MY STRUGGLES AGAINST MALE DOMINATION –LADY COBBLER
Why did you opt for cobbling, of all professions?
Cobbler Shoe repairs is something that has always been around, I love the work and when I took over the business from my mother, I decided to do it in a more modern way than she did during her time. I lived abroad for almost 10 years. When I came back, I worked in several places, including the oil and banking sectors. But I was not fulfilled working for other people. I had ideas of my own, but I could only put them into action if I ran my own show. I decided to do just that by running my own business.
Did you ever practice as a lawyer?
Yes, but briefly, while in England. I worked for an American company called MFS, and the money was good. But like I said, I did not feel fulfilled. When I came back home, the feeling was still there, so I decided to revive my mother's business in June 2006.
How has the business being since then?
The response has been wonderful. I thank God for the success recorded so far, particularly the trust it has gained from people of my mother's generation, who believed in the good work and reputation she had built during the years she ran the business.
That is not to say that we have not had the normal teething problem. As you can see, most of the employees are men, and we have all had our personal differences. Of course, I had to put my feet down and let them know that being a woman and young does not mean I cannot be firm. So, while I am willing to be compassionate and understanding, I am still the boss.
What other challenges are in the business?
We source for our materials locally and internationally. Sometimes, it is not easy to find authentic materials locally. And this has been an eye-opener because some people feel they can take advantage of you because you are a woman and pass low quality materials to you. But they have learnt otherwise because only the best is good enough for me.
In terms of customers, they tend to expect more now in view of the development in information technology. So now, we need to do a lot more groundwork because people are a lot more aware and they expect a lot more.
Do you sometimes run to mummy for advice?
I run to my mother for advice all the time. In fact, I take 90 per cent of my problems to my mother for advice, based on her experience.
When she started out, she started with double the the number of cobblers I have now, because a lot of the work then was manually done. But with innovation in technology, I use more machines now.
But everything she knows about the business, she has taught me. Even though I go to her often, she does not try to force her opinion on me, because I still take the decisions. But her advice has been really helpful to me and the business.
How tasking would you say the cobbling business is?
I come here everyday of the week and even on public holidays. I beg my staff to put in some extra time, even if for half a day. Although I love the Law profession, there is no shadow of doubt in my mind about my passion for what I am doing now. So I would choose it over and over again without regrets.
How are you able to handle some difficult customers?
It has not been easy dealing with some of them. But I took courses in customer relations as well as other business courses. And what I do most of the time is to try and defuse the situation. I believe that once somebody is calm, they are more able to listen to you. There have been cases that after speaking with the customers, they pray for me because of the way I handled the matter.
I always try to be a perfectionist, and that is why I must see every item before they are given out to the customer, so that where I detect any fault, I take it back even before the customer sees it.
Also, I have learnt that patience is a virtue when you are dealing with the public, especially when running a business. You have to be patient with your staff, the customers and the suppliers in order to get things right.
Do you plan to extend your business portfolio?
At the moment, we are only into repairs. We intend to go into manufacturing of shoes, wristwatches and nice leather sandals later on.
My siblings and I are still discussing where to set up the factory at the end of the year, whether Lagos or Ogun State. We are still talking with the banks to raise the facility.
In the past, Lady Cobbler used to manufacture shoes for the masses. Our cobblers are very experienced, and the quality of our shoes is very high, because we do not believe in half measures.
Tell us about your social life.
My social life is quite boring. I have a small circle of very close friends. At weekends, we visit some cafes, we visit the cinema and share our experiences. At times, we go clubbing.
Besides cobbling, shoes and wristwatch manufacturing, what would be the height for you?
Apart from my business, I would like to go into politics one day. I see the way things are in Nigeria, and I say to myself, if I had an opportunity to make things better and contribute my quota, I would do it.
But they say the political terrain is not safe enough for women yet?
Politics in Nigeria is not safe for anyone, male or female. I believe that everything that happens is for a reason. Many people have died trying to do things right. Nothing good comes easy.
I say to myself, 'what if I can make things better for my children and children's children, why sit on the sideline and say the terrain is not right?' One just has to do what one has to do. That's my thinking.
So what advice do you have for those who are undecided about what they really want to do?
I will say to them, never lose focus, believe in the power of prayer for God to guide you through. With determination, if you are willing to work hard, you are as big as you want to be.
Also, opportunity knocks but once. Make the most of what you have when you get the chance. Don't believe in handouts