By Josephine Agbonkhese
She is the mistress of all trades. As a cobbler, governors, senators, A-list artists and entertainers, form her clientele. As a PR consultant/social media strategist, the list includes former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, governors, ministers, public and private organizations, as well as celebrities. That’s not all. She has also carved a niche for herself in blogging, TV presentation/production and brand management.
The MD/CEO of Bodex Group International, Florence Bodunrin-Hungbo, popularly known as Bodex, decided early in life to chart her own path and vowed to be successful through hard work. This has seen her hawk on the streets of Badagry, Lagos, where the seed of today’s brand, Bodex, was sown. Enjoy our chat with the graduate of industrial chemistry.
When did the journey begin and why so many areas of interest?
I started in 2007, but now I have three companies—Bodex Beauty House, Bodex Media and House of Bodex— all under one umbrella, Bodex Group International. However, I really don’t have particular areas of interest. All I do is start a business. The outcome determines if I should continue or not. Once the outcome is good, then it becomes the area of interest. It must have been due to my childhood experiences.
While growing up, I had this mentality that too much of comfort is deadly and coming from a polygamous family made it tougher. I started hawking because things turned out unpleasant. I hawked ‘puff-puff’, bread, biscuit and more. My late father was rich, but when your father loved a set of people more than you and will pay their school fees first and delay yours, you should know you have to work hard. So I vowed to be successful and stand on my own to change such narrative.
However, capital is the most difficult in any business, especially when you are, well, not from a well-to-do family or couldn’t save money. But once you have passion for anything, the spirit of wanting to succeed automatically becomes your capital. For my shoe company, for instance, I didn’t start with one naira. I made some shoes for myself, wore them around and people liked them. When they asked that I make for them, I said it is pay before production. Someone paid N50, 000 for some and I made a profit of N20, 000. And it has been like that. As I said, your passion is your money, before you start cashing out.
You studied Industrial Chemistry; at what point did you delve into public relations and why?
I felt I had free internet and time in the office while working as personal assistant/secretary to Jimoh Ibrahim in 2014. So, I decided to start what I called ‘play play blogging’ instead of wasting time. I began blogging about my daily activities, posting about myself, my everyday experience with people, my mode of dressing and more. I never knew some important people noticed and were constantly reading my ‘play play’ blogging. When it was time for 2015 elections, I was contacted through my blog and invited to meet with the then President Goodluck Jonathan on media grounds. After my meeting with him, I was asked to be his Media Consultant and my job was to organise bloggers for press briefing, adverts and a lot more. I pulled that crowd and His Excellency was amazed and impressed. From then onward, I decided to add PR consultancy to my job and since then, I have consulted and is still consulting for government, public and private individuals and organizations.
Did education and/or training help?
Yes. You need them. You must keep learning. Though a graduate of Industrial Chemistry from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, Ogun State, over the years, I have taken trainings across sectors. These include HSE Competence Development Training, Basic Fire Safety, Effective Communication, Value-Based Customer Service, shoe, belt and bag making, How May I help You Programme and Google News Lab, among others.
So, it’s been 12 years of working the public, private and entertainment industry as a digital business woman knowledgeable in social media strategy, digital marketing, blogging, PR consultancy, TV presentation/production, brand management and, of course, as a renowned female cobbler. I have also gained considerable project experience while working with NAPIMS-NNPC, MTN, Global Fleet Oil and Gas. As a PR consultant, I consulted for former President Jonathan; Otunba Gbenga Daniel and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. I am the PR consultant for La Campagne Tropicana and do jobs for Globacom, Lagos State government and some entertainers.
I read about you in a Turkish shoe factory…
Yes, I was in Turkey to partner with one of the biggest shoe factories so I can start large scale shoe production. I also went to check out new shoe-making machines and their cost. During the tour, I realised that so many things I use my hands to make here in Nigeria can actually be done with some specific machines designed for such purposes. I also got to know that the Turkish government has some money set aside for entrepreneurs, who have talent but no capital.
Do you have your eyes on the foreign market?
I am already in the foreign market. I currently have two offices in United States where I sell my footwear and both whites and blacks love them. I also have clients in Dubai, London, Ghana and South Africa. Many of them buy from me and resell over there.
Let’s say you have the powers. What would be the one thing you will do to boost entrepreneurship in Nigeria?
I will create an open market—online or offline— where entrepreneurs can showcase their craft with maximum media buzz. But for now I, am into a women empowerment scheme called Bodex Exceptional Women Initiative, BEWI, which aims at training, promoting, showcasing, influencing and empowering exceptional women in men-dominated professions. Although a new initiative, we already have Mrs Toyin Saraki on board. The first summit will be in October, God willing, and we have young girls submitting entries to be part of it.
What business principles have helped you and, in retrospect, what mistakes did you make that you would advise entrepreneurs against?
The personal business principle that has helped me over the years, and still helping me, is sticking to whatever I believe or have passion for; as long as it keeps people talking, then that’s good business.
I have made a lot of mistakes, such as ‘chopping’ my profit and then ending up spending from capital. Again, I combined my personal account with the business account, which isn’t good for business. Every business owner should separate personal account from business account.
What gives you the most satisfaction?