Working Lives

Working Lives: The Delta Man who wants to sell his Generator Business to his Son

Working Lives: The Delta Man who wants to sell his Generator Business to his Son

I have been in this business for more than 35 years. I have plans to sell this business to my first son once I grow old. He will have to earn my business and will pay me monthly if he cannot pay at once to buy my shops. Some people might think it is unusual for a father to sell his property to his son, but I do not care. That is my decision and my family is aware of it.

What is your name and where are you from?

My name is Christian Obiosa. I am from Oko in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta State.

Tell us about your Education?

I attended Adams Primary School in Delta State. After my Primary Education, I proceeded to Omu Boys Secondary School, also in Delta State.

Why did you not go for higher studies?

My parents were farmers, they could barely feed their children well. So, going for higher education was never an option. Asides that, my father believed that as long as his children can read and write, he is fulfilled.

Tell us about your family?

My parents are from Delta State. They are both late, they died after battling with long illnesses. My dad married three wives; my mother was the second wife. I am my mother’s first son of six children. Two of my siblings live in Delta State while the others are in Lagos and Abuja. My dad had seventeen children from his three wives.

Are you married?

I am married with five children – three boys and two girls. The girls are currently studying at the university. Two of my boys are graduates and are now working. My last child is in Primary five. He stays with me at the shop most times to assist. My wife runs a successful catering business.

When did you come to Lagos and why Lagos in particular?

I came to Lagos in 1999. Shortly after my secondary education in 1975, I relocated to Asaba to learn how to fix generators. I completed my training and setup my business in Asaba within three years. I only specialized in repairing petrol generators at that time. Along the line, some of my friends advised me to learn how to fix diesel generators as well so I could earn more money. I considered their advice, gathered the little money I had saved and relocated to Onitsha. I chose Onitsha because that was the major spot for big gen (diesel generators) engineers and of course, Onitsha has always been the largest market in Africa in terms of geographical size and volume of goods. I believed I would be opened to better opportunities in Onitsha. Onitsha is not far from Asaba, so it was quite easy for me to move there. I later relocated to Lagos after twenty years in Onitsha. I never had the intention to move to Lagos, destiny brought me to Lagos.

How did you venture into this business?

The interest for generator business started in Asaba. I went to Asaba one day to get something for my dad. On my back, I saw a man fixing a generator, I got fascinated with the way he went about it and I approached him to make enquiries. I asked what the process was if I wanted to be his apprentice and he told me he would need a member of my family to sign an agreement. After two days, my parents visited him and an agreement was signed. I lived with him while learning how to repair generators. Asides from fixing generators, my master was also a farmer; I went with him to the farm on days when there were no generators to repair. After three years of learning how to repair generators, I returned to my village in Oko to set up my own business. Sadly, the business did not move so well because not everyone in Oko could afford a generator. I kept managing for four years and I eventually relocated to Asaba to start a new life. I rented an apartment and started my generator repair business afresh. Relocating to Asaba was a great decision for me because in a short while, my business boomed and money started flowing in. However, as the first son from a polygamous home, I had a lot of responsibilities. So, I could not really save much because I kept spending the money I made to cater for my family. As time went by, my responsibilities increased and the money I was making from the business was no longer enough to sort out those responsibilities. Some of my friends advised I learn how to repair diesel generators, so I could make more money. That was when I gathered the little savings I had and moved to Onitsha. I was 27 years old at that time. One of my friends had given me an engineer’s contact at Onitsha. The engineer specialized in fixing diesel generator. I located the engineer and told him I wanted to learn how to repair diesel generators. it was quite easy for the man to accept me because of my experience with fixing petrol generators. Thereafter, he took me to his warehouse, I was amazed at how full his warehouse was. He imported and sold generators, repaired faulty generators, sold generator parts, he was basically into all the forms of generator business. As an apprentice, you have the opportunity to work for him and you would get paid in return. The man was a successful businessman. He supplied diesel generators to popular filling stations in the East and would service the generators whenever the need arose. I was able to complete my training within a year due to my experience with fixing petrol generators. I started working for my boss as a staff after I got my freedom. Business was booming so well, orders were coming from outside the East, then, my boss decided to open a branch in Lagos State, at Oshodi to be precise. I was asked to manage the Lagos branch and that was how I relocated to Lagos. I work for my boss for more than 20 years after I got my freedom. He later grew too old and could not work anymore. None of his children were willing to take up their father’s business at that time because they were also rich in their different careers. So, my boss gifted me the Lagos shop, in place of paying me off for working for him for several years. That was how I became a shop owner in Lagos State. His relatives took over his business in the East.

