How much does a wedding in Eastern Nigeria cost? Your guess is as good as ours, and that’s why we reached out to Sharon Maduekwe, CEO of Shamol Experienc. She spoke to us about starting her wedding planning business in Eastern Nigeria, the challenges she has encountered so far and her early moves to be an entrepreneur.
You run quite a thriving business. Was this always a thing you wanted to do as a kid?
Yes. I’ve always been very business-minded. I didn’t want to go to school; I just wanted to own a business.
Ha. What did your folks say about that kind of talk?
LOL. My father promised that I could run a business after I finished school. I guess that’s the only reason I went. At the time, I thought I was going to end up as a fashion designer.
What happened to that plan?
I don’t know o. I went to fashion school and realised that I would rather have people make the dresses. And maybe be the stylist.
So what did you study besides fashion?
I went to two universities and studied two courses. Psychology at Unizik and Mass Communication at Tansian University. I thought Psychology would help me understand clients, and Mass Communication would help me with advertising and PR.
Those seem like very adult thoughts to have!
I had many adults around me, so maybe my mind worked a bit faster than my age. But Mass Communication was what I wanted to study. My school gave me Psychology, which I fell in love with. Then I figured it would help me in business eventually.
Since you had been dreaming about business for a while, did you do anything besides study in school?
Yes. I was MCing and I worked with an agency that did events. We provided ushers for the Anambra State Government when I was in school and other projects. I started ushering when I was a teen — I told my folks I wanted to do something in school and they approved. I worked with an agency doing events for some time and then I became a sorta manager-intern for them for free. They handled events for Glo and Nigerian Breweries.
While you were a student?
Yes. They would call me and ask if I wanted to join them. I’d do that for three days and then return to school.
This your hustling sha!
LOL. My parents never knew I was going to Lagos for events!
I will send your mum a copy of this interview…
LOL. She knows now. In school, they called me Miss Tourism because of how much I travelled.
I stopped working with the agency in my final year. I didn’t want to be idle so I asked some of my friends about what I could do. They said that since I was very detailed and helped people plan things, I could consider catering. But one of them, a very popular makeup artist in Abuja, said events planning. I left the agency and went to an events planning school and interned with an event planning company in Abuja.
Whoa. At what stage did you start your own thing?
2017. But I didn’t get any clients until 2018.
How come? You knew everybody already.
Yes, I knew a lot of people in other states. But when I started my business, I was very sure I wanted to be based in the east.
This was a strategic decision. Yes?
Yes. I schooled in the east and realised that Igbo people have lots of events. And they spend money!
And I love culture. The food, the music. I knew that if there was a way I could work and enjoy some of our culture, then I would have to set up in the east. People from here may have their white weddings in Abuja or Lagos but they always have their traditional wedding back home. It would have been a lot easier to get clients in Abuja. But when I got my first job, that was it for my business.
I blew up! The first event was for a very popular person in the east. I planned their wedding. I got many jobs from that wedding, including four this year.
And this was when?
And three years later, it is still bringing clients your way?
Yes. I have gotten jobs every year from that job.
Cut soap for me!
People that attended the wedding probably said, “Oh my God, this is my planner!” So when it is time to plan their wedding, they contact us.
What other businesses have you tried your hands at?
As I said, I went to fashion school. I started a clothing line but it didn’t work out. But the name survived and is the name of my current business.
So, around the same time you were a student, you had a clothing line and you were in events planning school?
One human being?
LOL. But you know one had to suffer.
School, of course.
But you graduated still.
Yes. With a good result, too.
Overall genius! What happened when you got out?
I concentrated on event planning and focused on weddings.
What have been the challenges?
At first, it was quite challenging dealing with vendors. The work ethic is different from what you get in Lagos and Abuja. Sometimes I would compare them aloud and this caused some problems.
I can imagine.
They would get offended. “Oh, you can’t talk to us like that,” they’d say. I feel the events I have in Lagos are so easy because the vendors already know what to do. There is also an issue with standards; it is not the same in the east. Then, charges. I can charge a figure in Lagos and my clients wouldn’t think twice.
In the east, it’s different, even if about 90% of my clients are outside Nigeria. They would say, “Why are you charging this much—are you not based in the east?” They feel that because you are in the east you should be cheaper. It took us a while to explain that it doesn’t mean we are giving “eastern quality.” Which is also a problem because what do you mean by “eastern quality”?
LOL. Yes. It was a problem. I had to learn how to manage my words. It was quite an issue at the beginning. We also had an issue with locations. In Lagos, I can do five events in a day and all of them will be close. Lekki, Ikate, Ajah, maybe even Mainland. In the east, I might have an event in Enugu and another in Anambra. That is an hour and thirty minutes on the road. Anambra to Imo is about three hours. These states are so different. I have learned how to deal with them.
How do you deal with the distance?
We are bigger. If we have three events in a day, we have three teams. It wasn’t always like that. Last December, we had 30 weddings. And I couldn’t be there for all of them. But we have good hands now.
Wait. Did you say 20 weddings?
No. 30 weddings.
In December. Why is everybody getting married?
LOL. I don’t know o. But that’s the thing about Igbos. They must do traditional weddings in the east. They can do the white one elsewhere, but the traditional must be in the east.
In other words, your decision to be based in the east was a brilliant one. You are my hero!
If I wanted a wedding in the east, what would you be charging me?
Think of it as a basic wedding. What is the basic Shamol Experience charge?
Let’s say ₦500,000.
What would you be doing for me?
That’s my service charge. You then have to tell me your budget.
I’m scared already.
Our least budget is between ₦3,000,000 and ₦4,000,000.
And that is based on your guests. You cannot be expecting 1,000 guests and telling me your budget is three million.
Abeg, no vex. I’m not marrying soon.
LOL. Okay. It depends on your number of guests and the location.
Does location matter in the east, though?
No, it doesn’t. That reminds me: last December, we went to all the states in the east. Except for Ebonyi.
So for my ₦4,000,000 what number of guests can I get away with?
100! And it will just be classy. No extra stuff.
Let’s go to the upper limit. What about 1,000 guests?
I can give you a real example. Last December, we had an event that 1,500 people attended. We spent around ₦15,000,000.
What does this involve?
Videography. Photography. Food. Décor. Drinks. The client is coming to their wedding as a guest.
What’s the process like?
When you come to us, we pick your vendors. You can tell us if you have specific vendors you want to use. We send you a quote with prices for each vendor. We help pay the vendors and create a payment sheet showing who gets what and when. For décor, we have a team that designs mood boards. It’s tailormade. We also pay rainmakers depending on the season.
Interesting. How did you learn this? It’s quite elaborate.
I learned most of it from personal experience and the company I worked with earlier. To be honest, I don’t think I can function in any non-event business.
Which vendor takes the most money?
It’s usually between the décor, food or drinks vendor. We have clients that say their friends don’t drink anything younger than 25 years or anything but a specific champagne. Drinks can be quite tricky. There is one client that is spending about N500,000 on a mobile bar alone. His guests are only 500 but the budget is about ₦12,000,000.
Wow. Are you building everything from scratch?
LOL. Something like that. We are building cabanas.
To think that I was joking! So what is your service charge in this 1,000 guests (or more) case?
[Laughs] Let’s just say ₦1,000,000 or above.
I am coming to work for you!
Speaking of, a lot of business people complain about staff. What’s your experience?
My staff are wonderful. I have been quite lucky and I pray a lot before I employ anyone. Most of my team have been with me from the start. I have heard people complain about staff. But I don’t have that experience.
Maybe you are just a better boss?
LOL. Maybe. But yes, my staff feels like my family.