Lariat Alhassan, 30, Managing Director/CEO of LarryGold Business Link Limited, makers of Larclux paints, in this interview with EVEREST AMAEFULE shares her experience on how she proceeded from being an entrepreneur on campus to establishing a paint industry
How did you get into entrepreneurship?
I have been an entrepreneur all my life. In and out of school, I have worked for people but I always had it in mind that I would be an entrepreneur. I had to work after my National Diploma. During the holidays, I had to work for people to get the financing I need to start my own business. When it was time to go back to school, I returned to school. Then I finished and served. I worked for two years and then I knew it was time for me to start.
I had always dreamt of being a young entrepreneur. I operated many types of businesses while I was in school. In school, during month ends, I would buy things that I thought people would need. I sold recharge cards and other products I thought people needed. I only added little profit margins. I bought in bulk things I knew were in demand.
By the time I was serving, I had already mentored a number of people on starting their own businesses. I was nominated in my CD (Community Development) group to go for an entrepreneurial training by NYSC. I wrote the best feasibility study and I got the highest loan to start up a business. That was in 2008. The amount was N150, 000. My NYSC discharge certificate was used as collateral. I started in Kebbi. I got an industrial oven and I started baking for people. I was baking birthday and wedding cakes and was offering catering services.
Specifically, how did you get into paint manufacturing?
I worked with one of the biggest names in paint manufacturing. When I left, I got myself trained. When I finished the training, I was ready to start manufacturing. When I was working for the paint firm, I was not even in the manufacturing section but I was very passionate about colours. There was hardly any colour that I could not mix. I became a colour consultant. I consult for people what colours they could use in their houses; internally and externally. When I worked for the paint company, my intention was to save some money and perhaps venture into another kind of business but I got so involved. I worked there as if I was working for my own company. I worked whole-heartedly. I worked more than the hours I was supposed to work and days I was not supposed to work. I went to sites to supervise projects. Through that, I got passionate about colours and paint making. And I thought; why can’t I go into this business? I told myself that if I get myself properly trained, I should be able to do this business and that was how I developed interested in it. I went to train myself and got my machines.
Tell me about your education.
I am a graduate of hospitality management. I graduated from the Federal Polytechnic, Bida in 2006 and I served between 2007 and 2008. I am now a member of the Nigerian Institute of Management. I have a certificate in interior decoration and I have a certificate in paint production.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced since you started your own business?
The most important challenge that we face when we go into business is finance. The ability to put together enough finance to be able to go into business is a serious issue. Another big challenge I have faced is access to land. I had to start with leasing a place for factory. Because the place is leased, I cannot put up a permanent structure. The land is not mine. Imagine if I have a land; it will go a long way in helping me. However, I have decided that whether I have all I need or not, I will do my business. So access to finance and land are big challenges.
The next challenge is the psychology of Nigerians. They think that they should patronise products that are made outside this country. We are actually breaking that now because we have people who use our products. When they do; they love it and have a rethink. And they continue to patronise us.
For people that have decided to go into manufacturing like myself, the Nigerian government can allocate a portion of land, perhaps an industrial layout, and allocate it to manufacturers at very considerate prices. This will encourage manufacturers.
But there are industrial estates all over the country.
They are very, very expensive. We have one in Idu. It takes millions to acquire it and you cannot get one directly. You can only buy from people who have acquired the lands from the government. I am also sure that those that bought them from the government did not buy them cheap. So right now you cannot get the land except from people who were able to acquire them and many of them are not even into manufacturing and now they sell it at a very exorbitant rate. You cannot get such lands for less than N20m or N30m. Where would a person that is venturing into manufacturing like me get such money? The real innovators don’t have that kind of money.
I thought you were going to discuss a challenge like power.
Thank you very much; that is another core challenge. Do you know that where I am using as a factory now, I cannot even access power? When I do, the power is not stable. I had to buy an industrial generator to power my factory. The expenses is added to the production cost and it makes the product more expensive than it is supposed to be ordinarily if one is using power from the national grid.
What is your assessment of the paint industry in Nigeria?
The paint industry is doing well. It is a large one. A lot of the small ones that are springing up do not have an organised structure. As I told you, there is the challenge of accessing land. Most of them do it manually from where they live. It is not healthy to produce paint from where you are living because of the chemicals. Most of the paint producers, except the large ones that are established, don’t have any place they can cite their manufacturing plants.
So do you think there is place for young and small manufacturing plants when there are large and established ones?
Definitely; they have a place in the paint market. They don’t incur much production costs as the large ones. Because of this they attract their customers by selling at a very low price. That opens the market for them.
Are you saying that your price is competitive?
If you look at my price list, you will find that we are very competitive. In some products, our price is up to two or three times lower than what some manufacturers sell. And it is the same quality. In fact, when you use my paint and the ones from some highly established manufacturers, you will hardly differentiate which one has been used where.
What is the level of local content in the paint industry?
We procure some of the chemicals we use from Nigeria. What constitute the body of the paint is manufactured in Nigeria. We have other chemicals that are imported. We have just got news that some people are manufacturing the same chemicals we import from outside. Some samples have been sent to me to try if it is okay. Right now I have not started patronising them.
What do you think about young people leaving school to start their own enterprises?
There is place for them but if the challenges I mentioned to you are not tackled, it can be very tough. A lot of people that have gone into manufacturing face some challenges such as finance.
So how should a young person that wants to be an entrepreneur prepare for the challenges?
If you want to be an entrepreneur; first, you must have that love for entrepreneurship. You must be highly spirited. You must be ready to face the challenges that come with it because there are lots of challenges that come with entrepreneurship. It is the challenges that will show whether you have the entrepreneurial spirit. We face many challenges but we remain undaunted because we are actual entrepreneurs. People that are not real entrepreneurs fall by the wayside because they are not able to bear the challenges. If you are a true entrepreneur and you are highly spirited, you will overcome the challenges.
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