Chukwudozie Maduabum is a custom furniture maker who turned his hobby into a business, Grey Builds. He talked to us about the challenges he faces, as well as the advice he’d give aspiring entrepreneurs.
When did you begin business as a furniture maker?
I have been designing furniture for a long time, but I started it as a business in 2019. My brother is an architect and does some construction jobs. Sometimes, when he’s done with a house, he’ll ask me to make furniture for it.
Smells like money. What were you doing before then?
I used to sell handmade shoes and I worked for Eat Drink Lagos. I still work for them; I do event operations.
Did you ever have a strict 9 to 5?
So you’re a born entrepreneur!
LOL. You can say that. I like building things with my hands; it’s always been my hobby. Unfortunately, I can’t really do that anymore because I’m now more into business development, seeking clients and so on.
What made you turn professional?
The magic word.
Yes! I was selling shoes, but that was barely paying the bills anymore. Then my brother gave me a job in March 2019 and the profit was way better.
You said: Who shoe epp?!
It only made sense. I would have to sell 50 shoes to make what I made with that one job!
And how long did the job take you?
It took about four weeks.
And how long would it have taken you to sell 50 shoes?
I wouldn’t have sold 50 shoes in four weeks. I was doing 20 shoes in a good month.
I guess it was a no brainer.
What were the issues when you began?
Artisans. [Sighs] Artisans. It’s still the issue I face. They can do the work, I won’t lie. But they aren’t really trained to be professional. So it’s hard to explain to them where you are coming from.
And honestly, I don’t really blame them. When you are fighting to eat every day, it is very hard to see where somebody that went to school is coming from.
How do you manage it?
I try to be fair and understanding. If you take what they do to heart, you are not going to get anything done. They are going to mess up a lot, and you are going to have to get over it. I have to be lenient. When you fight with them, you have to make up. I sacked one of my workers some weeks ago — and he is back.
It’s very funny. I saw him this morning and I was just laughing. He just showed up and was like, “Oga, I’m sorry”. I have to allow it because there are not a lot of them that are as good as he is. You set your example and hope they see it, then you mostly have to move on. That’s how it works.
Is your brother still sending business your way?
Yes. If he gets to the finishing stages, he sends things my way. But I recently did some work with some tech people and it helped me expand. At the time, it was just me and two carpenters. After that, I realised I needed admin staff too.
I’ve hired someone, and I have some more carpenters.
Great. So how does money work for your business?
Most of the time, I submit a budget after I’m told what the client wants. I don’t like asking for a client’s budget upfront because it can be limiting. Nobody wants to tell you the truth about their budget so you don’t overcharge them.
Exactly. So, I just give clients my price. If it’s too much, you say that and I find where to make adjustments; if it’s fine, we proceed. And if you don’t know what you want, I can give you ideas. From there, I draw up a budget, we negotiate and move on.
What are your major costs?
Usually, we cost to fit. I don’t keep things down that I hope to sell. So average costs can be quite pricey. It can go from ₦60,000 to ₦1 million on one item. A kitchen can cost anything from ₦180,000 to ₦5,000,000.
If it’s a ₦5,000,000 job, what item takes the bulk of the money?
Yeah. A lot of clients don’t want to stress themselves, so I do that for them. But if it’s just what I do, that is woodwork, the bulk of the cost is the wood itself.
So, if I wanted a wardrobe, what would that cost me?
Standard size at 4-feet — from ₦80,000 to ₦200,000. Depends on the accessories and the kind of wood.
Are the woods locally sourced?
Well, we buy from local marketers. But they import it.
For the higher end wardrobe, what would your profit be like? 50%?
Ha! We can’t get that anymore. Cost of production is really high. And as the naira to dollar price increases, the marketers are raising their prices. But we can’t really increase our prices like them. So if you see 40%, thank God.
Hahaha. So what is the lowest percentage profit you would take on for a job?
I would say maybe 20%. And that is if it’s a regular customer. More things are likely to come of it.
What would you tell someone wanting to make the jump from 9 to 5 to entrepreneurship?
Before the advice, I would ask: are you really sure you want to do it? A lot of entrepreneurs like to drag 9 to 5 people and say that “Salary is the money they pay you to forget your dreams”.
Omo, it’s not like that o! It’s tough, especially if you don’t have solid support!
My advice for anyone going into my line of work is: you need thick skin. You need to slow down and rest. Everybody will be fine. Even the clients. Also, when you’re making plans, remember that Nigeria will be Nigeria. So, plan for Nigeria to Nigeria.