‘The furniture industry has made significant contributions to economic development of Nigeria’
Ambassador Michael Tawadrous is a passionate and accomplished entrepreneur, who is determined to redefine quality and customer service in interior designs in Nigeria. The United Nations SDG Ambassador and Managing Director/CEO of Vava Furniture Nigeria Limited spoke with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on the challenges and prospects of the furniture industry in Nigeria.
Would you say your expectations in 2017 have been met as the year is ending?
WE really thank God for the year 2017, but to be sincere, our expectations are less than what we have achieved principally because of the current situation of the economy. You’ll agree with me that the year was a very tough one for entrepreneurs in the country and any organisation that survives this period must be a very strong organisation. Despite the obvious economic challenges in 2017, we were able to open three new branches in the country; one in Opebi and Ajah areas of Lagos respectively and a branch in Ibadan in line with our expansion programme of the retail market. In the production line, we have equally expanded our factory amazingly and we opened new production line for doors and customized items for kitchens. We thank God that we have been able to survive this difficult period and we can only hope that the coming year will be a better one for everyone.
What is the percentage rate of local content in your raw materials?
To be honest with you, when we started business, it was very low and it was not our fault. The reason is the unavailability of raw materials that ordinarily would have been in abundance in Nigeria. The percentage of local content in our raw materials now is over 70 per cent and it is increasing daily. Over the years, we came to the realisation that getting raw talents in Nigeria and shaping them to our taste is more profitable than engaging expatriates. We continually make a conscious effort to venture in sustainable and pragmatic ways of doing business, so considerate effort is also made by the management in training and improving the staff to meet up with the emerging global trend.
How long do you think it will take Nigeria to attain self-sufficiency in furniture production?
I strongly believe that we can attain self-sufficiency in furniture production in the next five-10 years, but it will take conscious and pragmatic planning to achieve that feat. It equally needs government intervention and contributions for the industry to grow exponentially. We must make conscious efforts to stop importation of any type of furniture into the country and invest in the industry, that way we can attain self-sufficiency in furniture production in Nigeria.
What has been the most challenging experience of running a business in Nigeria?
I think the biggest challenge is that we don’t have an organized market in the country. If you are not importing your materials, you’ll be running from one market to the other in search of raw materials with its attendant risk of harassment by hoodlums because the markets are not organized. It is not helping the industry actually. The other challenge is that no single company produces MDF and HDF boards in the country up till date, and it is the major component in the production of tables, doors and claddings etc. Unfortunately, we import over nine million boards annually, and that consumes millions of foreign exchange. The terrible state of Nigerian roads is a very big challenge to manufacturers who have to move their goods from one state to the other. Basically, lack of infrastructures like roads and electricity has been a major hindrance to the growth of the industry.
How hard is it to have a company that produces the raw materials in Nigeria?
It is not very hard but the challenge is that it is capital intensive to have a company that can produce those raw materials locally, so there needs to be collaboration between the government and the private sector to make it happen. You’ll equally need a lot of electricity for it to happen. Funny enough, most components needed to make the raw materials available are in abundance in Nigeria, like the saw dust and wood etc. It gives me great pain that every day, we get rid of thousands of kilos of saw dust that cannot be used whereas in some other countries, the saw dust would’ve been a source of raw material locally and for export. The government needs to give an enabling environment in terms of constant availability of electricity for this kind of investment to be put down.
Assessment of the industry
The industry in Nigeria is growing rapidly, but there is no control in the market. There needs to be proper regulation of the industry in terms of the retail side of the market. I’ve seen a lot of investors expanding the supply into the furniture sector. It is important to state that there’s no development without the industry as we are contributing heavily to the development of the country. For example, there is no construction going on that the furniture industry will not be involved, so the government needs to invest and support the industry as a way of growing the economy.
What are the unique factors that stand your organisation out of the competition?
We have made it possible for the middle class to afford high-end furniture of the super rich and we equally made it possible for people to get animal skin leather sofa in the country. One of the factors that stand us out of the competition is a unique blend of quality, competitive pricing and excellent customer service delivery.
We go out of our way to research and get the best of materials to produce high quality products at a very competitive price. We fully understand what value and satisfaction means to our customers and we have the required skills in scaling up the value chain for our diverse clientele. Our network of shops all over Nigeria gives us a competitive advantage.
Expectations in 2018
Our major focus is to consistently enhance our industry more and more. We have seen it and it is very clear that those companies that import will find it difficult to survive the market trends. I invest time and resources to travel globally in search of latest technology, ideas and machines to equip myself for the global challenge ahead. We also want to build our capacity to be able to export our products beyond the shores of this country after satisfying the local demand. It is going to take us time and capital, but we are committed to generate foreign exchange by exporting our products. Ranging from home, office, school and hotel furniture, we have developed a quality assurance policy that guarantees not only quality but durable and pocket friendly products.
What drives you?
At some levels in life, you stop working because of money. What drives me is not money anymore as I want to leave a legacy and change the lives of people around me. I want to make a change in the environment I do business. My drive is to contribute meaningfully to the development of this great country in terms of investing in human capital as well as expanding our operations to create more jobs for Nigerians.