By Christian Agadibe
Nigerian businesses, like corporate organisations in other nations around the world, are striving to cope with the operational disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, corporate organisations as well as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) like Sara-O Events are evolving and adapting to the new realities in the operating environment.
After surviving the lockdown of last year, Chief Executive of Sara-O Events, Yewande Rwang-Dung, believes that adaptability is vital for any enterprise to successfully navigate through turbulent sea of the new normal. In this interview, she looks back and offers insights on developments in the events management niche of the economy.
What was it like growing up?
We were somewhat very sheltered in the sense that we just played amongst ourselves in the house. We did not really interact much with people, to be honest. It was just three of us – my sister, my brother and I. I was always more interested in helping my mum in the kitchen. All our needs were met. My dad was doing quite well, my mum was a devoted housewife and we were brought up very well, we were taught to have good values, to be respectful and to be good citizens.
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 that while growing up, I was the lazy one in the family; it was 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 a 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 and be known for something, a good craft. Lo and behold God 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.
Tell us how you got into the event decor business? What inspired your passion as an event decorator and how your start-up business survived in Nigeria? How did you start?
I used to work for a subsidiary of Philips Consulting called Max Impact. Unfortunately, they decided to dissolve that arm of the business, so I lost the job. There was this lady that used to plan our family events back then, and because I had spare time, I decided to volunteer and work with her. In the course of 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 and that was how we got into event designing.
What were your initial challenges and how did you surmount them?
My initial challenge when I started the business 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 be able to deliver and make money. You know the popular saying that ‘Rome was not built in one day,’ I believed that deeply, and decided that I was going to reinvest the income from the jobs I was getting at the time, to grow 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 and amass 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, very little detail could cause a customer to be dissatisfied, and I didn’t know how to separate emotion 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 those times when we receive 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 is one of my most memorable moments.
What are some of the changes 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 colleague 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?
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 like wao; 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 clients, the better, because it instantly catapults you right up the ladder.
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 must add that the men are also doing awesome jobs as well. The thing about our industry is that it is genderless. Anyone can handle an event as long as you have the passion. The passion is the major drive.
How did COVID-19 and the lockdown affect you?
Personally, the Coronavirus affected me in a way that made me realize 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 on a total standstill, and nothing is happening, but having said that, this period has giving me time to reset, and be able come back new and fresh when the time is right, because I am more particular about safety first.
With the present economic situation, would you consider event decoration a viable business option?
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 we can sort out this pandemic and people are back to being comfortable in 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 to come in because you would grow with the industry.