In his search for greener pasture, Mr. Collins Obdeng, a Ghanaian shoemaker, turned CEO of Collins Venture, left his hometown in Ghana to Nigeria riding on the piggyback of his brother’s benevolence. To achieve his dream, he had to engage in menial jobs to raise capital. In this interview, he narrates his experience.
How did you start business?
I learnt shoe making right from secondary school back in Ghana. When I finished school, I also learnt auto mechanic just to add to my skills. But along the line, I noticed I had more love and passion for the slippers and shoe making than the auto mechanic work. I come from the Ashanti region. So when my brother was leaving Ghana to Lagos, I begged to follow him. It was when I got to Lagos that I opened a shoe factory, I started my shop and to train other people. Venturing into footwear was a rewarding move for me because it enabled me to feed and provide for my family.
What inspired you into the industry of shoe making?
On many occasions I see myself in dreams making slippers and shoes. It was those dreams that inspired me to delve into shoe making. In the dream I make different designs of footwear. That was when it dawned on me that shoemaking is my destiny. And as a Christian, I do things as my spirit leads me to.
How were you able to raise your start-up capital?
I started hawking on the streets of Lagos. Then I went into cleaning and repairing of peoples’ shoes. I did it for six months, saving money with thrift institutions. The money I saved was what I used to buy the tools and machines I needed to kick off shoemaking. Then subsequently, I rented a shop and started my company fully.
For how long have you been into shoemaking?
I have been in this for the past 19 years; I started this on August 20, 1999. My head office is in Ghana, at Emim in Ashanti region. I produce and supply to Ivory Coast, Burkina-Faso, Togo and Nigeria. In Nigeria, I supply to Abuja, Benin, Bayelsa, Calabar, and many markets in Lagos such as Kirikiri Town, Boundary market, Agboju market and several other places within Lagos metropolis.
How do you supervise your office in Ghana and Nigeria at the same time?
My office in Ghana is being supervised by my brother who trained under me for six years before he graduated. So I chose to stay and focus more in Nigeria because it is where I started up, and again I have more market here than in Ghana. So I get huge demand for my shoes at places like Abuja, Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Abia and other states in Nigeria. Then I moved my head office to Ghana because I have more workers over there than in Nigeria.
What are some of the business challenges you have faced these past 19 years?
There is no business that doesn’t come with challenges. But in running my business, it can be very tasking trying to please every customer, because many clients can be very difficult to please. There are some clients after making an order for some certain style and colour of shoes, change their mind after you’ve finished their work. They come up with one complaint or the other on why they don’t want the shoes again. In this situation, I take back the shoes, put them up for sale, and re-make another type for them. I do this, because I believe that the customer is king, and I have to please them to retain their loyalty to my products.
How would compare Nigeria’s business terrain to Ghana’s?
My business has been on for the past 19 years, and what I’ve noticed is that many Nigerian youths seem lazy or impatient to acquire skills. The ones I’ve met find it difficult to stay focused and learn the business. Rather, they come, and then leave probably because they’ve lost interest, or they get fed up. I do my best to train and keep those under me in good spirit. Yet they don’t stay. But in Ghana things are more organised. Once an apprentice comes to our company, he stays and learns the work. He dares not leave until he completes the three years mandated by the constitution of the country. Back in Ghana I have about 15 apprentices and I must tell you that they show more seriousness than their Nigerian counter-parts.
Many entrepreneurs have closed shop because of the recession, how have you coped?
To excel in every business depends solely on God. So I put my trust in Him to salvage the situation, because if we depend on the economic situation across the globe we might crumble. So I believe that absolute trust in God is necessary. It is only God that gives and also blesses one’s venture. My business is not seasonal, I get lots of demands on daily basis, and that keeps me busy and in production.
What would be your advice to Nigerian youths?
I really wish Nigerian youths would show more seriousness to learn this shoe making from me. If I get someone capable enough to manage my business, I would gladly handover and then relocate to Ghana or even expand to other countries. But for now, most Nigerians that have come to me didn’t show diligence in learning the craft. So I still appeal to both young and old to come onboard and be trained. Even physically challenged persons can be trained; that is one thing that makes shoemaking unique. It is not tedious to learn it. All you need is to be creative and dedicated.