Friday, 16 February 2018

The most determined traders ever!

When an Igbo businessman opens shop in the morning, he has one purpose in mind. When a prospect walks in through the door, his purpose is still the same. When he uses polite addresses like ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’ for a customer younger than him, his purpose still hasn’t changed. As he offers the customer a seat and turns on the fan to make them comfortable, he is still pursuing that purpose. When the haggling gets hard to the point of irritating him, he maintains his cool for that purpose.
When he has to run a whole street in search of change, his purpose has begun to materialize. In fact, Igbo traders distinguish themselves by their willingness to humbly go from one shop to the next, looking for change, no matter how negligible, to satisfy the buyer.
Trade Fair Complex, Lagos

They’ll politely pack the customer’s purchase into the shopping bag, while squeezing a business card into the customer’s hand and asking him to come again for even better bargains. They understand that the customer is a roving king who can take his business elsewhere.
       It is not until the customer finally parts with his money in 
exchange for the goods, that the Igbo businessman’s purpose is finally achieved.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

When Midas touched Garri

When in March the price of tomatoes went through the roof, several self-appointed analysts gave reasons for the spike. Some attributed it to the marauding herdsmen who have been destroying farmlands and killing the hardworking farmers who cultivate them. Another school of thought blamed it on the emergence of two enormous tomato paste processing plants. “They have mopped up all the tomatoes in the country o!” they cried. There was also the ludicrous pundits who blamed it on the economic policies of the current, and some on the past, governments of the country.

Few weeks later, reports revealed that the primary cause of the astronomical increase in the price of tomatoes was none of the above. It turned out that a little brown moth called Tuta absoluta was the culprit responsible for the situation. So all the time and energy Nigerians expended in dishing out allegations and vitriol was no more than an exercise in futility. What should have been a concerted effort to flush out the pest from our farms ended up being dissipated in insults and hatred towards each other.

Today, the same can be said of garri, popularly referred to as the poor man’s food. A visit to our markets show that indeed garri is as good as gold, a commodity out of the reach of the common man. We find that a paint bucket of garri which sold for N280 in January went for N550 in May. Lest we are tempted to, once more, go down the route of handing out inaccurate assumptions about why this is happening I decided to ask those who should know. It will be unfortunate if we repeat the same mistake.

The first and major cause for the costly garri is Mother Nature. The rains started very late this year and before they came there was a hell-like heat everywhere. This meant that the ground from which cassava, the root tuber for making garri, is uprooted was hard. Soil that used to be quite loose and won’t require more than a little bit of shaking the stem to uproot the tubers didn’t budge no matter how hard the harvesters tried. The same time that they would have used to fill five or six head pans of cassava saw them barely filling only two. Naturally, their wages went up for less tubers and thus began the increase in the cost of goods.

The lack of rain also meant that other farm produce that formed part of our diet like maize and millet could not be grown. Many customers were forced to go for the available little garri. In many homes, meals like pap, tuwo and beans may not be served that often, but they significantly reduce the demand for garri. This scarcity of other food items also contributed to the increase in garri price.
Starch is one of the main products of cassava. In recent times, the demand for the product has increased making it to command a premium in the market. By some rough estimates of people in the industry, the same weight of cassava that produces N100 garri will yield N200 worth of starch. Therefore when a garri-maker and a starch producer met in the already expensive cassava market you know who had the higher bargaining power. As more and more cassava tubers went into starch production less and even less grains of garri showed up in our markets.

Lastly, one cannot discount the effect of the killer herdsmen. Their theatre of war, for the most part, has been the middle belt to the southern part of the country. This coincides with the cassava growing area of the country. Fleeing farmers don’t grow cassava neither do scared scampering village women fry garri leading to more scarcity of the product.

What can we take from these findings? First there is need for more irrigation farming in Nigeria. If this were abundantly available, farmers will not need to wait for the showers before they start sowing other food items like maize and millet on their farms. This would have reduced the demand for garri and left it reasonably priced. Secondly, there is a large market for cassava and we need more people to go into its production. Nigeria is the largest producer of the commodity but it cannot even meet its on domestic need for it. Were ethanol production a big thing in the country both starch and garri makers will face major hurdles trying to get cassava for their factories. It is a product that we will always need and aspiring entrepreneurs can look in that direction.

The government also has to live up to its responsibility of securing life and property from criminals like the killer herdsmen. Government cannot be advocating for a return to farming and ignore the dastardly acts of these groups. No one is asking government to grow cassava or make garri but they should create a safe enabling environment for willing farmers to do so.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Free Lunches End up in the Dustbin

Call me a cynic if you like, but I've learnt to take certain statements by our politicians and government officials with a jar of salt, not just a pinch! Statements like "We will diversify from a mono-product economy" or "It's time to go back to agriculture!" and "SMEs are the way forward for economic development" are all empty promises. You won't blame me for not believing any of it because, years after saying these things, nothing changes.

