Temi Akinwande holds a B.Sc in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos, and is a licenced Human Resources practitioner. Leaving the corporate world, she ventured into the world of private entrepreneurship. She had a chat with NKASIOBI OLUIKPE on the journey so far. Excerpts:
Prior to venturing into private entrepreneurship, what is your experience in the corporate world; I mean where and where you worked and the number of years spent?
I did my internship for about three years at a reputable law firm, Allan and Ogunkeye and Co., located on Broad Street, Lagos.
Thereafter, I worked for almost 10 years at Continental Reinsurance Plc where I rose through the ranks and undertook various roles at the client services and Human Resource /Administrative departments of the company within this period. After that, I got promoted to the Head of HR and Admin with Folio Communications Group briefly before I left to start my business.
What lead you into business?
In simple terms: Passion and opportunity. Once I was out of work, I started weighing my options and I had to look inwards as the job offers I was getting were few and the pay was poor. I just could not afford to be idle.
Making something beautiful out of spaces was one of the things I had always been commended for by people around me.
The interior business too had always fascinated me. So, I decided to set up something formal to keep myself busy. I have not looked back ever since.
So in what company’s name are you operating and what exactly are the things you do?
The name of my company is Elzaphan Limited. It is an SME that started out as an Interior decoration company but we have since expanded our products and services.
Elzaphan Limited is a diversified but operationally integrated company that is into Interior designing and soft furnishing, beddings and& towels sales, corporate gifts/souvenir supply and lots more.
Our interior design unit specialises in designing, building, recreating and redefining interior spaces.
We also do soft furnishing for homes, hotels, hospitals and offices. Our beddings unit supplies 100 per cent cotton bed sheets and duvets for souvenirs, corporate use and sales. They are quilted or non-quilted polished fabrics of high quality, colorful and vibrant designs.
Our towels are soft, absorbent, body friendly and 100 per cent cotton available in a variety of exciting bold colors. We offer various affordable top-notch quality souvenir/promotional items that can be customised for companies.
Our list includes almost any item you may require from conference bags, to specific types of t-shirts, caps, stationeries, kitchen wares, home wares and more.
What was the journey like?
While I was still employed, according to family and friends, I had done amasing jobs with my apartments and this made them always ask me to help out with theirs.
I often would only charge for the materials without the thought of making profit. It was just a passion. So, when the job opportunities I desired were delaying, I decided to tell more family and friends about my passion and now charged for a profit. That was how the business started.
What kind of challenges do you encounter in the business of interior designs?
Two of them come to mind right now. For the beddings business, the death of the textile industry has left us at the mercy of manufacturers abroad.
We have to go to great lengths to ensure that our country is not a dumping ground for substandard goods, often at a cost to us. Unfortunately, not everyone in the industry operates with the same principle, including some of the biggest players.
Ironically and sadly too, ‘buy Nigeria’ could prove costly for our souvenir/promotional items business as the quality of many of the items made in Nigeria are simply bad. Often only the imported substitute can satisfy our customers.
What has helped you to standout in this business?
One of it is, understanding what the customers want. With our interior décor unit, some clients come with certain concepts in mind which is way above their budget. And in interior décor business, there is a lot of difference between N10m and N9.8m. So, we always have to find the balance between concept and profit. Another thing is adapting.
There are new designs daily including some that we develop. But the biggest example of this is social media. It was not mainstreamed when I was still in school but I have had to jump fast as it is the biggest tool an MSME can advertise with since the cost is low. And there are daily new developments on it too. Adapting is key!
Any attempt at giving back to the society?
In 2017, we started an annual project to make beddings donations to hospitals in Lagos.
We have always celebrated the relaxing effect of clean, vibrant beddings and we believe this project would enable us share this with hospital patients.
We started with MCC Hospital, Gbaja, Surulere in 2017 by ourselves. We hope to get to more hospitals this year, hopefully with more items to donate.
Do you think that women are getting equal opportunities in business like men?
No. But it is certainly improving. Well, if you compare it to my mother’s generation, you will discover that women have more opportunity today than then. And as much as those who are not biased can see, the society is the better for it. Much more can be done but like I tell women, take the opportunity you have now and very importantly believe in yourself. You are not second class.