Ambassador Michael Tawadrous is a passionate and accomplished entrepreneur, who is determined to redefine quality and customer service in interior designs in Nigeria. The United Nations SDG Ambassador and Managing Director/CEO of Vava Furniture Nigeria Limited spoke with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on the challenges and prospects of the furniture industry in Nigeria.
Would you say your expectations in 2017 have been met as the year is ending?
WE really thank God for the year 2017, but to be sincere, our expectations are less than what we have achieved principally because of the current situation of the economy. You’ll agree with me that the year was a very tough one for entrepreneurs in the country and any organisation that survives this period must be a very strong organisation. Despite the obvious economic challenges in 2017, we were able to open three new branches in the country; one in Opebi and Ajah areas of Lagos respectively and a branch in Ibadan in line with our expansion programme of the retail market. In the production line, we have equally expanded our factory amazingly and we opened new production line for doors and customized items for kitchens. We thank God that we have been able to survive this difficult period and we can only hope that the coming year will be a better one for everyone.
What is the percentage rate of local content in your raw materials?
To be honest with you, when we started business, it was very low and it was not our fault. The reason is the unavailability of raw materials that ordinarily would have been in abundance in Nigeria. The percentage of local content in our raw materials now is over 70 per cent and it is increasing daily. Over the years, we came to the realisation that getting raw talents in Nigeria and shaping them to our taste is more profitable than engaging expatriates. We continually make a conscious effort to venture in sustainable and pragmatic ways of doing business, so considerate effort is also made by the management in training and improving the staff to meet up with the emerging global trend.
How long do you think it will take Nigeria to attain self-sufficiency in furniture production?
I strongly believe that we can attain self-sufficiency in furniture production in the next five-10 years, but it will take conscious and pragmatic planning to achieve that feat. It equally needs government intervention and contributions for the industry to grow exponentially. We must make conscious efforts to stop importation of any type of furniture into the country and invest in the industry, that way we can attain self-sufficiency in furniture production in Nigeria.
What has been the most challenging experience of running a business in Nigeria?
I think the biggest challenge is that we don’t have an organized market in the country. If you are not importing your materials, you’ll be running from one market to the other in search of raw materials with its attendant risk of harassment by hoodlums because the markets are not organized. It is not helping the industry actually. The other challenge is that no single company produces MDF and HDF boards in the country up till date, and it is the major component in the production of tables, doors and claddings etc. Unfortunately, we import over nine million boards annually, and that consumes millions of foreign exchange. The terrible state of Nigerian roads is a very big challenge to manufacturers who have to move their goods from one state to the other. Basically, lack of infrastructures like roads and electricity has been a major hindrance to the growth of the industry.