Ify Ighodalo is the founder and owner of DO.II, a company focusing on furniture manufacturing, interior design, space planning and turn-key remodelling projects for the high-end residential, property development, hospitality and corporate market. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE, she speaks about her motivation and newly opened flagship store in Lagos. Excerpts:
Can you tell us about DO.II and your new flagship store?
DO.II is currently in transition phase. We started out as Design Options 32 years ago, the company transitioned to DO.II seven years ago. For strategic reasons, we maintained the same place which was a one-storey residential building on 292c Ajose Adeogun. So, this move is to an open floor of three storey building and a paint house. We moved from a space of about 300 square meters to the current space of over 1,300 square meters. This is a space over four times of what we had before. This is part of our transition. There has always been a vision for the company. We are a pioneer in this level and style of furniture manufacturing in Nigeria and being the pioneers, we have always tried to stay at the forefront of being the leaders and others will follow.
This place is our flagship store because this is the exact definition of a flagship store. There are many stores and you see a little bit of everything that you do, from designing scenes and air conditioners, with the positioning of everything, to floors, to toilet, to the kitchen. So, as a brand that is proudly African; everything here is made in Nigeria and made by us. We are a Nigerian brand, with a local outlook but having global standards. For us, this is the way that furniture is sold all over the world. What we have always tried to do from the first day in Design Options is to style locally, what happens globally. This is a one-stop store. You can get your office furniture, bedroom, kitchen, interior design and everything in one place. We focus on office and home furniture and fittings. We focus on the manufacture of homes and office furniture, so that when you walk into the space, you can just pick what you want.
What attracted you to furniture business?
The truth is that I studied Accountancy in University and when I was there, my parents had started an interior company. I just found out that I had this interest in my surrounding, so I will paint my room, put throw pillars here and there and do just soft furnishing. My friends will plead with me to do their furnishing. I did Accountancy because I am very good in mathematics and I like numbers. I had said to my parents that I knew that I was going to run a business but I don’t know what it was going to be. I couldn’t decide then. I did my Youth corps in First Bank of Nigeria. My father did everything to get me into banking but I said I’ll be too bored doing that. I am a very restless person. When I graduated in 1981 and finished youth corps in 1982, I then went to work in my friend’s company for about one year. I met my darling husband when I went to England in 1983 and we came back together in 1984. I worked in my parents company one last time. I had my first job and from there I started my own company in 1987. This is about 32 years ago.
How have you been able to sustain this key position as a leader in the furniture industry?
We have built a very strong and effective team. I have an amazing team, from marketing, to projects, to production, to logistics, they are all trained. I have three foundation members. One has been with me for about 15 years and another ten years. We have a factory in Ojota.
Our vision is to make your spaces come alive. Our mission is to beautify spaces in which people can live and work better.
We work with wood; a lot of the home furniture is made from wood and metals. We don’t manufacture the metals but we are recently signing up with someone who can manufacture the metals locally to reduce cost and time. We work with fabrics, sofas and chairs and we are going slowly into leather but mostly for office furniture. We also do window treatments.
We have designed, created and delivered over 2000 design projects and sold over 5million pieces of furniture, starting from design options into DO.II as well. We have been transforming lives by creating beauty, style and comfort in the process.
What is your staff strength and what steps are you making to build capacity development?
We have capable team of over 100 trained and committed blue and white collar staff. Most of them have been with us for years. We are very proud of our women and women make up about 50percent in the line-up of our white collar staff, we don’t have as many yet in the actual furniture manufacturing section. We have a lot of women in the tailoring session. Last year, we had a good year, with securing this new place and having the highest turnover, which was generally a bad year for most, so the staff took home good bonuses.
Our current daily production capacity is over 1000 pieces and over the next 18 months to three years, we plan to quadruple that number to meet with the Nigeria and Pan-African demand. I am currently attending the Seed Transformation programme, which is an initiative of Stanford University that is based in different parts of the world. It is for business leaders. So, I spend one week every two months outside Nigeria for the course and they come in and they hold workshops with my team here. The idea is to transform into an even better leader and also transform my company, thereby grooming leaders.
We have a lot of big goals that we have set for ourselves but with the required funding and corporate governance, we should be able to meet our target. In the next three to five years, we should have a permanent factory and warehouse location in Ekpe.
Knowing that your job sometimes demand you
to travel all over the world, how do you manage the home front?
Luckily for me, I have a most understanding husband. My husband is the best lawyer in Nigeria, and he has the best law firm, not only in Nigeria but in West Africa. His late mum was the first female permanent secretary from Western region, she was a career woman, so my husband understands what it is to be married to a career woman. He is my greatest fan and advocate and he markets me everywhere he goes. But I do take care of the home front. Food is always ready. We are blessed with one child and she just graduated from Manchester University. The last six years before she graduated, I was flying back and forth to England every three weeks. Everything has just come together at the right time. She has graduated and doing her National Youth Service Corps and we are able to find a place for her and we give God the glory.
What motivates you in having to put colours, designs and furniture together?
My greatest motivation is just making people happy. If you look at my life, all I do is geared towards making people happy. You have a place like this and you are looking at it and thinking what you can do. It may just be a coat of paint, a few throw pillows or just anything to put a smile in people’s faces. I am very conscious of my surrounding. I have been able to transform my own space, so I proceeded in assisting others to transform their own spaces. I pay attention to details. My mum trained me in this.
How affordable are your products compared to your competitors’?
We are very affordable. Everybody that has come here in the last two weeks is now aware of how affordable our products are. We have some premium things but generally we have very good quality. Paul of PQuare shot a video with our facility and it is coming out very soon.
How have you been able to thrive in a business that is perceived as male dominated?
I have a very good team. Head of operations is a woman and the head of logistics is a man. Furniture manufacturing could be seen as a man’s thing but if you look at it, it is a balance that you have some men and women into furniture manufacturing in Nigeria. In the board of Interior Designers Association of Nigeria, (IDAN), we have a mixture of men and women.
How do you compete with foreign products especially knowing that most Nigerians have penchant for foreign products?
I was brought up as the first son in my father’s house, so I don’t look at myself as a woman. Even if it is 10 men there, I will go there and become the 11th man. The reason I started manufacturing is because I am proudly Nigerian. I am proud of the fact that this is manufactured in Nigeria by Nigerians. The materials are mostly Nigerian materials apart from one or two finishing like the fabrics. I started manufacturing in 1987 because I found out that the locally manufactured goods could not compete with the imported goods. So, from the day we started manufacturing, we started competing with the imported goods. Most people who come here are surprised that our products are made here. Imported fabrics are as expensive as imported leather. Our fabrics are far cheaper. One of the jobs we did last year for a property developer was amazing. He had put up the building and he asked us to furnish one flat and he loved it so much. After this, he gave us additional eight flats and one paint house to furnish between October and December. He just added another paint house and we have started putting it together for him. He just told us to have the furniture waiting, knowing that he can call me at any time. He told me I am the best and just today, he has added two more flats. This is high end. So he is getting high end furniture but at a reduced price.