Did you invest more in the business after it was gifted to you?

I only sold generators and generator oil while I was working for my boss. I was also fixing both petrol and diesel generators. After I got the shop, I started selling generator parts. I never really learnt how to buy or sell generator parts while I was undergoing training, so it was quite challenging after I became my own boss. I decided to incorporate selling generators parts into my business so I could make more money. However, I overcame the challenge in no time; I would write the names of the generator parts and the cost prices in a book every time I went to the market. I adopted this method so I would know how much I bought the parts and how much interests to add to it whenever customers’ requests for them. I cannot really give the specific amount I invested in this business, but I can guess it was about N200,000. It was this low because the business was already running before it got willed to me.

How did you get to own a shop at Oyingbo?

After two years of running my business at Oshodi, I decided to expand. I had friends at Oyingbo who were also into generator business, so I gathered information from them on how I can set up at Oyingbo. After gathering all the information, I rented a shop and stock the shop with goods. The cost of renting a shop, renovating and buying goods was about N9,000,000 in total. I have been running the Oyingbo branch ever since while my staff manages the shop at Oshodi. He sends me reports daily and I also visit the shop once in a week.

How much do you charge for fixing generators?

It depends on the severity of the damage. However, I charge more to fix diesel generators. I could charge N200,000 or more to fix diesel generator engines. But if the damage is not really severe, I could charge N100,000. Petrol generators are not so expensive to repair. I recently fixed a petrol generator that was not starting, I charged N60,000 for the repair. I make more money from fixing generators than selling generators.

Also Read: Working Lives: The 55 Year-Old Generator Seller who wants to study Mechanical Engineering

Do you import your goods or you buy in Nigeria?

I import generators from England and I get some in Nigeria. Most of my diesel generators are imported. I also buy from people who are in urgent need of money or people relocating. We have London-used generators just like we have London-used phones.

Where do you keep your goods when they arrive Nigeria?

I have a warehouse at Oyingbo. That is where I keep all my imported goods. It is heavily guarded by security men day and night. I pay them monthly.

How often do you import goods into Nigeria?

I import generators once in six months. However, when sales are good, I import once in three months. The expenses on importing goods are high presently. The high cost of dollar is not helping matters either. I settle customs at the port, transportation cost is very high as well. These factors sometimes contribute to how often I import goods. I buy generator parts every week from Alaba market. The demand for generator parts is high. I always have customers requesting for generator parts every day. I might not sell generators in 2 or 3 days, but I sell generator parts every day.

Do you collect loans from banks to purchase goods?

Getting loans from Microfinance banks is quite easy for us. The banks representatives often come to Oyingbo to market their services to us.  I think they are fetish because none of my colleagues who collected loans from them were able to pay back. They ended up losing their shops to the banks. At times, I get amazed on how you see the banks representatives react when you have not paid them, they could come with 20 padlocks to lock your shop. You now begin to wonder that, are these not the same people begging me to take loans from them? Many of my colleagues have fallen victims of this so-called Microfinance banks. I have never taken a loan and I pray that will never be an option for me. I have a good relationship with my business partners in Nigeria, they sell to me on credit especially when I buy goods in large quantities and I do not have enough funds to pay for the goods. I always ensure I pay them back at the agreed date. That is the way I have been able to maintain their trust in me all these years.

What brands of generators do you sell and how much do you buy them?

