Miss Mayen Ekpo is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Black & Gold Events, an events and catering outfit based in Lagos. The graduate of Food Science and Technology from the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), said her going into events business was a case of turning her hobby into a profession.
In this chat with Financial Vanguard in Lagos recently, the ex-Carnival Calabar Queen says the youths of today are not as business-conscious as they are money-conscious. They want to have a lot of money but they don’t want to work for it.
After her secondary school education at Queens College, Yaba, Lagos, Miss Mayen Ekpo gained admission into the University of Nigeria Nsukka where she read Food Science and Technology.
“I graduated in 2008 and in 2009, I became the Carnival Calabar Queen. I was in Calabar, Cross River State for a year. Afterwards, I decided to launch my own business because I worked in an event planning company for a while and I realised I was talented in that area.
I began as a professional compere and it was exciting and nice to moderate at events. I actually started while in school. Some people would come to me and say ‘please cook for this event and compere too’ or ‘do you have anybody that cooks?’ And I could cook very well.
I could cook for a large crowd so I will cook for the event and eventually end up being the compere. It was a wonderful thing and I realised I was going to do it professionally. I had finished school while I was queen so there really wasn’t anything to do apart from my duties as queen.”
For her to excel in her new profession, Mayen decided to acquire more knowledge in order to hone her skills and she did not have to go far to do that.
She said: “I decided I was going to train myself and started taking online wedding planning courses while I was queen in Calabar. As soon as my queenship was over, I launched my business called Black & Gold Events.”
Asked how she came about the name, she said: “When I wanted to start events planning, I realised if I was going to be in Lagos, there are a thousand and one events planners in Lagos and I needed to create a niche for myself.
So I decided I was going to do something that is really going to appeal to the elite, people that want the finest things in life, the classiest events, luxurious events, and I realised what better name than Black & Gold! Black connotes mystery, intrigue, sophistication.
And when you see gold, you see wealth, affluence, so I realised Black & Gold was a perfect name. Under Black & Gold, I have a luxury division which is targeted at supplying luxury and classy goods. We do luxury hampers, just name it. Anything from the classiest brands in fragrances, time pieces, jewellery, we do all of that.
Recently, I got into a very unique brand of coffee called organogold. It’s not just coffee alone, tea, hot chocolate etc. It is gourmet, meaning that the classiest people of the world can have a taste of it as well as those that have health issues. So I infused that into my business and so far, it has been doing very well.”
Speaking on her initial capital, Mayen Ekpo said events planning business is capital-intensive, “in fact, till today, I have not stopped spending money on Black & Gold because it is something I started from scratch and I needed a lot of money. Ask anybody anywhere and they will tell you that events management business is capital-intensive.
I do rentals, so getting the things to rent out to people costs money. I do everything, from decoration, catering, drinks, ushers and models, lighting, to sound and technical stuff. In fact, we plan, package and execute events. Of course you know that all these things cost huge amounts of money so I still keep putting money into the business every single day.”
As with everything in life, there are ups and downs and so it has not all been smooth for Black and Gold Events. Said Ekpo: “The number one challenge a new events planner faces is getting clients because as the saying goes, ‘the devil you know is better than the angel you do not know.’
Nobody wants to take the risk of starting with a new person. That is one thing I have learnt. Even if the person they know has not been doing them well, they prefer to stay with the one they know. They won’t want to try out a new events planner. You will hear them say something like: ‘All these new people sef.’
“Another one is advertising. Advertising your business in Nigeria is a lot of money, talk about newspapers, magazines, fliers, posters, radio, television, even the internet, you spend money. Getting committed staff that know what they are doing; good concept designers, good event hall designers, decorators, etc, is another challenge.
I found out that before you can manage a business, you have to be an excellent administrator. First of all, you have to be your own secretary, personal assistant, marketing and public relations personnel. So emptying yourself into other people that will now run with your vision is extremely difficult.
And the youths of today are not as business-conscious as they are money-conscious. They want to have a lot of money but they don’t want to work for it. All they want is come out of school, do their youth service in a big oil company so that they can be retained or when they are done with the youth service, they get into an oil company. And I ask them, who is going to teach? Who is going to take care of the children? Who is going to be the civil servant? “These are questions we should ask ourselves.
“One important thing that we, as Nigerians must know is that this country is in the hands of the youths and the earlier we become service-oriented, the better for us because if everybody keeps grabbing, a piece of this and grabbing a piece of that, the country will just fall down flat so we need to be service-oriented. We need to learn how to serve.”
In the next five to ten years, Mayen Ekpo says her desire is for Black & Gold to have its own state-of-the-art event centre in Lagos and by the grace of God, spread to other places.