Eniibukun Adebayo is a successful entrepreneur in the dry-cleaning industry. The Chief Executive Officer of CleanAce Dry Cleaners has been in the business for 25 years, an enterprise which started by his grandfather and passed on to his father. Adebayo who is a graduate of Economics, also obtained several certificates at Lagos Business School. He said his company would be given the International Standards Organisation (ISO) certificate before the end of the year, which will make it the first certified dry-cleaning company in the whole of Africa. Excerpt.
Why did you venture into dry-cleaning business?
I have been doing dry-cleaning for 25 years, which started from my grandfather and my father, they were called Alagbafo. My own component of it started since 1991. CleanAce started exactly 12 years ago. It is the only business I have done and I take it more as a calling, which is what landed us here. From the onset, I have seen that in the industry, there was no proper structure and we looked at it and said, for business to thrive, there is need for some measure of conglomerate energy and resources put together to be able to advocate, regulate, renovate and compete in a favourable positive manner that will be bringing creative energy into the dry-cleaning business.
How did you start?
I loved ironing as a small boy. I always told myself that when I grow up, I want to be a washerman. I didn’t like to wash but I loved to iron. I could spend the whole day ironing; even if you don’t say thank you, I can continue to iron for you. I ironed so much, even my father’s friends on our street and estate then would wash their clothes, starch them in their houses and bring them to me at the weekend and I would just spend my whole Saturday and Sunday to iron them. It was something I did passionately, something I enjoyed so much.
In 1991, when my father was starting his own laundry business, I had finished secondary school and I was expecting admission. I finished in 1988 and I was writing JAMB exam. I actually wrote JAMB six times but during those times, my father started the business and I loved it because it helped me to express my ironing skills. Then, I saw bigger irons like the ones in my training factory now. I told myself I wanted to learn how to use this machine. Eventually, I gained admission and my father asked me, what do you want to do? Do you want to continue with this? Because I was involved in the business at the time. I said yes, it is good for me to be educated because it will improve this thing that I like. So all through, as I was growing up, I only had it in my mind that for me and as many young people that are interested in the dry-cleaning business, I am going to make sure that there is a good company where people can work and they too will be proud to say, I am a dry-cleaner, I am a washerman, I am working in a laundry and they will not feel anybody pushing them aside in the society.
Coming into the dry-cleaning business proper, I now saw a lot of loopholes why young people will not be interested and that was because there was no structure, nobody training them, everybody just doing it on the local level but it is only few of us that were able to go to India, America and England to learn dry-cleaning professionally. I now said instead of going to America and UK to train, we must have a training centre here. I spoke to Americans and people all over the world to come and set up a school but you know the problem of coming to set up a business in Nigeria so I had to take it upon myself to do it. If this is the only legacy I can leave, it would have been worth it. So we will create the academy, we will make it as standard as possible and I have travelled as far as South Africa searching for all the people that are consultants and trainers and I’ve gone everywhere looking for those that can really train people to come and partner with us. We are asking them to come to Nigeria but all of them keep pulling back. And I said to myself, if people outside cannot help us, we Nigerians must help ourselves and that is when I thought about this.
How can one build a successful brand like yours?
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. So the academy is giving entrepreneurship training, resource skills, leadership skills, management skills, sales and marketing. In the academy, we are training people on special customers service in the dry-cleaning industry, stain removing, dry-cleaning, use of quality control, operations management and even for those who want to start a dry-cleaning business, we will also offer to partner with them to help them start.
How do you manage competition?
For us, this is not about competition. We have decided that this will be a legacy. A lot of investments have been wasted. When people say they want to start dry-cleaning, a lot of people will just take them to one corner and tell them to buy this and that machine and in two, three years, the whole business comes down. There is a lot of relationship hazard, people are angry with themselves because their expectations were not met. The whole thing happens because they were not properly guided. We’ve begun to counsel and guide as many that will be interested in dry-cleaning business.
Challenges facing dry-cleaning industry
The major challenge in the dry-cleaning industry is that there is no regulation, there is no institution, there is no association that brings us together even to be able to talk, discuss and progress. For us, there is no structure at all. Even the market women grinding pepper have association, bricklayers, vulcanizers, motor mechanics have association. But in the dry-cleaning industry, they don’t have association that brings them together. How can they thrive? That is what we want to completely take out. It is one of the agenda of this foundation to say there has to be a proper institution and regulation. We must all come together to say this is how we will do it and this is how we will not do it. Anybody that does this one is a part of us and anybody that does this one is not part of us. Let people have a platform that brings them together. Those were the major challenges. For instance, if the vendors selling chemicals bring chemicals that damage people’s clothes even harmful to the health of the staff using it, there is nobody to call them to order, which is a great challenge. That is why we are advocating a platform where all these things will be checked because NADFAC cannot do it alone by checking vendors who are bringing harmful chemicals that can damage clothes and that can be dangerous to the health of those using such chemicals in the dry-cleaning industry.