Owelle Philips Anyakudo, managing director, Niger Glaze Nigeria Limited, one of the leading marble companies in the country has bestrode the construction industry like the proverbial Colossus for 14 years, selling marble, tiles, ceramics and other building materials and from the business, fortune has smiled on him.
With just N45 at inception, Owelle Anyakudo has been able to build a thriving business empire, now he plans to start the manufacturing of marbles and tiles in the country. He said that since business is all about rendering service and filling gaps for a fee or reward, the environment where one lives should be one of the factors to be considered before deciding on the kind of business to go into.
According to him, that was one of the things he took into consideration before he chose to go into the importation of marble and the laying of tiles as his line of business, going by the fact that Nigeria is still a developing country, and as such, there is bound to be housing related projects.
He said the greatest asset required to start a business is not money as people would think but honesty, adding that that was why Niger Glaze which he started 14 years ago with only N45 is now one of the biggest marble and granite companies in the country and being patronised by multinationals.
In this interview, he also spoke about his humble beginning, his partnership with Italian and Canadian governments to start manufacturing marbles in Nigeria and the challenges affecting manufacturing business in Nigeria. Excerpts:…
In the beginning
My name is Owelle Philips Anyakudo, a prince from Ekwe ancient kingdom, formerly in Orlu region but now in Isu Local Government Area of Imo State. I attended St Ephraim’s Secondary School, Owerrenta and later University of Maiduguri. I also attended the International Detective School in California, United States where I obtained a post graduate diploma. All my life, I have been in business. I began by hawking cosmetics around motor parks in Aba and Port Harcourt at a very tender age. I was working for my uncle who was a major dealer in cosmetics. I was combining hawking with my secondary school education between the ages of 11 and 14, even though my father was the king of Ekwe Kingdom then. When I came to Lagos after my graduation from higher institutions here in Nigeria and the United States, I established Royal Class Boutique in Surulere. I was dealing mainly in designer perfumes, shoes and bags. Then, there was a lot of pilfering and armed robbery. It was a superstore, as at that time, a business of five million naira was a very big business and robbers and pilferers were constantly coming to disturb us. As a result, I withdrew from the business and opted for one that does not involve moving cash up and down.
What influenced my choice of business
When I graduated from the university, I looked at Nigeria and saw that it is a developing country and I asked myself, what was really needed here. You know that when a young graduate from university starts to work, if he is lucky to get one, the three things that would be at the back of his mind are to have a good car, to marry and to have a home of his own. I told myself that I cannot go into car business because it is not steady. Car manufacturers come out with new models of cars every three months and before you know it, you would be selling old model cars. When I looked at marble and tiles business, I found peace because housing is one of the basic needs of man. Everybody, whether old or young needs a house. Somebody who is building a house would always need wall and floor tiles. He would use posilyn, vitrify tiles or marble. Whoever has made a little money and wants to build a house, must ask for tiles even if it is the cheapest, that is wall tiles. The same goes with toilet systems. So,I decided to settle for the construction industry because that is the stage Nigeria is in as a developing country. I told myself that I would be bringing in the best marble for those who want to go into construction in Nigeria, be it for residential, commercial, churches, mosques or industries.
Starting Niger Glaze
I went into marble business as a novice. Before then I had joined a company known as Njaba Ventures. I started as Personal Assistant to the owner of the company and later as General Manager.The owner of the company also did not know anything about marble business. We were doing trial and error and we really burnt our fingers due to ignorance. We fell into the hands of the traders at the Odun-Ade building materials market, along Orile Road in Lagos and they defrauded us. They cleaned out all the money that I brought into the business and left me high and dry. But I thank God for that experience because that was what led to the incorporation of Niger Glaze. When I wanted to incorporate Niger Glaze as a business venture in April, 2000, I had only N45. Of course, you don’t need money to go into business. What you need is integrity. After my stay at Njaba Ventures, I learnt the differences in all the tiles, be it ceramic, vitrified, granite and marble and people were happy that I was telling them the truth. So, if you want to succeed in business, tell people the truth. The truth that I told them brought a lot of success in my business and in my life because I was telling them that they cannot use ceramic in their sitting rooms, that they cannot use ceramics where there would be traffic or constant movements. This tile or that tile is what you would use. Most people don’t know the difference between marble and granite or ceramic and porcelain or vitrified tiles. I was telling them this and proving it with chemicals. They were happy. So, in business, first of all, get the hearts of your would-be customers and money will start to roll in. I never advertised. The jobs that I was doing was giving me a lot of references. I had no office or showroom. I was operating from my house. If you tell me that you would come to my showroom, I would tell you don’t worry that I would bring the samples to your construction site and early in the morning, before you get to your site, I was already there waiting for you with my samples beautifully displayed. So, as I said earlier, in business, trust, honesty and integrity are the key words and then hard work. Get the hearts first and money will start flowing endlessly.
