By Ebele Orakpo
Mrs Bunmi Aremo, a graduate of Home Economics from the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Lagos-based Precious Cookies. In this chat with Financial Vanguard in her office, she spoke on her business, how she got into the confectionery business, the challenges and why she ended up studying Home Economics. Excerpts:
Studying Home Economics:
According to Aremo, as a child, she loved working with her hands and very creative so she thought of reading Agric Economics but was given Home Economics instead. “My mother asked me to come home because reading Home Economics, to her, was like wasting my talent. I also got admission into Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) to read Agric-Economics. I had done remedial programme in Makurdi so I told one of my lecturers that I was leaving for OAU and he asked why I felt Home Economics was not good for me.
I said it’s all about cooking. He explained to me that it is not about cooking, that it is in the Faculty of Engineering, College of Food Science and Technology and that the programme was new so I decided to stay and throughout the course, there was no cooking. I learnt how to calculate nutrients in food and so many other things. In fact, my project (which involved calculating the amount of nutrients in the food of about 200 pupils), half of it was slashed because my external supervisor could not believe I did the work as according to him, it was a PhD stuff and not relevant for a BSc. programme.”
Going into business:
“I got married and was teaching at the Nigerian-Turkish International School, Abuja. I was pregnant and two weeks before the birth, I was involved in the Miss World riots in Abuja and it affected me. We tried to manage the pregnancy to seven months so that the child can survive but we couldn’t, so I had a premature baby. He was born at six and half months and so small that after wrapping him in layers of cloths, he did not still weigh up to one kilogram at birth.
“So the doctor advised me to forget about work and devote time to him. My son was born on the 8th but we celebrate his birthday on the 9th, we had to give him a whole day after he was born to be sure he would survive.
“I am not the type that can sit at home doing nothing so one day, a friend came to me and asked me to teach her how to make cake. I said “cake? When we were in school, did you ever see me with spoons and pots? I don’t know how to make cake.” I asked myself how I could tell people that I read Home Economics and yet cannot make cake. So I told her to come and teach me after she learnt and she did.”
Coming to Lagos:
“I started making cakes and my husband would help me distribute. I was doing that until my he was transferred to Lagos. When we came to Lagos, I started training again on cake-making and I got a bigger market this time. I was supplying companies’ staff birthday cakes. I started with Queens cake which I was supplying to supermarkets. My husband started complaining, saying there was not enough space in the house for my business so I should move out. Prior to that, a friend told me about Pan-African University’s Lagos Business School. I applied for and got scholarship.
In class, they told us it is unwise to do your business from home. Though they are not despising the day of little beginning, but if you don’t move out, you will remain small. I got to know about Technology Incubation Centre (TIC) Lagos and with the help of the Enterprise Development Centre, Pan-Atlantic University, I was given a space. I couldn’t believe it because in less than two years, I got my NAFDAC certification, I not only do the Queens cake, I began to do cookies and I noticed that the cookies were selling more.”
“Before I get to some supermarkets, I would see queues and one day, I was told they were queuing for the cookies, that I was not bringing enough, so I had to double the supply. At this time, the cookies were unlabelled. One of my staff suggested we begin supplying in cartons. We did and increased the number of outlets.
“Before I knew it, I was exporting the cookies. My entrepreneurship training with EDC really helped me. The packaging when I came from Abuja was really ugly so I changed to another one which was still ugly but by the time I finished my training, everything changed, even my dressing. So entering the international market was not too difficult for me because of the background. Now, we are trying to move into the Asian and American markets.
Business has been improving day by day, especially with the help of the TIC. We are trying to work on some other lines, still on cookies; cookies is about shapes and flavours.”
“Presently, we have nine members of staff due to space and capacity. We just acquired an electric oven. We were using manual oven before which would bake a tray for three hours but the electric oven does it in 30 minutes. We can still calibrate it to bake a tray in 10 minutes. With that, we believe we can have more turnover. It will increase our salary and we will be able to employ more people.
Most of my staff are unskilled. What I do is to work with them and then work on their minds to go back to school. There is a certain amount of their salary that must go towards their education. We help them