For instance, weeks after my state governor's inaugural address in which he promised to revamp farming in the southwestern state, I saw about thirty new tractors driving into the state capital. I was very excited at the sight and praised our new 'action' governor. Unfortunately, three years into his tenure, farming largely remains subsistential and manual in the rural areas; with the new tractors broken down and covered up in dust at the various local government secretariats. Why can't we ever get it right?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Making Your Business Attractive

My lookalike in the university, Gabriel, and I were very close. We were like man and shadow, for everywhere he went I followed and vice versa. But, there was something quite disturbing about our regular strolls along the long walkways of the school. If a passerby needs to get directions or obtain some other information he/she would always ask Gabriel. In some instances, the passerby will walk right past me and approach him for the help. Each time, I would ask if he had seen them somewhere before but the answer was no, he didn’t know them from Adam.

By the second semester, I couldn’t stomach it any longer so I asked why strangers always sought him out and ignored me. In his pleasant but blunt manner he asked, “Why will anyone ask you for help? You never wear a smile and when you do it is always plastic!” His remarks cut deeply but, after a minute or so of sulking, I decided to put his analysis to the test. I spent the next few days practising a smile in the mirror. The first samples came out as sheepish grins, but as I pressed on they became more real and more comfortable. The next time we were on the walkway I pasted on my best smile and, as providence would have it, the next stranger who came along asked for directions from me. I was very happy inside but, for fear of jinxing it, I didn’t say a word.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Two Hands and Twenty-Four Hours

There was once a herdsman, who traded in goat’s cheese. He took it to a village where the people couldn’t get enough of the delicacy. Every evening, the horde of customers, in front of his shop, was so large that it was impossible to keep up with the demand. Even though he left with a bulging bag of coins as he returned home, he wasn’t a happy man. He was saddened because many customers left unserved, after waiting for hours for just one ounce of cheese. Hard as he tried, he couldn’t make enough of it and on the days that he had a good showing, nightfall still caught him struggling to satisfy the impatient villagers.

The situation was so frustrating that, one day, he decided to seek help. He went to the temple and prayed for two sweat-pouring hours before a medium appeared to him. “Mortal, what do you seek?” she asked. Straight to the point, he replied, “O benevolent one, I wish you could give me more hands so that I can quickly milk the goats, cut the cheese, wrap it in leaves and sell to customers.” The medium, who felt that his request was vague asked, “You mean like the octopus?” Excitedly he replied, “Yes”. The next morning, when he awoke, he had grown three more pairs of hands. He went to the pen and, like lightning, he was milking, boiling, stirring and wrapping at the same time. By noon, his baskets were full and he opened the doors to serve the eager buyers. But, he was met with screams and fainting spells of frenzied villagers. “There’s a monster in the cheese-shop!” they cried, and none ventured near for another week.


Sahara is the largest desert in the world. If a chopper were to drop you in the middle of this desert, all around you, as far as the eye can see, will be miles and miles of nothing but rolling sand. The only other companions you’d find are the hot unforgiving sun, above your head, and the whistling dry winds, blowing dust into your nose and sand into your eyes. But from the Beginning, it was not so. Sahara was once a green belt full of trees and shrubs, and nectar-seeking butterflies and bees. There were prancing goats across its plains and calving cows in its valleys. Many civilizations rose and fell in the expanse that is now forgotten by everyone and forsaken by all. 

In one word, what happened to the Sahara is change. As the unfortunate wind of change blew away the rain-bearing clouds, Sahara’s destiny never remained the same again. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Lunch with a Guru

In the last two posts we examined ratios you need for appraising your business; the Pareto principle and efficiency ratio. This week, we’ll be taking a short break from ratios to examine an important relationship every entrepreneur must have to succeed in business. Thereafter we would return to our business ratios.

The world’s most expensive lunch is served once a year. Some years it’s a table for two, other years it’s for more; but one of the customers is a constant. His name is Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the USA. “No wonder”, you’d say until you find out that he doesn’t even pay for the meal; that honour falls on the other customer(s). Then you’ll begin wondering why on God’s green earth someone will shell out so much ($3.5million in 2013) to eat with a money-bag who won’t pick the tab.

I assure you that they don’t pay that much to have their pick of a buffet; it’s the brains of Buffett himself they are out to pick. His vast investment experience, particularly in picking winning stocks, is their sole aim and the delicacies are merely icing on the cake. They recognize that to sit, for an hour, with one so astute is worth decades of personal study and equivalent to years of hands-on experience. (It must be noted that Mr. Buffett auctions the lunch to the highest bidder and gives the proceeds to charity).

That brings us to this focus of my post….. How much are you willing to part with for mentoring? What will you give to stand on the shoulders of those who've gone ahead? How far would you go to get sound judgment? Think about it!

