Unstable electricity, bane of employment and small businesses in Nigeria —Expert

In this interview by ADETOLA BADEMOSI, Smith Orean, CEO of Orean Global Resources advises Nigerian youths who want to go into business not to start big in order to sustain their businesses and reduce the unemployment crisis in the country: Excerpts:

 

AS the CEO of Orean Global Resources International Limited, what is the business focus?

The business is majorly about drinks. What we do is we produce yoghurt drinks among other fruit drinks. We realised that most of the time, people consume yoghurt with high concentration of acidity so we came up with the idea of pasteurised, well cultured yoghurt that will be natural that will not need preservatives because some of the preservatives that are used in producing yoghurts are not fit for human consumption. For example, we have citric acid which is one of the most used preservatives for most drinks. You also have sodium benzoate that you also have in other drinks. Most of the health cases that we have today like cancer and others are as a result of much intake of preservatives. So we put up an idea to start up a business that would not need such preservatives but at the same time be able to boost the human immune system.

 

To reduce the level of unemployment in the country, many young Nigerians can take a cue from you. How will you advise them?

The truth is that we never started big, we started very small and the first product that Orean Global produced was about five to twelve bottles. You know yoghurt generally is not to be produced on a small scale. In starting up businesses such as this, one needs to consider the laws governing food and drinks production. In the aspect of yoghurt, it is highly sensitive. The National Agency For Food and Drugs Administration Control (NAFDAC) would want to see that you have a high level of hygiene, they would want to see that the environment in which this is produced is clean. This is because it is consumed by the public and once it is contaminated, it can be a problem. This aspect is very important. For instance, our first start up was very much at the experimental stage. It was not like we went into full production. So the first production was just 12 bottles of yoghurt, we took them to NAFDAC, they have their food analyst, they call the nutrition analysts. These people want to see the health benefits of your product. After examining the product, we told them it contains no preservatives and can stay for as long as one week to a month, they were eager to assist. Also, you know yoghurt product passes through certain processes right from the point it is heated into certain degree to the point where you have to cool it to a certain degree and the point where you now have to inoculate the product. So they wanted to see that process to be sure that as a producer, you know what you are doing. You know some people are not lactose tolerant while others are. So in that case what do you do? They want to see that you have the standard measures of handling these things. I think this is a stage that is very important. Any youth who wants to go into business should go through this process and learn from this to start small.

 

How does the country’s state of electricity affect small-scale businesses?

The truth is that Nigerians are hardcore people. We are hard men and women when it comes to business but the challenge faced by small scale businesses that are into soft and strong drinks business is erratic power supply. Like in our own case, one of our challenges is the electricity issue which is not stable. Some weeks, you have a stable supply and other weeks you have none. But the good thing is that we have our own source of supply and we get our diesel running which is not cost effective by the time we do our plus and minus at the end of the day. However, it is the determination to keep the business running that is paramount because it is not about now, but keeping a long-lasting legacy.

 

Apart from epiletic power supply, what other challenges do you think small business owners are facing?

The electricity issue transcends to other challenges. Like in our case, we had envisioned that by now, we would have gotten our own mold. Every company has its own bottle structure, like the way they want their bottling structure to be. We have not been able to use the molding machines because our electricity read is higher. These machines will use 110 voltage and we were told that our electricity voltage is too high to power these machines. Now, we have to get an industrial step-up to step-up the voltage. Another challenge is accessibility in the sense that every producer wants to reach a large audience especially rural areas.

 

How do you reach these places when the roads are bad?

In our case, some places where we have to do our supplies, we go as far as Abaji, Gwagwalada and some villages around those places are not motorable. Villages around Kwali and Abaji, you have to get to the interior places because most of our customers are northerners who also resell at their end. So getting to these places is always a challenge and one of the things we do not do in our company is to turn down orders. If it warrants us to get a bike to get to these places, we would.

 

What are the factors limiting the growth of SMEs and how best can these be tackled?

There are lots of factors, first is the economy. The state of a country’s economy determines if businesses would thrive. For instance, if I am selling a bottle of yoghurt for N1000 or N1500, it would affect sales and most people may not be able to afford the price. There is also the need for the Federal Government to encourage small scale businesses, they do not have to be farmers because when this new president came into power, he brought in policies to boost  agriculture but the truth is that there are other things that people can do apart from farming.

 

What is your advice to youths who are also aspiring to venture into one business or the other?

My advice to them is to look on the bright side and start doing what you know how to do best. You might not be making profit now, it might not be too rosy just like I started, but believe in what you are doing. Nigeria is not going to remain like this so just put your ideas to work, start something and keep going.

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