By AYO ONIKOYI
The manufacturing sector in Nigeria has remained in limbo for very long that no one wants to take the plunge of delving into it, and those who were in the sector have had to close shops and looked elsewhere for other businesses.
Andrew NgeneBut for Lawrence Nonso Ngene, the Chief Executive Officer of No Limits Furniture Limited, based in Jos, Plateau State, it is a different story altogether. According to him, the furniture business in Nigeria is beginning to enjoy a boom, so much so, the foreign competitors who were enjoying relatively bigger patronage are beginning to close shops as the government is creating an enabling environment for the local manufacturers to thrive.
You read business admin at University of Jos; how did you find yourself in furniture business?
I was born into it. My dad was a local carpenter by the road side, so during my primary and secondary school days, after I closed from school, I always headed to the workshop to help my dad. So, gradually from there I developed interest in it, and also I was very good at drawings and paintings in school, so that was added advantage to me, because, my type of furniture requires thinking out of the box and being very creative.
My breakthrough was after I finished my secondary school, I was at home for about 8 years, and that was the period I became fully active in it. After I got my first showroom, in 2011, I decided to go back to school, and I read Business Admin at University of Jos. I was combining both at the same time . Yea, and after my NYSC, I got the time I needed to face my furniture business, and that’s how I got to where I am now
With the harsh economic realities in the country, how lucrative is the furniture business and how have you been breaking even?
The furniture business is very lucrative, no doubt about that, if only you know what you doing. The government has also indirectly encouraged we local manufacturers by increasing the tariff on imported furniture. So, we can now compete favorably with the imported ones.
Again, every home in Nigeria needs one piece of furniture or the other, there is hardly a home without a furniture. Yes, the economy is harsh, but we have been scaling through, by using these strategies; Producing a high quality furniture that can stand the test of time, making our pricing very very affordable for all, bringing up contemporary and unique designs, providing sales promo during festive periods, these and many more are the strategies we used to break even in the industry
When you set out what were the challenges you encountered and how did you surmount them?
In every business there are challenges. But being very committed, consistent and above all, involving God in whatever you do, made me overcome the challenges involved in furniture business.
The business is also capital intensive, I didn’t have this much when I started, I started from my dad workshop, then I got a small space where I could display my products, but it didn’t end there, I also moved out to meet with the big fish in the industry then, showing them what I could do, I could supply to them at a very attractive price.
Then there were two big names in the industry in Jos, whom I supplied furniture to, whenever they sell my piece they remit back to me, since I was very creative in my designs, it also attracted more sales to these big names and indirectly to me as well. Gradually I raised funds to get a larger space and then compete with these big names as well.
What future do you see for the furniture business in Nigeria in view of government policies and the average Nigerian attitude to local manufacturers ?
The future for furniture business in Nigeria is very bright, people are beginning to see the gold mine in it. Even people who have no idea of the business are venturing into it with their money. The government too is also encouraging, like I mentioned earlier in the area of tariffs on imported furniture, but again more needs to be done by the government in the area of power, and other infrastructures as this also is a major set back for virtually all manufacturing firms in Nigeria, especially power.
For example the amount of money I spend on gas for factory purposes, is extremely draining. This is a major challenge to us, but we are hoping things would get better in the future.
As for the average Nigerian attitude towards local furniture, honestly it’s very encouraging, our market for now is local, and we are getting high patronage from our fellow Nigerians. And we expect more and more patronage and I can see in the near future the foreign furniture will have little or no patronage
What is your advise to people eying the industry to invest?
It depends, because there are those who buy and sell and of course, the manufacturers like me, but how ever my advise would be as follows:
1: You must have passion for it, that’s the driving force even when the money is not coming forth.
2: Be ready to sacrifice time and money
3: Be very creative and trendy
4: Don’t expect quick returns, I would even say, use your first 2 years to create good content. That’s , produce good and quality furniture
5: Above all Put God first in all you do, then there would be NO LIMITS to what you can achieve
Lastly, can you share your humble beginnings with us? How you came to define your path?
I was born into the family of Mr & Mrs Felix Ngene. I Grew up knowing the real struggles of life as a kid, like I mentioned earlier, during my school days, after the close of school, you would always find me in my dad’s workshop, I barely had the normal fun kids had growing up, things were very rough, even the few friends I had growing up, they didn’t come close whenever my dad was around, because why, it was always work and work, with little or no pay.
But I thank God I had those traits imbedded in me at that early stage, that challenged me to becoming who I am today. I remembered one time I almost missed my final exams WAEC, because no money for my fees. It was a family friend who saved me from missing my final exams that year, and I’m still very grateful to him.
I was determined to changing my family status, and with God nothing is impossible, I would say things are a lot more better, I have not arrived yet, but of course, I’m not where I used to be.