BY AYO ALONGE firstname.lastname@example.org
When your works are admirably good and sellable, invariably, the money begins to roll in through your customer network that you built through referrals. That appears to have worked for Mr. Ignatius Njoku, the CEO of N2I Clothing.
The Imo State-born businessman shared with Sunday Sun how he started his business with little or nothing and has been able to build it to the level it is now. As a matter of fact, he even nurses a bigger dream at the moment. “One day, I know I would come to a big gathering and see all the people there wearing my brand,” he said.
Njoku shares the secret of his success in business. He also fielded questions on other related issues.
Did you ever think of being a fashion designer earlier in your life?
I never knew I would go into this. When we were much younger in 1996, we formed a club called Pens Club and I was the one in charge of what we wore as young boys growing up in the village. I chose the colours and did it the way it should be done.
So, when did you begin professionally?
When I first came to Lagos, there was much enthusiasm. Along the line, I found myself doing something else. I was doing a different business and I was also praying to God to show me what to do. My brother in London asked me to come over to stay with him but I had an issue that made me stay back in Ghana. In Ghana, I was fully in business and decided to come back to Nigeria. I had already started making clothes and people always admired my colour combination and the quality of the clothes I was making.
I started working with a friend at Maryland and we were getting it gradually, although we made mistakes sometimes. At a time, I was a dealer with a telecom company and I had contacts I had built over time and what I wanted to do was to use my contacts in my new business.
My partner then didn’t share my dreams because I wanted a situation where I would see a good fabric in the market, produce it and have people come to buy. Within some time, customers came because if the quality is good, the finishing is nice. At a time, I was paying more than the usual to the person that was doing my works for me because of the standard of his works. I just wanted good quality and finishing. I met another guy who took me to Tinubu Square in Lagos Island.
Later, I decided to be on my own, because I never wanted to continue giving someone who I won’t be there to supervise jobs. He may not be able to interpret the design the way I want. That was how I told the guy I was going back to set up a fashion factory. The guy looked at me and asked if I was stupid because he had been in the business for 17 years and he had never thought about that. He just couldn’t believe why I would be talking about that. To me, I knew what I was going to do and I was only thinking of how to go about it.
One day, I was in the house and a friend of mine came in and was putting on a well- made native which looked like an Italian-made wear. He gave me the address of the person that made it and I went to their factory to check out all they do and that was how I got motivated to go into mine fully. I had a lady friend close by who would work from Monday to Saturday while I move my workers to work over the weekends. As we went on, there was a need for us to start and we started.
The volume I was doing was then putting pressure on the people that were making the clothes for me. Gradually, we were able to put money together and we bought our first two machines.
How long has that been now?
I have been in this business constantly for five years and it has all been good. If I tell you in details how the whole thing started, you will see how funny it is.
Tell us about the challenges you encountered when you were starting up and the ones you face now.
If you are talking about a business, what about the needed fund? Someone gave me some money to give to someone else and I used it to trade and used the N20,000 proceeds to develop my business to this level.
So, how much would you say you started business with?
I would say I started business with N20, 000 which was not even mine. I never had any money of my own. I would take some money to Yaba market, buy okay trousers, adjust them and sell and that was how we started getting money to the point that we were able to purchase materials and equipment. We knew where we were going but we didn’t know which way to go. I also got a loan from the bank but later, I decided not to do it again because of the high interest rate.
Do you have plans to widen the scope of your business? If yes, how do you intend to go about that?
Just as I said, there were not enough resources with which to start. I developed that myself and I had to also engage people to work with me. When we first started, we had about 50 customers but today, our customers are getting to thousands. We have customers in the US, Canada and Ghana. In Ghana alone, we have over 2000 customers. When you take people’s money, you must do the job.
How much money do you make in the business?
I cannot say for real because the cost of running is very high. The major challenge has always been power but it has been stable now. I tell you, if we will continue to have stable power this way, I bet that within the next six months, we would move to a bigger place. I can comfortably take away 24-30 more people who are ready to work off the streets.
How can someone else make money in such a business like this?
First you must be self driven. If the drive is not there, it cannot work. For me, it is not about money. My joy is in customer satisfaction and the number of people I see wearing my clothes in a gathering. One day, I know I would come to a big gathering and see all the people there wearing my brand. I belong to a club where I instituted making same clothes for everyone. We went to a function in Ondo State and the governor, senators and everyone else asked “who are these people?” That is what gives me joy and not just about the money. There is a philosophy I have about money. Money will come with time. When you get there, the money will look for you. I also care about taking care of my workers so that they would continue to do the job.
Can you recall the largest contract you’ve performed in the business?
I don’t really charge members of my club. What I do is I make them my models. They have different places of work and they get me contracts there. The biggest of my contracts is the one I got from some people in the US. I made one for one of my customers in there and when he wore it to a gathering and the president of the club saw it, he was interested and ordered five units.
When he got it, he was so satisfied that he assured me the big one was about to come. He said he would give me a contract to make clothes for about 700 people in the US who are members of his club. We have sent them all and the whole money I made from the contract was about $10, 000 dollars.
Have you ever recorded any loss in business?
Yes, we do all the time but that is never a problem. If you make clothes and they do not fit you, it would do for someone else. Before Italians make clothes, they invite you for what is called fitting but here, people won’t even come if you ask them to come for fitting.
Are you not afraid of the competition?
What makes us stand out as a company is that I am in for the game and I am not scared of anyone. It’s a business that must grow. The finishing of the clothes made in Nigeria was not too good and that was what prompted us to come into the business. My clothes fit well and our cuts are spectacular. I really don’t like making loud styles but I do that if customers want me. Whenever I make clothes for customers, I make calls to follow up on how they fit. I do that always until I am sure I have got it right.
What message do you have for young entrepreneurs who are still struggling in business?
Source : SunOnline