By Christine Onwuachumba
Doda Interiors is one of the upmarket carpentry and interior decoration firms in Lagos.
An encounter with the founder, Dayo Tukuru, popularly called Lady Carpenter, would make a strong impression on you. Tukuru, who is also an interior decorator, is just a self-made businesswoman who knows her onions as far as woodwork and home aesthetics are concerned.
At the end of your interaction with her, you are bound to arrive at the conclusion: here is a woman who can put a home together from scratch. And you would not be surprised that such a woman is excelling in a world that is traditionally men’s terrain.
In this interview with Daily Sun, she talks about her journey into entrepreneurship, the art of carpentry and home décor, and the challenges of doing business in Nigeria.
She also explains how the recession in Nigeria has been a blessing in disguise to her business. Excerpts.
How has the recession impacted on your business?
The recession is helping me greatly because people that would have imported furniture into the country cannot do so due to lack of forex. For me, it is a plus, as it is helping us showcase what we can do locally. We can compete very well with imported furniture. I am glad people are realising this. I don’t pray recession continues, but I want people to patronise locally made goods.
How did you start your journey to entrepreneurship?
After losing my dad at a young age, I lived with my uncle, who had a restaurant/hotel. After school hours, I would go to the hotel to help him. I started as a sales representative and rose to become the manager at the age of 15. My uncle celebrated me. According to him, he saw something in me beyond what I could see. He saw that I could manage even older people very well. After graduating from the university, I worked with LG Electronics as a marketer for five years. Thereafter, I started my own electronics business and ran it for a while before I ran into some problems with staff and, sadly, had to close down the business. I went into furniture-making five years ago. I started with carpentry then I delved into interior decoration.
From being a hotel manager to a carpenter, that was a wide gap.
Let me say it was a sad experience that led me where I am today. But, truly, it was God that led me there because, at that point in my life, I had no money and I was wondering if this was how life would continue. I wasn’t interested in working for anyone. I wanted to be on my own, to be a problem-solver. So I started thinking of what I could do that wouldn’t involve huge capital to start. I went on a fast because I wanted God to show me what next to do. One day while sleeping, the name ‘carpentry’ came to me and I was stunned. Before then, I loved doing things with my hands, and wood always got my attention. I started asking the Holy Spirit what it all meant and one day, while walking down my street, I saw a carpentry shop and a voice said to me, ‘this is what I am telling you to do.’
I was reluctant initially, but I summoned the courage and went there, telling them my intention. The man refused. He said he couldn’t allow me to be an apprentice, it was below me, as he had worked for me in the past. He told me it wasn’t a job for a woman. I insisted that I wanted to learn. I apprenticed there for six months, humbling myself to learn as much as I could. That was how I moved on after the bad experience.
How did you raise capital?
Starting required little or no capital. To be honest, I didn’t have any money. All I had left with me was N20. After my apprenticeship, I took courses online as well. It was during this period that I discovered that Lagos Business School was giving women in business scholarships on how to do business better. I applied and won. Before this wonderful opportunity, I sat down and estimated how much it would cost to do a job with profit. So, I collected 80 per cent upfront, and with that I carried out the job. I followed my plan, disciplined myself not to spend customers’ money and thought outside the box. After a while, I came across YouWin, and I won that grant. It really helped me in ways I cannot begin to explain.
What is your worst business moment?
It was one of the first jobs I did for a couple, a set of chairs they said they loved, but they refused to pay my balance after I delivered the chairs to them. I needed to pay the people that worked with me on that project, but I never got the money from them. Another moment I cannot forget was when there was no job/sales for six months and NEPA cut off my power supply. I suffered during that time, crying, praying and believing in God. I didn’t lose hope and things eventually turned around.
What are some of the challenges you face doing business in Nigeria?
Doing business in this country is very tough. Power supply is one of the greatest hindrances to many businesses. Depending on generators is no way to run a business. LASAA is another problem, with regard to my branded bus. Every year, I pay N40,000 to them because the bus is branded. This doesn’t still mean they would even allow you have a flex banner, they would pull it down and you have to pay fresh charges.
Double and sometimes triple taxation is another problem we face from all quarters. Nonetheless, the greatest problem for me is staffing. I don’t like changing staff every couple of months, but that is the sad reality. Sometimes, they go on their own after a few months. At other times, you just have to let them go because of ineptitude and gross mismanagement.
What differentiates you from the competition?
I don’t care if they exist. I believe everyone is unique. Timeliness is very important to me, I have a standard and I keep it at all times.
What gives you joy as a business owner?
Providing solutions to people’s needs –– that is what gives me joy. I love solving problems.
How much of your business goals have you achieved?
I believe goals should be renewed often. You have to keep checking and asking yourself if you’re doing what you set out to do, keep comparing your performance over time. I set weekly goals for myself. This keeps me focused.
Are enough women going into business?
Before now, women preferred to stay at home. I am happy that is changing now. More women are owners of big businesses. I pray they get it right so that it wouldn’t be said that we started something we couldn’t finish. We need to go for courses, be more involved in women networking, have more forums where women in business come together to encourage themselves, teach and educate one other and as well source funds. There is no weak woman, as far as I am concerned.
What is your assessment of government’s input as per support and creation of enabling environment for SMEs and startups?
Government is making several options available. The question is: are people seeking these opportunities? There are several opportunities out there that people are not taking advantage of. The only way out of recession is entrepreneurship. No matter how small a business is, if it is solving a problem, it is advantageous. Government can do more in terms of grants, loans, training, scholarships and so on.
What is your advice for anyone intending to go into your kind of business?
First, you have to make up your mind to be disciplined. Nobody understands what you want to do better than you, and if motivation has to come from outside and not from within, you have failed. You have to be deliberate about what you are doing. For me, impossibility doesn’t exist.
Where do you see your firm in another five years?
Doda is going to be a household name. It is going to be an institution, where people come to learn both the theory and the practical. I believe we will get there.