By Ezinne Ekanem
I’ve taken my time to listen to all sides of the discourse currently raging all over our nation bothering on the high cost of foreign exchange and the impact of the falling oil prices especially their effects on businesses. In the end, I can’t help but marvel at the depth of the human mind. The mind can come up with deep persuasive arguments for or against any thing depending on what side it wants to perch on. Small wonder politicians and lawyers make a lot of money but I digress.
Having listened to all and digested it, I’ve come to one conclusion: a huge part of our current challenge was caused by us and it is only ourselves that can get us out. Everybody has a part to play but this intervention is targeted at one of my constituencies: the entrepreneurs.
And I ask one question – #whyimport?
It’s about time we looked inwards to unearth whatever resources are available and put it to work in our country. It is about time we loved our country enough to offer (and patronize) made in Nigeria goods. It is about time we supported our youths to think and come up with fresh ideas that will work and empower them instead of copying the west and doing a force fit. It’s about time our resources stayed home and built home. All of these are correct, but who will stock Nigerian? Who is that entrepreneur who will sell Nigerian?
Will you be that entrepreneur who finally makes imported Nigerian goods?
Now, I’m not talking about machines or raw materials needed for production. I’m talking of already existing Made in Nigeria goods. You see, while we all like the finer things of life, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if you didn’t have that imported sofa set in your home but instead had a Made in Nigeria sofa set to encourage that young, budding furniture maker who can over the years become a Louis Vuitton.
Why bother about your “status” when your butt will sit on it as comfortably as it would on a Luis Vuitton? We are the ones who attach so much importance to these names, not the other way round.
For a long time, we imported everything in the furnishing and interior decor business not because it was cheaper to do so nor made sense to but because clients would waltz in and ask you specifically “is it imported?” Heaven help your bottom line if you said no! Some would turn up their noses at you and waltz away as though imported was made by angels and non-imported were manufactured by dimwits.
I would never forget a neighbour who once asked me, “so, you don’t import anything?” She made it look like there wasn’t something terribly wrong with me for not importing products we were perfectly skilled to produce locally and as a result, she refused to patronize us. Fast forward to a few years later, it was her 60th birthday so we made and sent her a customized set of the same product, which she was so happy to receive. She later told me that she was glad I had started importing.
I smiled and life continued. She was happy and so was I.
So #WhyImport? I have experienced the business impact of the regular discrimination against the Made in Nigeria product and I have also seen the satisfied expression that accompanies the acknowledgement of quality when imported goods are used. It is a tough ask but perhaps this moment can be a defining moment for the Nigerian entrepreneur. This could be the trigger that makes us begin to apply ourselves further to produce great finishes instead of jumping on the first plane or swiping the card to import items that merely glamourize our shops.
#WhyImport? when we can embrace this opportunity however ill-timed, unplanned it is to put our house in order – to improve on our packaging, labelling, production, presentation, distribution, etc.
#WhyImport what is available in our country? #WhyImport, only to dump high prices on a people already groaning under several financial burdens? #WhyImport, when it only reduces our foreign reserves for luxury that only a select few can afford instead of creating shelf space for local options that get the job done. There is a saying that customers buy what they see, so when the desired is not available, the available becomes desired.
So this year, before you allocate all your inventory budget to the foreign stock, think of the implication for the country’s reserves and the potential opportunity cost. Consider the local manufacturing option. Before you request the bank transfer ask yourself and your team: #WhyImport? #WhyImport? #WhyImport?
I hear you say it will not be easy and I agree. But that is why you are an entrepreneur!
Ours is not the path for the lily-livered. And it doesn’t have to be all your offerings that become local overnight. Make a commitment and let’s restart the journey.
Then I hear others say, “my customers will not believe in the local product”, and I say have faith. Once upon a time, same thing was said about the Indian car or the Chinese phone, etc. just make a commitment to keep improving and keep going. I just think it’s time we all stopped – yes, stopped – completely in our tracks and asked ourselves some questions.
There is no point crying over split milk. The economy is what it is. My personal tendency has always been to focus on what I can do now. So, I’ve chosen to focus on doing those aspects of my business that I can do 100% locally while sourcing alternative materials for the components that appear not readily available in our climes today.
Nothing good comes easy but we can cope better if we had a different kind of perspective – a problem solving perspective.
Fellow entrepreneurs, the challenge is squarely in our corners. It’s time to show the stuff we are made of. It’s time to show our creativity and abilities to create something from nothing.
Our country’s resources are available for us all. The next phase belongs to those who can think outside the box to solve problems. May we all be counted! Remember, it starts with you (and of course ME).
Ezinne Ekanem is the CEO of Rosemarys – The Furnishing Company.