Working Lives – Master Carpenters of Opebi
Not many would be willing to leave paid employment to go it alone on the path of entrepreneurship, much less take up furniture business as an occupation, not knowing it is one of the best construction occupations in Nigeria and one high on demand. Nobody builds, buys or rents an apartment in order to live in an empty space. In this edition of Working Lives, we talk to carpenters who got into the furniture business in different ways but now have one thing in common – using their knowledge and skillful expertise to make big money out of their operating base in the Opebi area of Lagos State.
Working Lives: The Carpenter Who Left Medical Laboratory Job
“These days, young guys are starting to live on their own. So, I get a lot of orders for a 3-seater couch and a side table a lot. That would cost about N150,000 – N200,000 depending on the material we would be using for the embroidery.”
Where are you from?
I am from Awori in Lagos State.
Please, tell us about your education
I finished at Yabatech where I studied Biochemistry and graduated in 2005.
Tell us about your family?
I come from a family of 3 and I am the first child. My parents are both civil servants. They work in the government house here in Lagos. They are not senior officers though.
Where do you live/how much is the rent?
I live in Maryland. It’s a 1-bedroom flat. And I pay N300,000 for the yearly rent.
How did you start working as a carpenter/what attracted you to the job?
During my secondary school days, my parents made sure I learned a trade despite the fact that I was still going to school. I am not sure why. I am guessing it is the way they were brought up. They said even if I was going to school, it should not stop me from learning a trade, that school was not a guaranteed way of catering for my family in the future. I wanted to learn barbering at first but I noticed that I was good at creating stuff, so I gave carpentry a shot.
Where did you train?
I trained under my boss in Yaba then. He had a big carpentry workshop where he made different kinds of furniture. I trained under him throughout my days in senior secondary school.
Where did you work after your training?
I didn’t work under anyone. Most of my colleagues were going to look for jobs with most of these high-end furniture companies out there, but I didn’t. I just wanted to start off on my own, I was so confident with my skill and what I could deliver.
Your first salary?
The first money I made from making furniture was N80,000. I made a 3-seater couch. But I wouldn’t say it’s my first salary because it didn’t come from an employer.
How much did it cost you to establish your business?
It cost me about N100,000. I had to go as far as Ijaye Ojokoro to get a space for my workshop because it was going to be cheap getting a space over there in Yaba. That was in 2008.
What are the key tools you need to buy and how much do they cost?
Apart from a hammer, nails, and those other tools you would expect a carpenter to have, we also need clamps, a power drill, jigsaw, circular saw, amongst other things. All these could cost as much as N150,000.
Did you get a bank loan?
No, I didn’t. Banks that you will borrow money from and will start having a raised blood pressure because of the interest rate? I also wanted to avoid the anxiety that comes with having to catch up with the payback date.
What kind of furniture do you make?
All kinds of home and office furniture, you name it.
Have you ever done anything else apart from being a carpenter?
As at when I started carpentry and had not started getting gigs that kept me busy, I worked at a test laboratory in Ikeja, I was being paid N60,000 monthly then.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I do the routine 9-5. I have to be at my workshop as early as possible just to start work for the day and meet up with customers’ demands.
What’s your best day like on the job?
I am a happy man; I am always happy. Every day is my best day on the job.
Your worst day or experience on the job?
A customer made an order for a dining table set; it was a wooden dining table set with a glass in the middle. As the furniture was being transported to the customer, they got in a minor accident, another car hit them from behind and the glass broke. Gbese! Not only did I have to spend more from my pocket to fix that mess, but the customer was also delayed. Because he had already fixed a date for the housewarming for a Saturday, the accident happened on a Friday evening. There was no way I could have quickly made another one. I always feel so bad up until this day.
Who are your main clients?
Everybody is my client, as long as you have your money. Just come and patronize. We are here for you.
What kind of furniture do people often ask for and how much do they cost?
These days, young guys are starting to live on their own. So, I get a lot of orders for a 3-seater couch and a side table a lot. That would cost about N150,000 – N200,000 depending on the material we would be using for the embroidery.
What’s the most expensive furniture you have ever made?
It was a full sitting-room setting, including the dining table set. It cost about N950,000 to 1 million.
How much do you make in sales weekly?
There’s no stable amount for this. It comes and goes. But in a week, N80,000 must enter my account.
How much do you spend in a day?
I spend N2,000 in a day at most. Well, on days when I buy goodies home for my kids, I spend more.
What other things do you spend money on?
Bills upon bills. I spend money on buying foodstuff, baby food, and pampers as my wife just gave birth. And many other expenses that will always keep coming.
For how long have you been in the business?
I have been in the business for close to 12 years now.
Do you have savings/how much do you save in a month?
Yes, I save N50,000 every month. I sometimes save more though; it all depends on how things are for that month.
Do you have plans to venture into something else apart from this business?
No, I don’t think I have any other thing I am interested in apart from this. Well, apart from investing in stocks or bonds. I have an interest in that.