By Ayo Alonge
The passion to create jobs for Nigerians by establishing ultra-modern relaxation spots across the country is Kome Azaino’s motivation for establishing Crimson Petals Empire in a pricey environment of Lekki Phase One, in Lagos. She disclosed to Sunday Sun her success story and why she wants to continue to invest in no other country than Nigeria in this interview.
What difference and impact did you hope to make when you wanted to start up such a huge investment?
I actually had a family-oriented empire in mind where husband and wife wouldn’t have to go their separate ways when they have to be together. Men can always have a place to sit and relax while they wait for their wives. We decided to make it a no-smoking lounge because it is not ideal for a man to be smoking in the presence of his wife and kids. You can dress up here too, because it’s like your home too.
As a graduate, why didn’t you look for a job instead of incorporating your own business initially?
I actually worked before I decided to venture into business. I worked in the banking industry and then the aviation industry for five years before I told myself I wasn’t going to work for anyone again. The whole 9am-5pm thing was no longer convenient for me and considering the fact that I got married and saw that I needed to now devote more time to my new family. Before I left the aviation industry, I learnt about cosmetics. I took a no-pay leave. Gradually, I started getting jobs on my own and when I could not cope with my job, I had to quit. Before quitting, I was very scared, because I thought I won’t be able to make it but I later braced up. I wanted to just open a salon but later thought of making it bigger and put some other things in place.
You were scared initially. About what and how did you persevere?
I won’t lie to you, I was really scared but I have a husband who never gives up on his dreams. He saw my dreams and he encouraged me. He has done something similar and he is making progress. That gave me the courage to move on and he kept encouraging me. So, I would say my husband gave me the full support I needed. When you have such huge dreams, there is no how you won’t nurse such fears. I am the type of person that would always nurse the possibility of an investment failing before I even begin to think of the prospect of success. That was my mindset and my husband doesn’t like to think that way. With God and my husband, I was able to overcome fear.
How were you able to source your capital, staff and other resources you needed to start up?
In terms of money, I had savings over the years and I thought it would be enough but it wasn’t. I had to source for a loan and I got some support from my husband too. For the materials, I had to go into the market to get the best quality myself. To be sure of what I was getting, I chose from several options before me.
Could you give a rough estimate of the financial worth of your empire?
I really can’t say or rather, I won’t want to disclose that.
Recruitment can be a very tasking for an entrepreneur. How did you surmount that?
Yes, I agree with you. I placed an advert for workers I needed and I contracted the task to a human resources company since recruiting firms know better, because that is their field.
Located in such a classy environment where it is pretty difficult to satisfy most rich people, what’s your niche, your winning strategy or advantage over your competitors?
My pricing is reasonable and I make my environment very conducive for customers. We also do promos on Fridays. I can afford to make my price half of what you get elsewhere, even if it means gaining just very little. With a huge turnover, you can win in business. Even if you make a profit of N1000 per time, the turnover can accumulate to millions and that is my strategy.
What are your plans to expand the business soon?
To make it more popular, I may have to invest in advertising. My plan is to invest across the Island and even outside Lagos. The best form of advert is a satisfied customer. I also welcome feedbacks.
What’s your staff strength?
While starting up, I tried to avoid hiring too many workers. I can always employ more people, as time goes on and as the business grows.
Business expansion comes with its corresponding challenges. How ready are you for the growth of your business?
Right now, the challenges I am facing already are giving me a tough skin and I think others won’t be too tough to manage. They may include raising more capital and I am prepared.
Is the business environment in Nigeria friendly enough for your drive?
Yes it is. Every business in Nigeria has its market, if you can run it very well. Customers will always come. Even in the midst of recession, I know Nigerians still spend. Certainly, I don’t think I want to ever do business elsewhere apart from Nigeria, because I know I will always make the money here, not outside the country. The market is here.
What do you have to say to Nigerians who are averse to investing here?
We keep saying Nigeria is not developing but we can develop Nigeria, if we all invest here. I chose not to be an importer, because I don’t want to patronize foreigners. I’d rather invest and make my money here. If you are producing or investing locally, that is how we can develop the country, rather than go out to develop other people’s countries for them. Let’s also think of other Nigerians who are not as comfortable as we are.
Could you tell us about the structure of your facility?
Basically, we have three lounges, mainly the indoor, city view and ocean view. We also have the make-up section, barbing salon, hairdressing salon, the play centre for kids and laundromat . The essence of the play centre is to make it easier for mothers who bring their kids. It is not like the normal crèche where you have to pay.
What’s your disposition towards hiring expatriates?
See, I refused to invest in spars, because the people who do it are mainly expatriates and I don’t want to create jobs for expatriates. I am not racist but I feel my people need more help. If I have to employ whites, I am not growing the business.
A while ago, a boy in a traffic jam offered to clean my windshield but I prevented him and gave him some money. He later walked up to me and told me he needed a job. I gave him my card and today, he works at our laundromat . Why would I ever open a business that is mainly handled by expatriates, when my people here are looking for jobs?