Ayo Alonge, [email protected]
Making an impact through bridging the housing deficit in the country led the Chairman of Property World African Network (PWAN) Group, Augustine Onwumere, into the real estate business. In this interview, he explains how he started business and, as the first to employ networking strategy in real estate marketing, created millionaires out of ordinary Nigerians while providing jobs for many unemployed youths.
While revealing that opportunities abound for young entrepreneurs in the real estate business, Onwumere spoke on the makeup of his workforce, marketing strategy and plans for business expansion.
I lost my initial business in Ikeja, in December, 2009, and was in debt of over N30 million. Different people were looking for a way to arrest me. l ran to Ajah in Lagos when I couldn’t pay my rents and things were down. Then in October 2011, we attended Full Gospel Businessmen international convention, where I picked a flier marketing real estate. I said to my wife that we could sell land for these people and make commissions so that our problems could begin to get solved. We dialled the phone contact on the flier. Two weeks after, we joined other land speculators to inspect a large expanse of land in Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos. At the end of the inspection, we told the property owners – a couple who are in the business of selling land, that we were not there to buy but to sell and that if they could give us 120 plots, we would sell them in five to six months.
The couple granted our request but insisted that we would pay N300,000 per plot. They told us that they wouldn’t pay us any commission, but we could add N60,000. They also permitted us to use the flier as a guide to design our own flier to enable us advertise the land. We printed 5,000 fliers and started marketing for the property owners; they didn’t have an office in Lekki.
We begged a friend to allow us put a table and chair in his beer parlour so that we could use it as an office. Three to four consecutive months, I would go out in the morning about 5am and by 10am, I would have shared the fliers in Ajah, Jakande, Ikate, Lekki and Victoria Island. Respondents started calling my wife. We used bulk SMS to invite respondents for inspection. Anytime we needed to take people there, we hired buses at N6,000 to N7,000 for each trip.
The inspection went on and on for three months but no sales. Consequently, we went back to the drawing board to look at why people were calling but not buying. We found out that they were finding it difficult to pay N360, 000 at once. My wife then advised me to do another flier, with N60,000 as initial payment and subsequent payments of N25,000 for 22 months to arrive at the N360,000. We started sharing the new fliers and surprisingly, people began paying N60,000 into our account from left, right and centre; then N25,000 constantly. In two months, we had sold 122 plots. Anyway, not outright. They were under one-year payment plan. Everyday, we had alerts, I had goose pimples overnight and I said – is that what has been holding people from buying all this while?
We actually started business in 2013, recruiting and training people through seminars. We gave them free training on landed title documents; how to make sales both online and offline. So it attracted people first because of the kind of commissions we paid. And when any marketer met the target that we set, he or she got a car and company-sponsored travel abroad. As we speak, PWAN Group has over 40,000 independent marketers.
We are running this business as an empowerment organisation. It is no longer a business for me and my wife to eat, drive cars or anything like that. It is now about how many Nigerians we can empower. PWAN has created many millionaires out of ordinary Nigerians who were jobless. I designed PWAN Homes as network marketing business opportunity. We pay direct and indirect commissions to our consultants so that if you register with us and make sales, you earn 15 per cent. And if you introduce someone who sells for us, the person gets 15 per cent and you get five per cent as indirect commissions from the person’s sales.
I have been very optimistic as a child. From the age of 13, I had my first savings. I was able to save N100 against all my brothers’ wishes and I have this grace of helping people to become successful. I started my first business as a student. At 19, I bought my first car in 1995 which was worth N70,000 while I was in the University of Lagos. I was driving an Evolution 505. I had a studio where I took photographs and made money. Students were constantly taking photographs and instantly, I was collecting money while in school. I have always believed and had faith in God that I would be a successful person.
It is false to say that there is no work in Nigeria. If you are between 18 and 60 years old and you are not doing real estate, you are cheating yourself of the national cake. That is why I keep on recruiting, talking to people and helping them as much as I can. It is very tough in the beginning to start a business. I must warn that starting a business is not an easy thing to do. It is not about having N1million to N3 million and renting a shop, buy goods, but nurturing a business by yourself.
We are in the business of buying and selling land and paying commissions as a real estate company. We have been doing that for seven years as best as we can.
We pay commissions to our independent marketers who were not employed as full staff. In fact, we do recruit independent marketers in all our centres. We have over 22 offices now. That is why our slogan is, ‘Making home ownership dream a reality’. What we started in real estate is phenomenal. As we are doing the business, selling land, allocating to people, we found out that we started running seminars, recruiting people, which is what we now call Consultants Every Saturday.
When the company began to grow, we moved from that beer parlour to open an office at Kilometre 30, Lekki-Epe Expressway, Sangotedo, Lagos. Before that time, we were running seminars free, invited people put their names down, take them for inspection and teach them to learn and do what we did. Before you knew it, we had trained and recruited over 40,000 independent marketers nationwide and all of them are marketing for PWAN.
It is not a one-man business. It is both government and private sector responsibility. As at now, over 17 million people in Nigeria are looking for a home on a daily basis.
Many people squat while other less-privileged ones sleep under the bridge. Some people sleep inside buses and many other uncomfortable places you can imagine. In two years, I lived in 13 different places. I come from a very wealthy home but I didn’t want to go back home to collect money from them because I was already a married man. I didn’t want insults; therefore, I decided to find solution to that problem.