How did you start the business of catering?
I started with decoration. At the beginning, I used to follow those who had been established to do their own jobs. Later, I started getting jobs of my own. Then, as a starter, I used to be exploited. I didn’t have much contact then. So, I later thought of learning catering so as to increase the volume of the business.
Meanwhile, I had been doing bits of catering services when I was a student of the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ogun State, around 2005. I used to cater for students’ birthday parties and so on. After I got formal training, I made use of the internet a lot. I learnt a lot about my business via YouTube. Later, Instagram came. These platforms helped me in building my business. It amazes me how people abuse the social media these days, whereas, there are a lot of positive things to gain from it. So, getting trained in cake baking, small chops and stuffs like that was seamless. Gradually, I grew the business into what it is today.
What does it take to be successful as a caterer and event planner?
One really needs prayer, hard work and good human relations. More so, the church also helped me a lot. One needs to build relationships. The job is, after all, about people. It is good for people in this kind of business to move within gathering of the brethren, as the Bible has said we should not forsake the gathering of the brethren. The same also goes for Muslims; one can grow through relationship with people in the congregation, if one is good in one’s vocation.
I started getting jobs from members of the church and when they saw the results, they started referring me to other clients. It was at that point that a friend of mine who had training in make-up approached me to get vocational training in that field.
At my church, we celebrate birthday monthly for members. The church started giving me the contract for this monthly celebration. Through that, I got many constant referrals.
But I need to say that quality keeps one in business in this enterprise. I ensure that my clients are satisfied. So, at the beginning, I didn’t think so much about profit; I just wanted satisfaction for the customers, as most of them were very close church members and family friends whom I wouldn’t want to disappoint. It still boils down to relationships; you don’t want to hurt people you have close relationship with. So, I started developing personal relationship with my clients.
Which is more frequent between mere catering and the entire management of events?
Of course, it is catering. I started in a students’ area in Ogun State. Now, I am based in a students’ area in Apete area of Ibadan, Oyo State. When I get jobs for birthday or wedding cakes and snacks, they get back to us through our stickers in the package which has our contact numbers. In fact, snacks are everyday market. We do home and offices delivery of small chops too. It is easier to get the catering aspect of the work, rather than the entire management of an event. People often walk into our office at Ori-Are in Apete area to contract us to do catering for their social engagements.
As regards event planning, it is the volume of connection that one has that brings it. Most often, we get entire event planning through neighbours and friends. What event planning involves is much. First, you need to find out if the hall is large enough for the number of guests being expected. We also help the client to arrange invitation cards. Sometimes, we are contracted to get the client aso ebi (uniform for the event) or the attire of the couple if it’s a wedding. This also includes clothing of the bridal train and so on. We would also get them photographers and sort out other logistics as well as decorate the hall. It involves also contracting event masters of ceremony.
You studied Science Laboratory Technology, how come you picked interest in catering?
Yes. I did Science Laboratory Technology at OOU. Later I attended the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Ibadan Centre, to study Criminology. Catering just happens to be a vocation that I have flair for. And when the situation of the country is such that to get a job is increasingly getting difficult, I decided to go the full hog in catering and event management. And I have not regretted doing so.
What are the challenges you encountered in the business?
The major challenge is capital. With the availability of a solid capital base, one would be able to buy materials like flour, butter, sugar and so on in bulk. It helps the business better than retail buying.
If it is a job that involves decoration, it helps to have tools like couples chairs, decoration materials and so on. But most times, you have to rent and that limits your profit. And some of those tools are subject to getting phased out; what is in vogue this month might be out of vogue next month. For instance, there is a kind of couples chair called Gazebo. It used to be the in-thing. Nobody uses it again. So, to keep up with the new trends, one needs a very strong capital base. But then, starting small is not a bad idea; the business can be grown gradually.
If the government increases access to soft loans for businesses, it will go a long way to help these small-scale businesses like ours. Just like every other small and medium-scale business in Nigeria today, if you have a robust financial base in catering and event management, you would stand out.
How did you cope with travelling since your job involves you do so?
Yes, we usually go to other states to do the job. We have handled many birthday parties in Ogun State. I remember a recent one we did at Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, for a 70-year old woman. We have done many wedding ceremonies in Oyo, Ilesa, Abeokuta, and so on. I have boys and girls who work with me. And some of them are trainees. They are usually of assistance when we have to travel out of the state.