Lessons I learnt early in my business —Oyeshola Ojewumi, Hattires Fashions
Oyeshola Ojewumi, the Chief Executive Officer of Hattires Fashion, Ibadan, is a graduate of German Language from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile- Ife, Osun State. In this interview with TAYO GESINDE, she talks about her foray into business and the major pitfalls business people should avoid.
I am from a modest family. I was brought up by a single mother but we had many relatives who were living with us. I am the last born of my family; my siblings are much older than me so we were not necessarily close. This was a struggle for me because I didn’t really have play mates per se, but I was not lonely because of the relatives that were living with us. I was born and bred in Ibadan.
Foray into business
I got married towards the end of my final year, so my focus was on building a family and setting up something in the home front that will not distract my attention from my family. Coming from a Catholic background, we used to dress formally to church; when you wear a dress; you put on a hat and carry your bag. I was used to dressing that way and looking elegant and glamorous. I noticed that when I saw women who wore a dress and put on a hat, I always admired them but when they don’t, something in me stirs and I used to feel their dressing was incomplete. Anytime I travelled abroad to visit my sister, I used to go to stores to look at suits and hats but I was more interested in hats. That was the time the Sinamay hat fabric came out as a fashion trend in hats and I went to study about it. At the onset, I used to buy some of these things for myself and when people saw them on me, they’d always admire them. So, I started buying them in twos and threes. I would put them on the arm of the chair in my sitting room where anybody that comes to my house will see and buy them. When my husband travelled abroad for business, he visited stores where they sell hats and bought some for me on a frequent basis. So I started selling hats. That was in 1996. Apart from selling things, I also went for computer training and opened a computer centre called “Cousins Computers” at the time. I was doing training and graphic designs for people. I then got a three bedroom apartment; one room was for my computer business, the second for my fashion store while the third was where my children usually stayed after school. So, Hattires (hat and attires) started officially in October 1998. I have customers who have been patronising me since I started.
How has the journey been since you started 20 years ago?
When we started we were using the black and white polythene bags to sell our goods but one day, one of our customers came and told my sales girl that “it has been over six months that you started, you should go and do proper polythene bags, other shops that just opened are using proper branded bags.” I was angry and said does she know my financial status? Why can’t she be patient? I had used all my money to lease this place for five years. I didn’t even have much money to buy new stocks; most of the goods on display were the ones I had at home. Eventually, in order not to lose her patronage, I made nice polythene shopping bags and wrote our name there, we didn’t even have a logo then. She was happy to see it and kept patronising us till date. She was a university lecturer at the time and is now a professor. I took further interest in her and was no longer just a customer, when she gave birth to her children; I went to visit her; my husband would accompany me there. He has been a great help and support to me and the business. I gradually developed a culture of seeing my customers as my friends and sisters and they become my family eventually. Another factor that I believe has led to the success of Hattires is humility. I respect and hold my customers in very high esteem both young and old.
What are the lessons you have learnt in the past 20 years?
It has not been an easy ride but I keep learning on the job. I didn’t know anything about stock taking or accounting when I started but I learnt on the job. I had to move from Mokola to Eleyele before my lease expired because government turned the road to a dual carriage way and sales started dropping. I found out that many of my customers would have driven past before remembering they wanted to stop by to get some things. I didn’t want my business to fold up, I was determined to succeed so I charged my location and my customer base grew. I believed it was because there were other shops around the place. When they come to buy bags of rice, snacks and drinks, they will stop by at the store and buy from us. My husband later built a place at Jericho named “Greenfield plaza” and moved his office there. His office was at the top floor pent house and he left a part of the ground floor space for me and that was how I opened my second branch. Eventually after two years, we moved the Eleyele branch to Magazine road, Jericho. The business grew and from one store we expanded to two. We had a lot of bankers, doctors, teachers, civil servants and so on buying from us. By the time Christopher Alao-Akala became governor, the economy was so buoyant that we made lots of sales. Early in the business, I had to put in some rules which has helped me. One of the rules is not to sell on credit. I learnt early that a debtor will never be your friend. When I give you something on credit and you promise to pay at a particular time and something happened that you could not, it is either you start avoiding me or you just turn everything to a quarrel so I realised that for my peace of mind, I must never ever sell on credit. It was tough making that decision but I stood by it. I also got to a point where I said, we were not going to receive deposits from customers again. When people heard that, they said the business would fail but I made that decision and God backed it up. It was not a decision I made out of pride but there was a time I needed to pay for my goods but I didn’t have a kobo to do so.
Meanwhile all the goods in the store had been sold and packed in polythene bags with little or no deposit for over one month that is not how to make money. When business is done that way, it will be as if all the work one has done in one’s life is a waste. One of my favourite quotes is, ’’if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” When people ask you to keep something, when they have money, they will not bring it to you rather, they will take it to somewhere else to buy some other things because you did not set a standard. So, I decided to help myself and set the rules, some people were angry at first but they started paying. There is nothing as profitable as selling your goods and receiving your money immediately.
You will sell, buy more and have a good turn over.
What advice do you have for women?
God has put so much in a woman. We might look like a weaker vessel as the Bible calls us but we are not really weak because if you give a woman one thing, she will double it and make it bigger. Give a woman one sperm, it turns into a foetus in the embryo and the woman will later nurture it into a full grown man or woman. We can do much more than we think we can do. We can juggle two, three, four things together and we will still be very successful. There should be no time wasting. There should be something you are selling in your house or your handbag. As women, we need to rise above the poverty line so as to support our family and community at large. There is something that you know how to do, that is your niche, make money from it. Everyone can sell something; food is something you can never go wrong with. Don’t wait till you have a large capital, start with what you have. Start small, grow big. No woman should be idle because it is through a woman that a nation is built. When you are able to influence your children, you have been able to influence your community that way you are able to influence your environment, create jobs for others and the nation becomes a better place.