By Ebele Orakpo
Necessity, they say,is the mother of invention and that was what led Mrs Stella Chioma Abon, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Champs Catering Services based in Lagos to turn her hobby into a money- spinning venture. Perhaps, Champs Catering Services which is into both indoor and outdoor catering services would have remained just a hobby if it wasn’t for the situation the family found itself eight years ago.
In a recent chat with Vanguard in Lagos, Mrs Abon spoke on her journey into the catering business world and the challenges. Excerpts:
After her primary and secondary school edu-cation in the South-East, Mrs Stella Abon proceeded to the Federal Polytechnic Ede, Osun State for a certificate programme in Business Administration. Thereafter, she went on to the Lagos State Polytechnic from where she obtained an OND in Business Studies. “Because of business, work and raising a family, I have not been able to go further in academics but I hope to do so soon,” she said.
On why she went into the catering business, Mrs Abon said: “Catering runs in the family. It is my hobby. I’ve always loved cooking right from childhood but about eight years ago, I turned that hobby into a money-making venture because the family was facing some difficulties at that time. My husband didn’t have a job then and my salary was not enough so I decided to use what I have to try and make ends meet. I started by telling people that I can cook very well so if they needed such services, they should contact me. At the initial stage, they felt I was joking. I started attending parties just to watch the caterers at work and also see what they have to offer the people. I saw it was no big deal, they were things I could do and little by little, people started giving me jobs and I picked up from there,” she stated.
According to Mrs Abon who believes that catering business is one of the businesses one can start without a kobo, she did not have money kept aside anywhere for the business so what she did was that once she got a job, she would do the costing and the client provides the money. From the money, she buys the items she would require, pay the casual workers and then from the profit, she would rent utensils because she had none at the initial stage.
“For instance, if you charge the client N100,000, after buying all the items you will need and setting aside money for your casual workers (because when you are starting off, you take casual workers since you can’t afford to employ permanent staff at this time), the little profit you make would be able to rent you utensils to do the job. So you find out that you don’t really need capital when you go from scratch. But if you have the money, you don’t need to rent utensils. You go to the market and buy all the tools you need and then wait for jobs to come. But if you are starting from scratch and you have no help from anywhere, you can do it, only you won’t expect to make profit at the beginning because most of the profit will go into renting utensils. In my case, after some time, I gradually began to buy my things so the issue of rental stopped and any profit I make now is my own. That was how I started and God has been good to me,” she enthused, adding: “All the materials I have today are worth over N5 million, but I did not start with any capital. All I have now came from the business. That is one good thing I’ve seen in the business.”
The Champs Catering Services boss noted that their charges depend on what the client wants. “Some clients will come and tell you what they want and you have to go down to their level, especially when you are just starting out. There are certain jobs an already well known caterer will not take that you as a beginner, will take. You charge according to the client’s level.”
Speaking on the challenges, Mrs Abon stated that there are three major areas in the catering business each with its own challenges.“The three major areas in catering are shopping, cooking and serving. The most difficult is the serving aspect. When you cook, you take to the venue of the event to serve the guests and for them to appreciate the food, it must get to them on time. I have been to parties where you see people carrying plates about, searching for food. So even if the food is great, for the fact that you did not get it to the venue on time, you’ve missed it. To me, the most difficult aspect is service at the event’s venue. Your getting to the venue on time and ensuring that guests get food on time are very important. Traffic is unpredictable in a city like Lagos so you may get stuck in traffic. A place that will usually take you 30 minutes may take you three hours because of traffic. The client will not take it lightly as you will be seen as a failure. Another challenge is changes in prices of goods. For instance, some people may want to wed in July and decide to pay you in February. You’ve billed them and they’ve paid you and then in July, you discover that prices of food items had gone up from what you budgeted and as far as the client is concerned, that is your problem. Jobs I did immediately after the elections, I had collected the money before the elections and since the elections ended, prices had gone up. A carton of chicken that was sold for N4, 800 now costs N6,500. So I had to bear the loss.
Some people believe in name in this business. So if you have made your name, any amount you charge a client, he will pay but if you are just coming up and not yet known, people will still believe you are not good enough. This doesn’t encourage upcoming caterers,” she said.
She named electricity as another challenge. “The business needs constant electricity supply. The deep freezers need to be run 24/7 so when there is no light, we run them on generator and that depletes our profit. The Nigerian system does not encourage young people in business when it comes to electricity issue,” she said, appealing to the government to tackle the electricity issue as quickly as possible. “You cannot really establish anything without electricity. I had to buy a bigger generator to be able to power three deep freezers at once.”
Speaking on how she gets her clients, she said: “Mostly by word of mouth. Those that know me tell others. My friends introduce me to people they know. Then, people that had attended a party, meeting or a board meeting where I was the caterer, ask who made the food and I get introduced that way.