By Mercy Hill
At a time when Nigerian youths are hell-bent on going the way of white-collar jobs, irrespective of the high unemployment rate biting the nation hard, a young man decides to go the way of blue collar job in a bid to gain financial independence. Today, he manages a flourishing business, serving thousands of customers across the country. We present to you, the CEO of Hao Collections, Mr. Johnbosco Ezeanochie in an interview with Mercy Hill of Fides Newspapers.
May we meet you sir?
My name is Johnbosco Ezeanochie, from Akwaeze, in Anaocha L.G.A of Anambra State. But I was born and brought up in Aba. I study Chinese Language in Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka. I make footwears like shoes, sandals and pam slippers and I have been doing that for four years now. I actually learnt the business in Aba.
So, what inspired your venturing into the trade?
Hunger! Seriously it was hunger mixed with passion and the desire to do something to help myself through school that pushed me into shoe making. I am not the only one into shoe making in my family. My direct elder sister makes shoes too.
After my secondary education, my Dad made inquiries and found out that some white men were in Aba to train people in shoe making, so he took us there and registered us for the training.
Again, I have some of my older siblings who had graduated from the University and could not secure jobs and were broke. So, I said to myself, JohnBosco you don't have to suffer like this at all. Thus, I decided to go entrepreneurial to help myself.
How were you able to raise funds to start your business?
Hmmmmmm… I have been asked this question a thousand times in different interviews. Actually, during our training period, the white woman that taught us told us we could start going commercial even as we were learning. So, I started making shoes for sale. I was posting some of my products on the social media and people were buying them. That's how I was able to raise money to start up on my own.
Secondly, my elder sister already had machines as at the time I was undergoing training and I had access to them while I worked on my products. This helped me to cut costs and save money.
How long did it take you to learn shoe making?
I learnt shoemaking in just two weeks. The training lasted for just two weeks and I was ready to learn. You see, there is something the Igbos call “anya nka”, which literally mean creative ability. I know I possess creative ability so I learnt faster.
How Do You Combine Business with Academics?
I must say it's not easy combining school and work. Most times I have orders for shoes and the next day there is a quiz to write in school. Sometimes I work for long hours and still prepare for school work. So, it is not easy at all. But I try my best to do both the best way I can.
So, do you have any trainees or people working under you?
Yes, I have apprentices training under me. In fact, during holidays and strikes, many of them do come to learn, and I give them stipends daily. Normally, I will have to train them for one month and the other month they will begin to produce what they have learnt under my close watch. But in a situation where they don't have anything doing, they will have to help me in the production process, and I give them stipends for it.
What is the name of your business and is it registered with Corporate Affairs Commission?
No, it has not yet been registered but I am working on it.My business name is HAO Collection. I got a Chinese name for my business because I am a Chinese Language student at the Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka. Hao means perfect.
What is your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge is customers satisfaction, people often mistake my products for Aba made. It takes a lot convince them with all proofs that my products are of high quality and the materials are qualitative.
Sometimes customers price my products less and most times compare them with fake products' prices. The conclusion of it all, is that, Nigerians don't regard and patronize made in Nigeria products and this is a big challenge to the business. Something I sell for three thousand a pair, they will tell me its six hundred Naira at Onitsha. It's a big challenge to me.
What is your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement is investing in people. I have trained not less than fifty people and they are doing well. Some are even doing better than I, boys and girls alike.
I am also able to take care of my school needs through the business. My Dad who took us to Aba to learn shoe making is very proud of my sister and I. Many people feel that African Fathers don't hug their sons, but my Dad hugs me, because he never knew that we would go this far. He thought we would just learn the skill for learning sake. But today, my Dad is proud of us and that to me is an achievement.
I plan to set up a clothing brand too. I will employ a designer who would design the clothes to bear my brand. So, it will be HAO Shoes and Clothing Collections.
Have you been getting contracts from companies and schools etc.
Yes, I have been. I was contracted recently to make up to a hundred foot wears for students for the match past
If You Have an Opportunity to Ask the Govt for Something, what would that be?
I need funds to get more machines and this will help me employ more young people, get them into the business and to help encourageself-dependence.
What are the major strategies you use in marketing your products?
I print stickers and post them on walls in schools, on Keke, and other places. I post on social media too and the response is going well. The truth is, if I make one hundred sales in a week, ninety will be from my Facebook page.
There are some people who got such talents as you, but have not been able to nurture it as you have, what is your message to them?
To the ladies I say, don't make hair on an empty head. Don't fill your brain with frivolities. Look, the piece of paper you see on the ground that many people see as useless can be useful when put to creative use, it can be recycled. Have an idea to do something, learn a skill and put it to productive use.The world we are in presently is highly competitive, so, make good use of your time, else, you will be redundant and left behind. Youths these days depend only on white collar jobs. Combine your certificate with a skill and develop it. This will also help boost the economy of Nigeria and the Anambra State in particular.
There are some ladies who make furniture from used tyres. Another uses papers to make flowers. Some are even keke and bus drivers, and people patronize them. Look for something exceptional that you can learn, then push through.
Where I trained as a shoe maker, there were kids of ten and twelve years old who were also there as apprentices. Age is never a barrier to a willing heart that wants to grow.
It must not be only footwears. There are other areas of endeavours one could delve into. You could investigate your vicinity and search for the pressing need of the people and seek for ways to solve it.
Secondly, the government should organize more empowerment programs to educate and train young ones to be entrepreneurs.
Another thing is persistence. When I started as a shoemaker, people would look at me and say, Johnbosco, with all your “handsomeness and fairness”, you want to end up a shoemaker? My sister also faced the same thing. People were asking, “Vivian, as a lady you won't go look for a husband, you are here making shoe”? But now, my sister is well established; if I sell one hundred shoes in a week my sister sells two hundred. I never gave up neither did she.
Thank you JohnBosco, your story is quite inspiring.