By Christian Agadibe
Yewande Rwang-Dung is the founder of Sara O Events, a decor and events planning outfit. When she lost her first job, like every other unemployed graduate, she thought the worst had happened. Though it was a hard knock, sitting and sulking at home was not an option.
As she volunteered at a décor/event planning establishment that handled her family’s events, she soon discovered her passion for decoration and event coordination. A decade after, her team of event planners can compete favourably in the industry. Yewande Dung spoke to Daily Sun recently.
How did you get into the event decor business, and how did you survive as a start-up business in Nigeria?
I used to work for a subsidiary of a consulting firm. Unfortunately, they decided to dissolve that arm of the business, so I was out of a job. There was a lady that used to plan our family events back then, and because I had spare time, I decided to volunteer and work with her. During the process, I found out that I actually enjoyed the job and I had a knack for it. I saw that there was potential to make money out of it; that was how I got into event planning and coordination.
What were your initial challenges and how did you surmount them?
My initial challenge was inadequate resources. At a point, people started to recognize me for the craft, but I did not have the right resources and items to deliver and make money. There is a popular saying that goes ‘Rome was not built in a day,’ I believed that deeply. So, I decided that I was going to use all the jobs I was getting at the time to invest in the business. For instance, if I got a job worth N500,000, as long as I could pay my staff from that money, I would spend the balance of the money on acquiring things that I would use for the next event. That was how I was able to build up what we have now.
Did you ever feel like quitting at any point?
I did. In fact, when I started, I thought every event was going to be my last because it was so stressful. In addition, very early in the business, we used to have a lot of customer dissatisfaction, a very little detail could cause a customer to be dissatisfied, and I didn’t know how to separate emotions from business. It always got to me because my goal was to always please my clients. So, if they were not happy about something, no matter how little it was, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night/ I would be worried about it until I made it better. But now we have grown so much that we hardly ever make mistakes.
Tell us about some of your memorable moments as an event decorator.
Every event is unique and memorable. The memorable moments for us are receiving positive feedback from our clients. At one of the events we had in early 2020, we transformed a space that looked almost impossible. When the bride walked in, she shed tears of joy because of how beautiful the venue turned out. She was elated; I would say that was one of my most memorable moments.
What are some of the changes that you would like to see in the sector?
I would like to see more collaborations and less competition. An industry that is not so catty, where people are not looking at what the other person is doing but embracing and being genuinely happy for your colleagues in the industry. I would also like to see a lot more people helping and lifting the younger decorators and event planners up. More lifting up, mentoring, assisting, helping, and guiding.
What would you consider as the turning point for you?
For me, I would say that there is no specific job that is regarded as a turning point because, when I came into the industry, I was new, still fresh at that time, and every time we did a job it was lik, wow! We progressed from there. We always did better than the last job. So, we have just been climbing that ladder since then, which is why I can’t say that there’s that one job that defined us. But, of course, I have had amazing clients, and the more high-profile client, the better, because it instantly catapults you right up the ladder.
How did the lockdown and COVID-19 affect you?
Personally, the coronavirus affected me in a way that made me realise that every day is a gift. We do not have control over anything. It also drew me closer to God and, right now, I am in a place of prayer, praise and thanksgiving to God. It has also made me not to take things for granted and, most especially, prioritize and focus on what is important.
Professionally, we are at a total standstill, and nothing is happening. But, having said that, this period has given us time to reset and come back new and fresh when the time is right, because I am more particular about safety first.
At a time like this when economic recession is staring us in the face would you consider event decoration a viable business option?
In my opinion, I would say that event decoration business is still a viable option, although it might take time to get back to where we were before 2020. Currently, it feels like we have started again from how events used to be in the past (on a small scale), which also means that people are spending less money on their events. However, by the time this pandemic is over and people are back to being comfortable mingling in a larger crowd, then we would get back to where we were before 2020. I would even say that this is the best time for people that want to get into the industry because you would grow with the industry.
Considering your background, did you ever think you would be this successful?
I have always craved to be good and known for something because I remember when we were growing up, I was the lazy one in the family. They thought that I wouldn’t do much. They didn’t say it but I knew because of how they would react to certain things. In fact, I thought I was going to be a housewife because that was the environment I grew up in. That was what my mum did. I did not think I would do what I ended up doing. I remember one time in my quiet time, I really prayed to God to just give me something, because everyone had some art or skill or hobby, they had their career all figured out. I had nothing. I worked in several jobs, but I didn’t fit in. I specifically prayed that I wanted to be famous for something, a good craft. Lo and behold, he brought event decoration to me. And the amazing thing is, we are known for what we do. We are one of the top event designers in the country. Prayer really works. God is real, and the power of the tongue is so real.
What are the other things that occupy your time?
I give a lot of time to my family and my spiritual life.
How would you assess the performance of women in the sector?
The women in the industry are doing a great job. It is natural for women to do certain things, like design things and make things pretty. It is more of a woman’s role and character. But I also must add that the men are doing awesome jobs as well. The thing about our industry is that it is not gender-based. Anyone can handle an event, as long as you have the passion. The passion is the major drive.