By Akoma Chinweoke
Wole-Madariola Olumide is the chief executive officerÂ of FUT Conceptus Manufacturing Ltd., makers of leather and allied products .In this interview, the industrialist and entrepreneurer spoke on why the leather industry should occupy a strategic position in Nigeria’s economic development given its huge economic potentials in employment generation, and as a foreign exchange earner and in private sector-led industrialization.
You have been into shoe manufacturing for two years now, what do you consider serious challenges to the growth of the business?
First and foremost, I had the opportunity of selling for my grand father who used to be one of the first set of distributors to Lennard in those days. As I was growing up, I had intention of opening shops and selling shoes. I never thought I would set up a leather footwear factory.
But as I was growing up, IÂ visit countries where footwear and leather products originated from. The interest increased until I found myself wanting to establish a factoryÂ to fill that vacuum created. What is known as Fut Wear today was a product of my six years of research in Spain. We commenced training operation for local staff in year 2008 and employed highly experienced Spanish hands operating extensively in the leather industry.
However since we kicked off the issue of power is still a major challenge as most our resources is channeled towards fueling our power generating sets.Â There is also the problem of logistics and lack of government patronage . It is sad that nearly everything that is being imported for running industries in the country can be produced locally here.
But I would not want to blame the government for now because the with the local content that is on, we are going to be a heavy beneficiary of that, particularly in the oil sector. So, I think it is a right step in the right direction and now that the government is talking increasing the power generation in the country. Letâ€™s wait and see how far it is going to take us.
What is your production capacity?
For now we produce 22,000 pairs of shoes and sandals in a day and ten thousand pairs of safety booths also in a day including cutting and sowing capacity and final production in six days.
There is no doubt about quality of our products and that is why my signature is boldly written on the themÂ and that means my life. So, most of our products are very unique as they are pure Spanish leather and because of the level of quality that we have been able to attain, I as the head of the firm decided to put my signature on it to certify that these are proudly made in Nigeria products.
What kind of incentives do you need from the government to prosper the business?
We need patronage and government need to urgently address the power issue. Let them ensure regular power supply and stop government agencies from bringing leather products from foreign countries.Â This is something we can produce in this place and it can take away a lot people out of the job marketÂ 90 percent of the leathers that is being transformed to Spanish leaders left Nigeria exported to Spain and Italy and were redesigned to different shapes and patterns, then brought back into the country.
Every of our products carries made in Nigeria labels of whichÂ a lot of people have tried to asked us why are we doing that. But we donâ€™t really have a choice. We canâ€™t be making something 99.9 percent here and we present it as if it is made outside. We have had a lot people coming in, telling us that we should please make some products for them and write made in Spain, or Italy in but we have always turned down such offer.
The leather industry in Nigeria can generate as much as 70 percent. Go to the northern part of the country, you will see everything that has to do with leather there. Some Europeans come to the country, take raw materials from us to their country and refines it and still brings it back to sell to us as finished leather which we buy as Spanish, Italian, British or American products. You can see the indolence of the government in that respect and it is causing the country a lot.
We understand talks are on between your company and Eleme Petrochemicals Industries, what is it about?
We are trying to make them understand that the raw materials that is being used for the production of our shoe soles is lying down there in Port-Harcourt and we are still importing everything just because one single line they are meant to have with their machinery, they donâ€™t have it .
How didÂ Fut Wear successfully acquire Nenuco, a Spanish children foot wear giant?
Nenuco was up for sale because they were divesting from foot wear manufacturing particularly the children foot wear and we were opportune to be in Spain at that time and we got everything that was up for sale. That was the largest foot wear manufacturing in regards to kiddies in Europe.
Nigerians are known undying taste for foreign product. Are you impressed with the level of patronage you have received so far?
In terms of patronage, we are impressed because considerably when we started, we never expected any response and our case was even worst because we decided to put made in Nigeria on our products.
After all the deliberations, we resolved that we canâ€™t stop manufacturing because we have started as we cannot be making foot wear 99.9 percent right here in the country and still label it made in Spain or Italy, not for a million dollars.
That was our setback in the beginning but along the line some people who felt that they were proud to be a Nigerian saw our products as very wonderful and started telling one another about it and it went on like that. So, I believe that the awareness and consciousness of the vanity of purchasing foreign made products at a very high price is coming up and it is going to help us.
Are your products designed for only local consumption?
No, but right now we are doing a low levelÂ export. By that I mean we are doing like 5,000-1000 pairs. We export to places like Abijan, Monrovia, Dublin and UK. Our export level is low because we just started, so we have to conquer the local market first. Our products are under priced to attract customers.
While nobody is talking about Made in Nigeria, we are creating and doing it. In the last years FUT Conceptus has carried out a completely productive process, using a research and an approach that is able to assess the whole world and to interpret with unmistakable style – a blend of Spanish, African and Italian; creating a world style with selection of Nigerian rawÂ materials and a number of rapid and careful suppliers; with the realization of a big industrial setting capable of producing more than 22,000 pairs of footwear a day including thousand of belts and bags. The versatility of the technology has made us one of the biggest in the world.