Published On: Fri, Jun 5th, 2015

Local manufacturers are relocating to neighbouring countries — Iche

Prince Saviour Iche is the Chief Executive Officer of Bright Future Hope Enterprises, an indigenous cosmetics company. He is also the founding president of Association of Micro-Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN). In this interview with Toyin Komolafe, he opens up on how he has been able to build a brand despite all odds, the problems facing SMEs in Nigeria amongst other issues.

Can you tell us about your business?
Our company is Bright Future Hope Enterprises. We are into manufacturing of cosmetic products.

What were you doing prior to starting up this business?
I was selling drugs. I went to school to study alternative medicine, afterwards I studied business administration at the Lagos State Polytechnic. My products are herbal products which are based on what I studied. At the beginning, it was something I was doing for pleasure, the response of those that I was giving it to made me go commercial.

How would you describe people’s response to locally made products?
I have to be frank, Nigerians response to local products is overwhelming. They are aware that we local manufacturers are accessible, if there is any problem you can be able to locate us. It is their encouragement that has brought many of us this far. If the consumers are not buying, we cannot continue.

At the initial stage how did you go about the distribution of your product?
Initially I was doing it all by myself. That picture over there shows where I was hawking. I started by hawking my products myself. The response from the end users helped in advertising my products.

How were you able to source the initial capital for your business?
I raised some capital by hawking, the little savings from my other business and I also had to borrow N20,000 from one of my friends at Onitsha. That was December 9, 2008.

What challenges did you face initially?
Raising funds was a problem, then the police and the regulating body. I have to say this because it has killed a lot of people’s moral. If not for God’s calling, the harassment when I started was enough for me to throw in the towel. It was so much.
One experience I will never forget was when I was producing soap which I started with. I didn’t have enough resources to produce packets for the soap, so I was using nylon and pins and I will add the paper label to it.
Police use to come to raid the small space I was using, which was my kitchen, they will extort us. There was a particular time they came, bundled me, took my products and my workers and asked a photographer to take our picture.
After the intimidation, they asked me to go and bring N10,000, which I didn’t have. Some of my friends went to the police station to report. The DPO at the station sent a letter to the other DPO where we were. They told him it was the King of the community that said they should arrest me because I didn’t have NAFDAC number.
Eventually they let me go though they were very furious, and promised to close down my business.
After the incident, I relocated to another place but they were still looking for me. They went to NAFDAC to report me. NAFDAC invited me over asking me not to produce again, they also ordered that I retrieve the little products I had in the market.  I had to stop producing.
The threat however gave me the boldness to come back prepared.

How did you surmount these challenges?
After I came back, I came out strong. I made sure that I did all they asked me to, I did the registration and made sure everything was in place. I sold everything I had to make sure that the registration was done.

 

As an entrepreneur what lessons will you say you have learnt?
I have learnt that you should be able to stay strong even when the situation asks you to withdraw.  I had the vision to go into the business, I kept on despite the ups and down.
Success doesn’t come on a platter of gold. With every vision comes challenges but the ability to overcome these challenges will differentiate the boys from the men.

 

What will you say makes your brand different from others?
Most of my products are as a result of divine inspiration and knowledge as I don’t copy anybody. The efficacy of the products as well makes the difference. Like they say, a good product sells itself.

 

Will you say government is giving enough support to SMES?
The problem we are having is how the funds are being distributed. Who are they giving the funds to? I am challenging them to publish names of the beneficiaries of these billions being pumped into SMEs.
If SMEs are properly empowered, the problem of unemployment will reduce drastically. SMEs are the highest employer of labour. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong. Multinationals can afford to buy a machine that can do the work of 20 people but people like us still need more people than machines. When we approach government for loans, they give us very harsh conditions that we are left with no option but to go back home.
The money is not going to the right channel, if not I believe some of my members at Association of Micro Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN) should have benefitted from it. In Lagos state alone, we have up to 300 members and over 800 members across 8 states of the federation.  If nobody amongst these members have received a dime, who are the people they are giving the loans to?
I started from hawking and today I have over 40 workers, without government assistance. If the government gives me loan to build my capital base, they are telling me to expand and by that I will be employing more people. I have over 40 staffs and I have over 300 application letters. Are you telling me this is a good story for Nigeria?
We are in a country where anything can happen. We have ghost workers, we may have ghost entrepreneurs getting the loans too.

 

Talking about Association of Micro Entrepreneurs of Nigeria of (AMEN), why did you decide to form this association?
The association was formed by me based on the challenges I faced. Having passed the hurdles, I felt I should be able to assist those who do not have the means.
We started in 2010, when we registered legally as an association. I started because I thought of how I could help entrepreneurs like me jump the hurdle and barriers that I faced.
AMEN stands for one family, one product or service. At AMEN, we want Nigeria to be an industrialised nation. We consume what we produce, this is what will make the economy grow and this is what will solve the problem of unemployment in Nigeria.

You pointed out the fact that government is giving out funds but people are not accessing it, how do you think this problem can be solved?
The problem can be solved when government puts the right people at the realms of affair, like I advocated for ministry of small businesses. We have only ministry of trade and investment which deals with both big and small industries and to them they think everybody is in the same level. That is why if you are sourcing for loan, they will ask you to take the same protocol as a multinational, asking you to go and bring a landed property when you are living in one room.
Even with this small money we are managing, we still have to pay for multiple taxations, that is why a lot of local manufacturers are relocating to neighbouring countries. If you go to countries like China and many other developing countries, what boost their GDP is micro industries.
The local manufacturers are suffering, the roads are bad for our vehicles, there isn’t good electricity, and we spend so much on diesel. The money I spend on diesel and gas is enough to pay salary. I pay salary and still pay for all these expenses.

 
Most times the people they put there do not have a business oriented background, we want the government to put someone that has root in that sector. Don’t bring someone who studied medicine or law to be minister for trade and investment. We need people who understand our plights as small and medium scale enterprise.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are just starting up?
If they have the vision to go into business, they should go for it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. They shouldn’t wait for what the government can do for them. With God helping them, the sky will be their limit.

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