To start with, who is a mentor? A mentor is not an adviser, although we seek their advice; neither is a mentor a friend, although we love to have them on speed dial. A mentor doesn't micro-manage you, hold you by the hand when times are hard or give you the occasional pat on the head when you do it right. What a mentor does is to point you in the right direction. Period.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Better is the inescapable bridge to Best

       This morning, I had a 7 o’ clock meeting with a friend at my bus stop. I got there at 6.57 a.m. but he was nowhere to be found. I pulled out my earphones and slid them into my ears as I patiently waited for him. But, there was a ringing noise coming from elsewhere and disturbing the Coldplay song I was enjoying. I looked around and saw a driver shouting his bus-route to attract passengers. I shook my head. At 7.23 am, he left with ONLY TWO passengers in his 10-seater bus.

As I waited, I noticed an elderly woman sweeping the roadside; she had covered quite a stretch. I saw that she’s one of the sweepers employed by the Environmental Sanitation office. Bent over like the letter ‘n’, she was using the local broom with a short handle to do her work. I shook my head again.

I left the bus stop after my meeting and went to the cable TV office. They had sent a broadcast to several subscribers to come this morning and exchange their decoders for the new upgraded versions. I met a handful of people sitting outside the office and I joined them. A lady next to me advised the janitor to find a way of ensuring a first-come first-served basis but he dismissed her. Five minutes later, some boisterous clients arrived and headed straight for the office to swap their decoders. Some early arrivers protested, insults were traded, fists clenched and punches freely thrown. After four and a half hours, I finally got my new decoder. I shook my head one more time.

In this part of the world, we have a misconception that until an activity incorporates some form of chaos, drama, or stress it is not worthwhile. In other climes, they strive for greater efficiency in everything, but we search for more activity and end up bogged down with more motion and less movement. Will it kill the driver to place a signboard of his route on the bus? Will it annihilate the sweeper to get a long handle for her broom? Or will it exterminate the janitor to get a pen and paper for clients to write their names as they arrived? 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Paretize Your Business

For the next few weeks we shall be looking at some principles and ratios needed to optimize your business operations as well as some to check if the business is on track.

Today, we will look at the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule and review its applications for your business. The Pareto principle is a rule of thumb underpinned by a cumbersome Mathematical law (power law). But you needn't understand the law to understand the principle; a cursory look at your surrounding is enough to prove its merits. The principle links cause and effect and is used in determining how to optimally allocate your ‘scarce’ resources. In layman’s terms, Pareto principle states that if 100 factors can cause 100 effects, about 20 of the factors will likely cause 80 of the effects. If I've succeeded in confusing you, let me un-confuse you with the following illustrations.

If you are a kindergarten teacher unlucky to have a perpetually noisy class, 80% of the noise is the handiwork of 20% of your pupils. If you are like my friend, who collects shoes like bees do pollen grains, you’ll wear 20% of the shoes on 80% of your outings. If you are a salary earner, always complaining that your take home cannot take you home, 80% of your monthly income is consumed by 20% of your expenses. And on and on it goes. Actually, the man credited with the principle postulated it when he noticed that 80% of the land in his country was owned by 20% of the population. Can you give other examples of similar phenomena in your surroundings?

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Don't sue them b*stards (written in collaboration with Opemipo Owotumi)

One evening in 1994, I sat in the living room with my siblings. We had just downed a heavy dish, and the kids we were, we launched into a very excitable state. Our parents had gone out so the house filled with much animated conversation and noise followed by a lot of laughter and mirth. As all this was going on, I noticed that my younger sister stuck her left index finger in her ear and began wiggling it. After a bit, her face wore a frustrated look from not getting enough satisfaction from using the finger and her eyes began darting round the room for a better scratching tool. Like me, my sister had developed a bad habit of sticking anything thin enough into the itching ear. Mum, had often scolded us for this habit and forced us to use a cotton bud to clean out the ear. But on rare occasions like this, when she was not around, we indulged in the sinful act with abandon. Moments later, my sister spotted a pencil lying on the floor behind the coffee table.

Unless somebody hypnotizes me and takes me through the sequence of events of that evening, I cannot remember what the noisy conversation was all about or even the dish we had just eaten. But, I can never forget the next few micro-seconds that followed as my sister reached for the pencil lurking behind the table. With left finger still in the ear, she bent and stretched her right hand to pick the tail of the pencil. As she pulled it up, it started becoming long and then its underside began turning to another colour and in a split second the pencil became squirmy. Suddenly, my sister screamed, “Snake!!!” How I jumped over the chair I was sitting on still eludes me to date. Everyone scampered for safety and the laughter and mirth gave way to the patter of feet and screams. Luckily, we got a neighbour to kill the unwanted thin and long guest and ever since I have stopped using pencils to scratch my ear. Nowadays, I only use keys, pen covers and, when Mum is around, the cotton bud too.