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Despite recession, fabric business still booms

If you walk past ten shops in the market, there is a possibility that at least two or three sell fabric. Fabric selling is one…

If you walk past ten shops in the market, there is a possibility that at least two or three sell fabric. Fabric selling is one of the busiest and profitable services rendered in any mainstream market. Daily Trust Saturday interacted with a few fabric dealers to understand the activities of the business.

Depending on how you intend to start, fabric selling is one of the most profitable businesses one can invest in.  It’s interesting to know that it is a business that constantly moves as fabric is regarded as a necessity by many. 

This is because items such as personal clothing, uniforms (school, staff, security), bedsheets, duvets, table cloth etc are always in constant demand, therefore the rise in demand for fabric.

One of the fabric dealers Mr Solomon Chinonso who spoke to Daily Trust Satuday said he served his master for 8 years in Wuse Market before starting his own business.

“In this business, the profit comes out quickly and you’re at an advantage when you’ve been trained by someone. It’s important that you at least work with someone who is grounded in the business for a period of time,” he said. 

Mr Chinonso has been selling fabric for a period of 10 years. He deals in materials like Khaki, cashmere, suit material, senator material, Turkish materials etc. 

“Most days, business doesn’t move the same. Some days are slow while some are relatively good. On a bad day, the least we get is about 10 customers. On a good day, we can have up to 30 – 50 customers.”

“The prices of materials vary depending on the quality. Some sell for N2000 or N3000 per yard. We have the ones that are 6 yards for N10,000. Regardless of the material, on a slow sales day, we could sell 200 yards of clothing and on a good day, we could sell 500-700 yards,” he added. 

However, Mr Chinonso noted that due to peculiar reasons, it’s really hard for business owners to enjoy the profits of the business. One of the issues which poses a big threat to his business is the current hike in foreign exchange.

“Fabric business is one without season therefore sales and profit tend to be consistent. However, with the high exchange rate, sometimes we can’t sell certain materials at the price we want to because we don’t want to lose our customers.

“If we are to consider cost price, shipping fares, custom duty and logistic fares before adding the profit, when we eventually add it, customers will complain that’s it’s too high. There are so many instances where we can’t really make enough gain as we are supposed to and so end up running at a loss,” he said.

Other reasons he gave why some dealers don’t enjoy their profits are high cost of rent and poor electricity.

“My shop rent is N3m, which is really high for a market and the light situation here is very terrible. Because I need my shop to be conducive enough for my customers, I run my generator all through the day and that costs me nothing less than N6,000 daily,” he added.

Another fabric dealer, Shafiyu Abubakar, said he and his father have been dealing in fabric for eight years. In their shop, they sell a variety of Ankara and lace fabrics which range from N2000 per yard depending on the material. There are some which go for N20,000, N60,000 and even as high as N320,000 for six yards.

According to Shafiyu, their customer head count is about 20-40 people in a day and total sales in a day runs into hundreds of thousands.

Unlike Solomon who raised the issue of foreign exchange as a challenge, Shafiyu mentioned that though the exchange rate fluctuates, their business is not severely affected as they buy directly from the source so it comes fairly cheap.

“If the material is an expensive one, then the price will definitely be high. But we try not to add too much gain because we deal directly with the manufacturers and so purchase the materials at a fair price,” he said.

However, Shafiyu’s dad said he would like his son to take over his business. “Whatever profession he decides to choose is up to him, however this is the business that has sustained the family so him taking over won’t be a bad idea.”

Another fabric dealer, Mr Fabian Uchenna, tells a different story from Chinonso and Shafiyu as he started his business solely by himself after raising enough capital. Starting the business was capital intensive because at the time, funds were not much of a luxury for him.

“Starting this business doesn’t come cheap especially if you want to start here in the market. The starting price for rent here is at least N1.5m. We have not even spoken about money to buy the materials and then having it shipped to your location. When I started, I used almost a total sum of N500,000.”

Unlike Mr Chinonso who focuses mainly on male fabric, Fabian deals in all kinds of material including chiffon, crepe, cotton, silk, khaki etc.

