By Amaka Agwuegbo
It is known facts that, world over, entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprise (SME) owners drive economic growth, but Nigerian entrepreneurs and SME owners have not been given half the opportunities that SME owners in other climes have.
Despite these inadequacies, and coupled with the unprecedented global economic crisis, Nigerian SMEs and entrepreneurs have continued to seek meaningful opportunities that lead to exciting ventures, though some end up going about it the wrong way. But with the right knowledge and training, the nightmares of owning and running an SME would be a thing of the past.
Mr. Sola Osolana, MD/CEO, Image Dry-cleaners, is one of the many entrepreneurs who, in his efforts at making the difference in dry-cleaning services delivery, has sought knowledge so asÂ to discontinue running his business the wrong way.
â€œSMEs are trying their best despite the un-conducive operating environment they are forced to operate in. Getting quality staff and input are challenging, but if they can go for trainings, like the Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management (CEM) course, Iâ€™m confident that they will have a different story to tell.
â€œBefore attending CEM, which is being run at the Centre for Enterprise Development Services (EDS), an arm of the Pan African University, a lot of things was being done wrongly in the company and this led to some form of chaos. But things are taking shape as some changes are being made, especially in peopleâ€™s management and handling customersâ€™ complaints.
â€œAttending the CEM class is helping me put in place proper structure for my business so as to give it the proper footing and position it as a global brand. This is because, for you to up your ante, a proper structure, especially in customer services delivery and people management, has to be in place.
â€œThere have been visible differences in my company because right after the first week, I have been implementing what I learn in the CEM class. Since I canâ€™t be all things to all men, a management team has been constituted and they are happy to take up the responsibilities because they now have a sense of ownership.
â€œAlso, I have commissioned external auditors to look into our books because in the past, what we had was a situation whereby money was spent without being properly accounted for.â€
Sola, a graduate of Business Administration from Federal Polytechnic, Ibadan, went into dry-cleaning business because he wants to add value to the type of services being rendered in the industry.
â€œI became interested in dry-cleaning when I was residing in the UK and my cousin would always send me to the dry-cleaners. I was particularly fascinated with their dry-cleaning machines and wanted to know more because I found out it a viable business that would bring in daily income.
â€œWhen I came back to Nigeria, I mobilized some fund and started Image Dry-cleaning with the sole aim of offering international quality services. Our unique selling service is our prompt service delivery as we are the only dry-cleaning company in Nigeria that offers a 3-hour suit dry-cleaning service which has been working in our favour.
â€œDry-cleaning business is sustainable, and if you have the passion and time, it is very viable. I have been approached by 2 dry-cleaning companies that started at about the same time as mine to buy out their outfits because they couldnâ€™t manage them.â€
But, despite his passion for the services rendered, for Sola, running a laundry/dry-cleaning outfit is no easy feat as there are a lot of obstacles in quest for success.
â€œThe challenges of running a laundry/dry-cleaning outfit are myriad. Top on the list is lack of public power supply, which is crippling the industry. Because we depend on power to provide services, on the average, we consume 80 liters of diesel daily to power our power generating sets.
â€œWhen dealing with the employees, you have to come down to their level else, you are wasting your time. We also have instances of customers laying unscrupulous claims just for the purpose of fleecing you. We also have the issue of multiple levies and taxes from different government agencies.â€
Though he started his dry-cleaning outfit big and has 30 staff in three branches, Sola has bigger dreams as he wants to but build a sustainable business that would outlive him, expand and add quality value to services rendered.
â€œMy vision is to have people buy into Image Dry-cleaners by becoming the first dry-cleaning company to be quoted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. This is to enable my business grow beyond me because when I started out, I had a target of becoming quoted within its first 10 years so as to have a history for would-be investors.â€
Convinced that the rate of unemployment can be reduced with the increase in the number of SMEs, Sola is calling on government to ensure that the basic infrastructure are provided so as to reduce cost of doing business.
He thinks the school curriculum ought to be reviewed by introducing SME courses so as to educate and prepare undergraduates inÂ becoming SME owners.
â€œThis is very necessary because if Image Dry-cleaners can employ 30 people and other SMEs employ small number of people, the rate of unemployment would be drastically reduced as more people would not have to wait for non-existent white collar or government jobs.
SMEs owners need access to this much talked-about SME Fund as banks no longer grant loans or demand for unrealizable collaterals.
â€œFor instance, I want to buy a N2.1 million 80KVA generating set but the bank has refused to grant the loan, insisting that I should use my deposit as collateral as against some of my equipments.â€