Mrs Omololami Ajani is the Managing Director of Wood Et Al Limited, a furniture manufacturing firm in New Nyanya, Nasarawa State town near Abuja. In this interview, the female entrepreneur and job creator spoke about the empowerment of graduates with furniture making skills and what it takes for a woman to drive such business.
Could you tell us more about Wood Et Al’s current activities?
Wood Et Al Limited is a furniture manufacturing company that furnishes living, learning and work spaces. We operate from three places in Nigeria. The factory has a 2000 square metre showroom in Abuja and another in Victoria Island, Lagos. We deliver furniture nationwide and hope to begin delivery to other West African countries in the next two years.
The firm has graduated ITF-supported trainees. How did you arrive at that partnership?
We have always had this challenge of getting skilled labour, so we felt we should get people who have graduated and want to add skills. We got them and trained them. It takes commitment for us to do that because we want to have skilled people in the various aspects of furniture making.
We are members of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA). We told the association that we are having this challenge and we were intimated on their training and scheme and their relationship with the Industrial Training Fund (ITF). Since we are already subscribing to the two agencies, we automatically qualify to benefit from the scheme.
The officials came and inspected our facilities. We then went through the application process and were awarded a slot to train 30 people over the course of two years. What we have is broken down into three years because we have to be flexible to the needs of the youths. A lot of them don’t want to be tied-down so we have six-month sessions for six segments.
Again, as they graduated after the six months, a lot of them indicated interest to continue. I feel like it was a situation where they were not sure of what they were coming into and they did not want to commit to that in a long term. But being in the system and with their testimony during the graduation, it certainly has changed their lives. I told them to make a list of those who would want to continue and I saw the same number of people that enrolled initially. Four dropped out so we graduated 26, with two females among them.
Does Wood Et Al have the capacity to retain the 26 trained youth?
Yes we do. It is an industry with high level of staff turnover. What we have designed our process of manufacturing to do is such that when we need more hands, these trained persons fill in the space. Over time, there is growth through the system, and there are spaces for those to come in. It is our hope that we will have a full-fledged training school soon.
How easy is it for you as a woman to break into this business?
Indeed I am always committed to the vision. Once you are committed to the vision, everything becomes easy. There are challenges on the way: like initially they said, a woman? What does she know? We have to learn the job and stay focused. You train yourself and nothing is impossible when you are committed to the course.
What does it take for a local firm to survive amid foreign competitors in the industry?
Our secret is that we deliver fast. We don’t limit ourselves to the actual product, we look at the spaces and we transform spaces. We use not only the furniture that we produce but we also combine other things to make it unique for the living, learning and working spaces. We actually pride ourselves as a company that would be able to give customers a solution that is continuously pleasing to the sight.
What motivated you to site your factory in Victoria Island, Lagos. ?
The founder of this company, Mr Folade Ajani, found a space there as he was growing the business which was of course cheap and a suitable location. There are so many things like traffic, and finding skilled labour to fit in to the space. We found out that those that come to our system and we train are better skilled than those that are out there because they are following the traditional method. We now use advanced technology from start to finish. Even though we get our raw materials from the South, we are still competitive with those producing in the South.
What is the staff strength of the company?
We have 57 staff members who are fully employed and we also have ad hoc staff that we call in depending on the job on ground. This company has existed for 17 years and we have done a lot of jobs.
What are the challenges of this business so far?
There are many challenges running a business, such as power and security. So far, we have not had issue of security because our neighbours are friendly and we are friendly to them. We invite residents to come to graduations and see the impact of what we are doing.
We invited Karu Local Government Area chairman and he promised to support the training scheme and also send in some indigenes. That was a problem initially, getting people to fill in the slots. But it was the issue of skepticism earlier, finding it hard to believe that they did not have to pay for the training. We also gave them transport allowance and fed them. We give them tools and uniforms.
It was very hard for them to believe even when we advertised it at the LGA. We also invited Nasarawa State University which showed interest in a partnership for a training school so we can contribute to creating more jobs.