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 Whose First Gig Made Him a Big Boy in the Village
“The most expensive furniture I have ever made is a complete sitting room set which consists of a 3-seater couch, 2-seater couch, and then two single couches, including the center table. This will cost you N800,000 or less depending on the kind of design you want.”
Where are you from?
I am from Ogbomoso in Oyo state.
Please, tell us about your education
I only have my secondary school certificate and that is it. I did not go further because my parents could not afford it.
Tell us about your family?
I am the second of five children. My dad was a carpenter. He is late now. While my mom sells agbo jedi back home in Ogbomoso.
When did you get to Lagos?
I came to Lagos in 1998. I was living with my elder sister in Ojuelegba when I came back then. She had already gotten married, so I stayed with her for about 2 years, before I could start living on my own.
Where do you live/how much is the rent?
I live in a 2-bedroom flat in Onipanu now. I pay N350,000 for the yearly rent.
How did you start working as a carpenter/what attracted you to the job?
Like I said earlier, my dad was a carpenter and during my early days as a teenager I was always going to his workshop to learn and I also followed him about to work when he got gigs in Lagos or Ibadan back then.
So, I am guessing all your training was under your dad?
Yes, most of it, I would say. He was so good at what he did. People from Lagos were always calling him for gigs. But I still brushed up my skills with some of my colleagues when I came to Lagos, so as to be familiar with modern designs.
Where did you work after your training?
After training under my dad, I continued working under him until he died. The only thing he did was, he was always giving me about 30% from whatever he got for the pay. So, we were basically working together as father and son. It was always fun.
Your first salary?
The first pay I got from my dad was N10,000. We had come to Lagos for a gig, we spent a week to finish up. On our way back to Ogbomoso, he counted N10,000 cash and gave me, I was so happy. I was a big boy back in the village then. Good times.
How much did it cost you to establish?
I had basically everything, it was just like when my dad died, I took over from him and continued from where he stopped. I just needed to buy one or two things and all that didn’t cost up to N50,000.
Did you get a bank loan?
No. a bank loan was not really an option I considered then. The economy was still a bit good. So, it was not necessary.
What kind of furniture do you make?
Several kinds of furniture. Couch, dining table set, center table, and many more.
Have you ever done anything else apart from being a carpenter?
Not at all. This has been the only thing I have been doing right from time.
How many hours do you work in a day?
I work for 8 hours a day. No matter what time I start working, I make sure I complete my daily routine of eight hours before I stop for that day. I take breaks, of course.
What’s your best day like on the job?
When my customers call me to tell me how much their visitors love the couch I made for them in their sitting room, and then they go ahead to recommend me. Days like that make me happy.
Your worst day or experience on the job?
None, I haven’t had any.
Who are your main clients?
Offices, and people moving into new homes.
What kind of furniture do people often ask for and how much do they cost?
Offices often ask for a conference table or a table with a locker for employees and then those for home furniture mostly ask for the dining table set of any of the 3-seater couch designs.
What’s the most expensive furniture you have ever made?
The most expensive furniture I have ever made is a complete sitting room set which consists of a 3-seater couch, 2-seater couch, and then two single couches, including the center table. This will cost you N800,000 or less depending on the kind of design you want.
How much do you make in sales weekly?
Weekly sales are not stable, it all depends on how customers come in for that week. So, I get to look at it on a monthly basis. On an average month, I make N150,000.
Are you married?
Obviously. I am happily married with 3 kids.
How much do you spend in a day?
I drive to my workshop, so I hardly spend so much. I just get to spend about N1,000 at most on feeding for the day while I am at work.
What other things do you spend money on?
My kids. I love taking care of them. So, whatever they need, I get it for them. I want them to have all the opportunities I never had the chance to get. I also get to spend money taking care of my mother and my younger siblings, making sure they all graduate from the university.
For how long have you been in the business?
I started with my dad in 1996, so that’s about 24 years now.
Do you have savings/how much do you save in a month?
Yes, I save monthly. But these days I have not been able to save frequently because I am trying to round up with the finishing of my site in Sango. I plan to move in anytime from next year.
Do you have plans to venture into something else apart from this business?
I have a bit of interest in the poultry business. I have started on a small scale though, but I plan on expanding and investing more in it.