Ayo Alonge, [email protected]
Sustaining the systematic growth of Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria appears to be close to the heart of the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Pro-Hygienitech International Limited, Ali Williams, who heads a technology and science-driven sanitation company in Nigeria, with its head office in the USA.
Speaking with Daily Sun in this interview, the SME expert proffers solutions to the series of challenges encountered by small businesses in the country.
As the Managing Director of the company, I can say we represent the company in Nigeria and West Africa. We are currently in Nigeria because Nigeria is like Africa. Our novel contribution to the market is mattress cleaning and sanitation. We work for homes, hospitals, hotels, schools and anywhere else. We often conduct what we call mattress contamination tests. We started operations fully in October 2015 but we have been on ground long before then. We have done a couple of projects for schools, hotels and private homes. The head office is in Florida, USA, and it has been existing for 15 years. The company has been on Fox News, CNN and the rest. Our major achievement is that the US government is our client. For instance, we work for the US Navy and, of course, so many other companies patronise us. I was trained in Florida and that motivated the idea to start the business in Nigeria. My first trip to South Africa revealed to me that South Africans started sanitising their mattresses before us here. In Nigeria, I discovered that some two other companies are into a similar thing with us although I have not met them. For us, we want to explore all possible avenues to reach out to the people. We also want to show we can partner with government. During the Lassa fever epidemic, we wrote to so many state governors through their commissioners for health and permanent secretaries, telling them that we can partner with them as our way of fostering hygiene. We want to tell people that it is possible you visit a hospital and go back home with a worse ailment. When you go to the media and declare that you run a free contamination test, you can be sure you may not have any space left in our office here, the way people would rush in. We do our free contamination test as a business. Sanitising is profitable.
We have a couple of strategies for reaching the market . We solicit potential clients and call on them to hire us for test-running and it is non-obligatory and at no cost to them. We allow them see the results through a microscope and through a mini laboratory test .We also have a couple of sales representatives out there who go to people. You know it’s always difficult to convince people. In fact, our slogan is ‘are you sleeping with the enemy?’ The company is both science-driven and technology-driven. It is technology driven in the sense that we have the best technology in mattress cleaning worldwide at the moment. So, I can say for sure that the company is both science and technology driven.
The challenges we face are common. Persuading people appears very difficult as they don’t know the dangers in unhygienic mattresses. It sounds very unreasonable to ask if you have sanitised your mattress recently. The level of awareness is quite low. Even when your mattress is covered with a mackintosh, it’s still contaminated. So, that is why we are already contacting governments, companies and individuals that can move sanitary hygiene to the next level.
Our niche is excellent service delivery because we do not expect to be a monopolistic company forever and that is why we have partners and finders. We also organise trainings for those who want to go into the business. We put them through and make them buy the needed equipment from us. The equipment are very expensive now because of the exchange rates. Way back in 2014, things were very good and cheap but they are now expensive. One unit of equipment now would cost over N3.5 million. The equipment come with accessories that would help you kick-start your job. As a company, we are open to partnership to help you get your job going. I trained in the US and I am a certified specialist. I have also trained many Nigerians who are now doing very well. We are doing very well so we don’t need to bring in expatriates. We attend international trainings twice annually just to keep fit in the business. As we grow, we hope to import the technology rather than bringing expatriates. The company has a very unique model for empowering the youth. We have people working for us with the opportunity to make ends meet. We have a platform where graduates can make use of their networks to get jobs for us and they are paid commissions. We also have people on our payroll. We also have people who do jobs and get abnormal pay. For a single job, you can earn N200,000 from a contract of N1million for us. We can always engage more people to do that.
There are a lot that can be done to revive and encourage SMEs in Nigeria. SMEs are supposed to be the driving force for the economy because they have numerous capabilities and entrepreneurial skills that they are supposed to bring to the economy. Today, the major problem is access to finance and that it is why the sector is lagging. Another is lack of innovation. So many go into SMEs without the requisite innovation to grow that area of SME. The government is supposed to help the SMEs by creating innovations that would drive development in the economy. Another problem is the political and religious will to push the economy. For the fact that people bring out their money to invest, government should be able to provide the necessary infrastructure that will keep the SMEs running. That remains a big challenge today. Another is the environmental challenge. The environment may be more challenging in the north when compared to what is obtainable in the south. Another issue is the problem of poor infrastructure. Power is something that is making production very poor. So, poor power supply is responsible for the poor growth and development of SMEs in Nigeria. The SMEs that bring in new technologies to help our different sectors of the economy should be supported. Our company had a training in Las Vegas last year and we consulted a company that can help the country convert our waste into energy. That innovation can help generate over 10 megawatts in each community. The challenge of power outage can then be greatly reduced for companies and houses that need power. Another is the issue of tax. Companies that are struggling to survive should not be put under excruciating tax regimes that would make them not to give their best. Government can even give awards for best entrepreneurs creating jobs. Again, you cannot use short term loans to run a long time business. We can also alleviate the difficulties in getting these loans. People who are going into SMEs would need a lot of patience to have things work out for them in an environment like that of Nigeria. If all these are addressed, they would help to drive the economy. That is the direction most developing nations are looking at. Most SMEs are in comatose now and these are the reasons responsible. The commercial banks and even special banks are not helping matters at all. Most SMEs get frustrated in the search for loans due to bureaucratic bottlenecks in government institutions which were, ab-initio, established to help SMEs. Government should wade into the matter and the economy will be better for it.
The government can help. Nigerians are very hardworking and our dexterity can be attested to worldwide. Government programmes are not working here and if they are, it’s negligible. Government should have genuine grounds where people can go. Financial institutions are not helping in Nigeria’s economy. I was a banker for nine years. Nigerian banks would give you a short-term loan to run a long-term business and that is why everybody starts cutting corners. How can you give me a loan and expect me to pay back in six months? How do I achieve that when we are still working on acceptance? There should be both short, middle and long term loans, like in other countries. This is our country and nobody is running away.