Nkechi Agbeze is the CEO/Managing Director of Nelethels Services Limited, Manufacturers of Lyone Paints
Question: While working as a paid employee, you were researching on which area of manufacturing business you could delve into. Was it because the pay was not attractive? Why the desire to be self employed?
Answer: Although the pay actually was not attractive, but right from university days, I have always wanted to do my own thing. However, most people in the Engineering department in the university want to work in the oil and gas industry, but I just wanted to be different and go into manufacturing. But then, I didn’t know what I wanted to manufacture. So, I researched into manufacturing including sachet water and discovered that some of them are really capital intensive. There is this course we did in Chemical Engineering called Unit Processing, it’s just about the processes in production. I and my very good friend decided to set up a plant to manufacture ethanol from cassava. That is related to our final year Design project. In Chemical Engineering, you do two projects, design and research. But somewhere along the line we decided to leave it because of the funds involved, but still hope to go ahead with it sometime in the future. But then, other ideas kept coming.
Question: So, how did you arrive at the decision of what to manufacture?
Answer: People around me advised that I go into paint production but I asked how many people around paint their houses. I just said you can move into your house without deciding to paint it. I was looking for something that people use often. But then, I met some labourers at a construction site and we got talking. They asked, why don’t you produce paint? My response was still the same. Then they retorted that if I go into it, I will make so, so and so money. The same day, I stopped over to see a friend. You won’t believe what I saw close to the place I was going: Learn a skill, learn paint production. I now felt that all these were working together for a purpose. I decided to call the number I saw on the post. But I didn’t fail to ask if there was money in it. He encouraged me that if I do it well, it will pay off.
Question: How do you feel like being an employer of labour?
Answer: Well, it feels good to be an employer. It also feels good to be doing something that you enjoy. But then, it’s not easy also because you have got to be responsible to other people. You have got salaries and bills to pay, and now, being the rainy season, business is slow. These are all the things that come with being an employer. If I were to be an employee, I wouldn’t need to bother about them. Rather I would just fold my arms, collect my salary and move on.
Question: Paint making in Nigeria is heavily dependent on imported raw materials. How have you been coping with the dearth of foreign exchange?
Answer: Well, like I said previously, when I started, dollar was between N400 to N500 to a dollar. But now it is less than that. So, somehow, the prices of things have not really changed as at the time I started the business. But maybe some people who might have been there for a longer period might have been affected by it. But for me, I have managed to maintain my size. We import things like acrylic, but a good number of other things are also locally manufactured. So, things have not really changed much.
Question: So, how would you assess government policies on the manufacturing sector?
Answer: First and foremost, I wish that they can stop the importation of anything that we can produce here. There are markets you go to get your product, and they will be telling you they want one particular foreign brand or the other. This is not just for the paint sector alone, whatever we can produce here, should have its importation stopped by government. That is the only way you can encourage indigenous brands.
Question: If you say they should stop the importation of anything that can be manufactured locally, do you think the local ones can match the standards of the imported ones?
Answer: Some of us can. To be frank with you, there are so many imported paints in the market. If they stop those ones, people like us would step up. I try to maintain my quality and standard. If you go to the market, you can see a bucket of paint for N2, 000; the same quantity that I sell for N5,500. But the quality is not the same. My paint cannot chalk; it is not possible because I try to maintain a standard. Some of these imported brands are leveraging on names because they have been there.
But I can assure you that their quality cannot beat my paint. Some of them sell a bucket of paint for over N30, 000; still the quality is not better than ours that go for N5, 500 and that of some other indigenous brands. The durability is also high. Some people think because they are more expensive, that their quality is higher. They are just factoring-in the cost of shipping and the other tariffs attached, not the quality. For me who just produce here and forwards to the end user, I am not paying for shipment and tariffs.
Question: Has femininity in any way affected your business life; don’t you think that you would have been bigger if you were to be a man?
Answer :No, I don’t think so; maybe because I think as a man. But to be very sincere, people tend to look down on you as a female. I don’t go advertising that I am the CEO, no. The only thing is that when people get to know that you are the owner, they would want you to prove yourself. As a female, you have got to work twice as hard as a man to get people to believe in what you are doing. If you don’t want them to take you on face value, as a beautiful lady, with a nice sharp, you must make them see the stuff in your brain, by working twice as hard. So, for me, I will not say it is difficult, but the truth is that it is actually different.
Question: Do you think belonging to a professional body in any way aids or enhances business growth?
Answer: For our kind of business, I think so because of networking, I mean where you get to meet people. Besides, they also have a way of regulating the activities of members.
Question: There are a lot of paint makers in the market out there. How do you cope with competition? What are your unique selling points? Why should I leave the numerous paints out there to go for Lyone Paints?
Answer: Well, Lyone Paints does not chalk, it does not stain, and it is very durable and environment-friendly. Unlike other paints with harsh choking and hazardous smell after painting, Lyone Paints have a very unique fragrance that does not in any way affect your health negatively. You can close the door and use our paints. But above all, it has a large coverage; I mean a small quantity covers a large surface area. It is very, very economical when you compare the quality with the average paint in the market.
Where I am living presently, I painted it three years ago, and as I am talking to you, from the outside to the inside, it has not changed. So, in my neighbourhood, people who know when we painted the house patronize my products. If you compare the price of what we are giving out with the inherent quality, you will know that it beats the so called imported paints out there.
Question: So, what are your projections for Lyone Paints in the next five years?
Answer: I am working towards we becoming a household name; it’s fast becoming a brand name anyway and plans are on the pipeline to ensure that we distribute to every state and city in Nigeria and across West Africa.