In this interview with The News Chronicle (TNC), Femi Babatunde, the CEO of EfandaLeathercrafts talks about his business, motivation, challenges, future plans …and many other issues.
TNC: First, let me congratulate you for EfandaLeathercrafts. We all know that it is not easy to set up a business and run it successfully. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your company and why you ventured into that line of business? How has it been so far? Tell us about the company’s growth trajectory, including the number of employees.
FB: Thank you. I’m Femi Babatunde, the creative director of EfandaLeathercrafts, I have a first degree in Chemistry and currently enrolled for my MBA. Over the last ten years, I’ve worked as a brand & marketing strategist and have had the privilege of being part of a vibrant team that has breathed life into loads of brands across different segments of the Nigerian economy. As a person, I’ve always been enamoured about how to literally ‘mint’ my own money hence my leaning is always towards creating value as I know that it is a sure way to keep this money-minting idea going.
I consider myself to be an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ because I didn’t particularly set out to venture into running my own business but necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, hence when I found myself in-between jobs some years ago, I decided to look inwards to birth my own business. Though I was introduced to running a business by my paternal grandmother who ran a pharmacy back in the village and since I was staying with her, I got to run the shop whenever she was not around. I never really thought so much about that experience until I started Efanda and found myself handling the business from end to end.
Though I’ve not always been a shoe freak, I am particular about shoes and how they accentuate one’s look and I sort of felt drawn to that sector when I decided to start my business. The attraction for me was on how to make ‘Made in Nigeria’ shoes attractive to people as a way of growing the naira. Though we have not scaled the business to a level where one will say we are impacting the economy at a grand scale, we are making our modest contribution towards growing the naira indeed. We started from making a couple of foot wears but so far we have made and sold hundreds of foot wears to customers across Nigeria and even outside the shores of Nigeria.
At the moment, we have about 10 employees consisting of both full time and ad-hoc staff with most of them involved in the production bit of the business. We have grown in leaps and bounds from that modest background by fully exploring online channels with plans underway to open our flagship store in Lagos towards the last quarter of the year. The joy for me is that, every day of every year, someone somewhere is rocking an Efanda product – the kind of satisfaction I get whenever I get to meet people in random places wearing our pieces cannot be monetized, and that for me, is a perfect icing on the cake – asides the lives we are touching by staying in business.
TNC: Please tell us about what keeps you motivated and focused on the business – despite the inevitable odds that anyone or any business faces along the way. What are the peculiar challenges you face you in your line of business? What are some of the glorious moments of the business?
FB: If you want to run a business in Nigeria, you will have to also take on the title of encourager-in-chief, your ‘stick-to-it-tiveness quotient’ has to be high because there are loads of discouraging factors but for me, I always remember why I started the business in the first place – the fact that I wanted to serve people in my own unique way. You have to stick to it until things change or you change things. Many people have always talked about funding as a major challenge to running a business but I take a different approach to it.
I ask what kind of business do you want to build and how do you want to grow the business? I made up my mind ab initio to grow organically so everything about the business has always been self-funded. That has its merits and demerits but knowing my personality, I’m better able to sleep well at night knowing that we are indebted to no one and seeing how we have creatively scaled the business in the absence of investors or external funding has made me see myself as a superman of some sort (laugh).
The most glorious moment for me was when we sent a pair of shoes to the United States of America just barely 3 months after starting the business. That someone will order for a pair of Made in Nigeria shoes from the US was both humbling and fulfilling. When we also crossed the 100 pairs of shoe mark, it was another major milestone I will never forget but in all, one day is different from the next and I’ve learnt to enjoy the journey as much as the landing.
TNC: The government says it has put in place a number of incentives to help businesses such as encouraging the banks to lend to them at favourable interest rates. Are there any government incentives you have tried to tap to grow your business? How would you want the government to assist businesses like yours?
FB: In all honesty, our account officer in the bank where our corporate account is domiciled spoke to me about a special loan for those in our line of business with a piece of advice on how to access it. I have also spoken with someone from the Bank of Industry to see how to access loan to fund our expansion plan but all those are more in our long term plans and not in the immediate. There is a picture of success I have in mind and until we attain it, I feel we are not ready to take on loans. I have always opined that growth is good but not all growth is good. Cancer is a form of growth but it is not a good kind growth and that is what I feel most entrepreneurs need to know.
We need to learn to pace ourselves and not get drawn into the ‘rat race’ by joining others to run their race while abandoning ours. Remember, even if you win in a rat race you are still a rat. The process of accessing some of these facilities seem straightforward to me in principle (although something tells me that it will be a lot difficult than what our banker painted), but when we get to that bridge we shall cross it. What we desperately need from the government is an enabling environment that will allow our ideas to flourish as well as access to raw materials at competitive prices. Loads of people are always surprised when they hear the prices of our products as they are of the opinion that since they are made in Nigeria, they should be ‘cheaper’. The input that goes into making the products, discounting the huge labour and given that all our products are artisanal however compel us to sell at the prices in which we do. Remember we only use genuine leather for all our products. We have been able to make our customers see the value beyond the price they pay for our products but as it has been said, the greatest room in the world is called ‘room for improvement’. We need to continue to take our space in that room to be better in all respects and we desperately need the government’s support in this regard.
TNC: Please tell us of a typical day in your life as a business owner, the time you wake up, get to your office, the challenges you typically face, including with clients and employees and what puts smiles on your face on a typical day. .
FB: My day starts very early given the peculiarity of the city I operate from. I spend some time to meditate and commit the day into the hands of God, then plan my day on paper before I go ahead to execute – the planning includes looking at the orders in the system and the time of delivery, completed orders that need to be shipped to clients as well as new prospects to reach. At the factory, I am particular about quality control hence I sit with my production team to ensure that each order is being done according to the client’s specifications. I also take time out to network, especially if there are events to attend or training where one can add to his knowledge bank especially in the commercial aspect of running a business. There are also times when one has to do some damage control to placate customers whose order is a bit delayed or the sizing is not perfect.
These are all realities of running a business and I do not shy away from them. There will definitely be issues occasionally but how responsive we are as an organization in resolving the issues will either make us keep the client or lose the client. We try to always achieve the former rather than the latter and so far so good, our repeat customers are in the vast majority.
TNC: Where do you think that your company will be in the next five years? What advice can you offer aspiring entrepreneurs?
FB: In the next five years, we hope to have implemented our long term plan which should see us integrate both the online as well as brick and mortar channels for the distribution of our products. Our brand should be known for quality, quick turnaround time in production especially for our bespoke products and unmatched customer service. At the moment, we focus on bespoke, but we are also venturing into ready to wear products as well to appeal to different consumer segments. I see a vibrant sector with Efanda as a key player.
Entrepreneurship is a marathon and not a sprint. I will advise my fellow comrades to forget about the allure of entrepreneurship and focus on the value-addition agenda that will really make them stand out in the marketplace. Pace yourself and grow at a rate you can successfully manage, compete with yourself and let your work speak for you instead of chasing after accolades at the expense of the real work.