?
Government is trying. We are the government. When you go abroad, businesses are owned by individuals and they pay tax. Our government is working. When they came to my factory, they gave me the standard I must meet in production before they gave me NAFDAC registration number, it took years.
They really did their work. It was stressful, but you must get it right. Why I said they are working is that even abroad there are still fake and substandard products.
Here in Nigeria, many people produce fake products. So, for the country to be free from fake, those producing fake have to stop it first.
What motivated you into entrepreneurship?
My father who was a successful business man in Onitsha in Anambra was the one that motivated me into business. He was my mentor and he believed in me.
He trained me to be an independent person and l grew up like that. As a result, l had always wanted to do things myself and own my own firm and not to work for anybody.
Take for instance, I can paint, my mother is an artiste and a teacher. So, I was raised by a teacher. I was born and brought up in Onitsha. So, the first thing I saw while growing up was business, how to make money. When l was growing up, what my mind was telling me was to go into business, so as to make money.
So, I went to school because my mother was brought up in Enugu, as a teacher, she taught us the importance and value of education. My daddy taught us how to do business.