According to him, he chose to sell in Wuse market because of its central location and calibre of customers he could attract. He also believes that being in the market is the best place for a business like his.

“Before the recession, you’d have customers who will come in and buy fabrics worth millions in a day. Sometimes, it could even be just one customer buying fabrics which will sum up to a million naira or more.

“However, things are not the same anymore. Now, we deal with at least 30-50 customers daily,” he added.

“Many times, customers complain about being cheated when prices go up but the reality is, as a heavy importer, there are so many dues that have to be paid and if you don’t add all that to your selling price, it would be difficult to make reasonable profit.

“Imagine purchasing goods worth a million naira or more, custom tax may run into N500,000, you still have to ship it down from Lagos to Abuja which may cost you another N100,000 – N150,000 and when it arrives, you have to hire a vehicle that will take it to the warehouse which may cost another N15,000 – N20,000, mind you I didn’t even add the international shipping.”

“If you don’t find a way to factor in all these expenses when setting a selling price, then your business and personal finances will be running at a huge loss.” 

In Kano, fabric selling has proven to be profitable for those who have ventured into the business.

Abdulhadi Ahmed who has been selling fabric for about 28 years in Kano said prices are adjusted according to the market prices from distributors.”

Abdulhadi, who currently sells mainly men’s fabric, originally started with the popular women’s material known as ‘Atampa’ and then moved on to selling veils and laces.

“I started in Hajj camp market with women’s fabric before I decided to focus on men’s fabric. About five years ago, I was able to open another shop in Kwari market, which is the biggest textile market in West Africa.”

Starting up his business 28 years ago wasn’t difficult because the naira had more value then, he said. “I started with N25,000 before I expanded and decided to focus on just men’s fabric. Today, I deal mostly in wholesales. There are days I supply just to customers and some days I attend to family and friends who may like a fabric I post on my WhatsApp status.

“I sell out over 200 yards of different varieties of men’s fabrics and the cheapest goes for N1,500 per yard on wholesale while on retail, the starting price is N2,500 per yard,” he added. 

Most of his fabrics are sourced from Dubai and China which majority of the fabric production work is done in India and Bangladesh.

However, importing the fabrics often proves a challenge as the constant hike in foreign exchange is an issue that affects his business.

For a country with a huge demand for fabric, Abdulhadi noted that Nigeria doesn’t produce fabric because of lack of proper infrastructure. “The main reason why textile production won’t work here is because of lack of stable electricity, proper management and maintenance. No textile company produces in Kano anymore. If textile production is to be revived, then we need to address our electricity issue,” he added.

Hauwa Shehu Ashaka is another fabric dealer who’s been selling fabric for over 12 years in Kano. She started her business from home before getting a shop in 2017. 

With N100,000, Hauwa was able to start selling fabric.  She sells super wax exclusive, brocade, getzners, holland wax etc, and her prices range from N8,500 to N95,000. 

According to Hauwa, before the dollar crisis in late 2017/2018, she used to source her fabric from the UK. However, when the exchange rate became very high, she had to source from other countries like India, China, and Cotonou.

“In this business, there’s nothing like a slow season because there’s always demand for fabric. For women fabrics, it’s an all-season affair and because of ceremonies, I can sell up to 30 pieces in a day.” 

With online shopping becoming popular by the day, it’s also easy to source from fabric dealers on different social platforms such as Instagram, twitter and Facebook. 

Bilkisu Mahmoud is an online vendor who has been selling fabrics for four years. She sources her material from Kano, Lagos and sometimes Cotonou.

“I think I started with less than N60,000 in 2019. Then, I’d advertise the goods on my WhatsApp status or Twitter and when I get an order, I’ll use the money to get the items from my supplier and then I’ll get paid after delivering the items.

At first it was really challenging and risky, because sometimes people would change their minds after I got the fabrics but I made a few changes afterwards,” Bilkisu said.

“I have customers who are into ready to wear. These set of people can buy up to 20 pieces of material or more. Just recently, I made a dispatch of 17 and 22 pieces of material to two different customers in Abuja. But if it’s personal shopping, it’s mostly between one to three items,” she added.

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