How we make money in the business
I am not a non governmental organisation (NGO) or a charity organisation. I make my money through volume sales. I don’t top more than a hundred or hundred and fifty naira on a square metre of tile that I sold. I make sure that for a square metre of tile, I don’t look for more than hundred and fifty naira and with that, I always sell cheaper than my competitors, but the secret there is that people come to buy in large quantity so the little money that I add at the end of the day amounts to something substantial. So, I make money through volumes. People come here and buy more than 20 containers of tiles at a go. We don’t use prices to chase our customers away. But my joy is to go into production and help to reduce the number of unemployed in the society. We believe in telling the customers the truth and giving them our products at reasonable prices.
Beating competitors is very easy because right now we are about the only company that is importing Italian tiles. Some people who are living in Italy but when they get to the port and meet the difficulties of Customs and clearing agents,they would be discouraged. There are other people that try to import what we call stock. Stock means in a container, you would have about 20 different colours. Those people cannot make much because a client can come here and demand six containers of the same colour. We also cannot compete with the Chinese because their products are inferior. Even those who are selling Chinese tiles come here to buy tiles when they are building their own houses.
Why we are unique
We are unique because of the quality of our tiles.Everything about tiles started in ancient Rome.They have been in tiles from creation. All the Basilicas were built with tiles.They started with Mosaic tiles and from there to peoples homes. There is no house that was built in Rome from the ancient days till now that does not have tiles. They don’t even bother with paints. Today, they have equipment that changes the temperature of your rooms. When the weather is too cold, it changes your room temperature to warm and when the weather is too hot, it changes the room temperature to cold. For all the years that we have been in business, nobody has bought tiles here and returned it, be it church, mosque or individuals. We don’t only sell to you, we also educate you on how to use it so that there will be evenness of tone. There is no need to go to the open market to meet people who are anxious to sell.Here,we are integrity conscious and anything you buy, we follow you to your house to make sure that the right thing is done. We don’t go about advertising. Our workers are trained people in the field and their duty is to give the best in terms of finishing.
Challenges in the business
Faking and selling substandard products is the biggest headache in the business. A particular country I would not like to mention here is very good at designing the counterfeit of any good product you can think of. I deal in Italian and Spanish tiles but for each Italian or Spanish tile, some other countries have what looks more fanciful and more good looking but the quality is almost zero. The worst of it all is that the price goes for two for a penny and being a Nigerian doing this business it is always difficult to convince somebody to leave something that is flashy and cheap to buy something that is costlier. So you have to talk from now till tomorrow. Some people will tell you that what they are building is commercial house and as such they don’t need quality tiles.But they forget that the house belongs to them and if they use cheap materials in its construction, a tenant would only live there for two years and after that you would use all the rent that was paid to you for reconstruction which is penny wise pound foolish. I continue to tell people that education is not only going to school. Education means knowledge and when you have knowledge you have the weapon against ignorance, poverty and disease. Education would make you to know that most times the cheapest is the most expensive. Some people would use wall tiles on the floor and tell you that tiles are tiles. If you use quality tiles in your house, you would spend less on maintenance. Another challenge that we have in this business is epileptic power supply. I told myself that after ten years, I should start manufacturing but the Italians that I brought to Nigeria for feasibility studies after going round, they told me that there is abundant raw materials for tiles in Nigeria, but that the problem is lack of stability in power supply.When I suggested generator, they said that the cost of maintenance would be very high. You know it is cheaper to import than to manufacture here in Nigeria.
Going into manufacturing
Right now I have got a partner and we are working towards opening up a granite company in Nigeria. We have already procured equipment worth six million euros. Some Canadians also want to come into the project but they are asking for 25 years licence from the federal government but government said it can only grant five years which could be renewed. So, I am pleading with them to accept the five years so we can go into granite production because we have a lot of deposits in the country.
The site is in Edo State. I am to anchor the distributorship as well as secure the machinery while they do the production. In the area of machinery, I had initially wanted to source the machines from Spain but when it did not work out, I went to Italy and I saw good machines in Italy. So we are about to start and for the unstable power supply,we hope to overcome it by using gas turbines, just to make sure that we start the project because my dream is to give at least 2000 people jobs. When you create jobs, crime would reduce and prostitution would also reduce.Even Boko Haram would go into extinction because Nigerians love life. Suicide bombing is not part of us.