There are many brands of both diesel and petrol generators. I sell both new and fairly used generators. For diesel generators, there are brands like Cat, John Holt, Perkins, Wilson, etc. I sell a 15kva Perkins generator at a rate of N3,000,000 to N4,000,000. For a fairly used diesel generator, I could sell between N1,500,000 to N2,000,000. For petrol generators, 2.5kva Elepaq or Sumec for example, I sell at a rate of N160,000 to N170,000. These selling prices depends on dollar rate and the bargaining strength of the buyer. I cannot tell you how much I buy generators. In every business, the motive is to make profit but truthfully, the profit in this business is not as much as people make it seem.

How much profit do you make on each sale of generator?

When people see us count money, they believe we are millionaires. The reality is that we are not as rich as people think. We make more profit when the right customers buy goods; those that will not really bargain, some will even pay outrightly when you give them the selling price. So, I tend to make more profit when these kinds of customers buy goods. On the other hand, I might have some customers who would almost negotiate to the exact price I bought the goods, I get forced to sell to them at times, mostly when sales are not good. I make at least N10,000 or more as profit.

How much do you buy generator parts and how much do you sell them?

There is no fixed amount on generator parts due to the present inflation. You could go to market today and get a different price from what you got two days back. So, we keep a record of the goods bought with the cost price, to avoid mistakes. There are generator parts we buy as low as N100, generator holes, and we sell for N300. It all depends on what you are buying.

Who are your customers?

Everyone is my customer; engineers who repair generators, companies that buy and sell old generators, passersby, etc. I also have customers who swap generators from me.

What time of the year do you make most sales?

I make sales all the time. Sometimes, I go out to market my business. I go to filling stations, factories, to discuss business with their managers. I target filling stations and factories because they cannot run their businesses without power. I visit offices to market my business as well.

Also Read: Working Lives: The Abia Man who chose Spare Parts Over University

Which generator brand do people buy more and why?

All generator brands are good. People prefer to buy generators that are mostly used by everyone. They often request for brands like Sumec, Firman and Elepaq. Recently, people have been requesting for Haier Thermocool generators. For diesel generators, customers mostly request for Perkins and Cat brands. These brands are the strongest when it comes to durability.

On average, how much do you make weekly and monthly?

For security reasons, I will not give you the actual figures. But roughly, I make about N500,000 or more in a week and about N1,000,000 to N1,500,000 in a month. These figures depend on sales.

Do you have savings and how much do you save?

Yes, I have savings. I save any amount that enters into my account. Most of my customers make payments via transfer. No one carries cash around anymore. I am not into any other mode of savings except for my bank accounts.

How many hours do you work in a day and how many days of the week?

I work between 8am to 8pm from Mondays to Saturdays. I live at Festac, which is quite far from Oyingbo, that is why I do not really stay in the shop till late in the night. I rest on Sundays and also attend family meetings. So, I work for 12 hours daily.

How much do I need to start generator business?

With the current economic situation and the increase in dollar rate, starting a business now is not encouraging. If you are interested in selling both diesel and petrol generators, you will need about 50 million naira to set up. You might not need to raise that much if you want to specialize in either diesel or petrol generators.

What is the difference between when you started this business and now?

The costs of goods were very cheap when I started. If the situation was like this when I started, I would not have achieved as much as I have now. I prefer those days to our current economic reality.

How long have you been in this business? And for how much longer do you see yourself doing it?

I have been in this business for more than 35 years. I have plans to sell this business to my first son once I grow old. He will have to earn my business and will pay me monthly if he cannot pay at once to buy my shops. Some people might think it is unusual for a father to sell his property to his son, but I do not care. That is my decision and my family is aware of it.

Have you obtained any tangible achievement(s) through this business?

I have achieved a lot through this business. I built a duplex in my village and a three-bedroom apartment at Festac. I have two cars; my wife drives one and I drive the other. My children attend good schools and my generator business is expanding. I only wish my mother was alive to enjoy the fruits of her labour.

Do you regret not going to the university?

I have no regrets at all. I was not really interested in school. In fact, I managed to pass WAEC. It has always been business for me. The knowledge and experience I have in fixing generators, some people who went to school for years do not have it. School will only teach you theory, but the practical aspect is lacking. But this does not mean I do not like education, all my children are educated.

Do you have plans to venture into something else?

My plans will be to have more branches in Oyingbo market. I also love poultry farming. I could start poultry farming after I retire to my village.

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