Data Marlon-Ofoegbu, a Law graduate from Rivers State University of Science and Technology now Rivers State University, is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Gift Haven, Lekki, Lagos State. In this interview by TAYO GESINDE, the lawyer-turned entrepreneur, speaks about her foray into entrepreneurship and reveals her coping strategies during the coronavirus lockdown.
WHY did you dump Law for entrepreneurship?
I think I have always had that entrepreneurship thing in me. At a point, I didn’t want to do Law again but my dad said no. He said since I had always wanted to be a lawyer since I was young, I should go through with it. I actually did and practised for two years after I was called to the bar but it just wasn’t for me, so, I left it and went into business. I think business for me is in-born. Like my dad would tell me, from an early age, I had always been business inclined. Before I would do things for you, you would pay me. Entrepreneurship for me was born out of passion.
When did you go fully into business?
I started fully in 2016. Prior to that time, I did one or two things but they were not official. However, in 2016, I registered the company and started fully. We are a gift shop, we do corporate gifts, hampers, wedding souvenirs, children’s party packs and every other kind of gifts. We are a one-stop gift shop. Since we started the business, there were good times and there were times that things were not so good but in all, it has been a great experience.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you started your business?
The challenges we faced had to do with importation cost, customs and forex. The way forex kept going up and down was a huge challenge for us. The price is not fixed at all. For instance, you might quote a price of N10 for a client but by the time the client will be ready, the exchange rate would have gone up and the price may now be N15. How do you cope with that? Those are the challenges we usually face; forex is always fluctuating, customs giving us issues and shipping costs increasing by the day. Those were the challenges we faced and are still facing.
How were you able to cope with the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown?
It was quite challenging for those of us in the event industry. There were no events because of the lockdown. But that time gave me ample time to think, reflect and read. I discovered other passions and drives that I have. I also did courses during the time to develop myself more. I think that was a good way to cope with the lockdown. I was not dwelling on the fact that business wasn’t working as usual. If I had dwelled on that, it would have been horrific for me, I channeled my minds on other things. I started learning new things. That was how I managed to cope during that period.
What lessons have you learnt as an entrepreneur?
I think the most important lesson I have learnt and I learnt that not too long ago is to totally believe in yourself and your ability. When you channel your inner strength, you more often than not, do not know the depth of your inner strength until some challenges come.
What about competition in your industry, how have you been coping with it?
From the beginning, I have always known that I am my biggest competition. I don’t look at others in the line of business that I do as competitors. This is because we need to work together at times. For instance, if somebody wants 2,000 pieces of a particular product and you don’t have up to that amount, you can get the rest from your colleagues. I don’t see it as competition, I see us as collaborators, we usually help each other to meet up with the demands of our clients. I see myself as my own competition so; I work to better myself and my business every day. I don’t look at anybody in the industry as a competitor rather, I look at myself and I try to improve per time.
What is your unique selling point as an entrepreneur?
Our unique selling point is, giving our customers the best value for their money. We also sell unique stuffs that are pocket-friendly and that is why people keep coming to us.
What does one need to start this line of business?
First, you need to do your research, get suppliers and talk to manufacturers. The next thing you need after that is capital. You need money to stock your shop.
Do you have any regret quitting Law for business?
Never. Not for a second. I never regretted it.
Where do you see your business in five years time?
I will like to start manufacturing some of my gifts here in Nigeria. That is my biggest dream for five years from now.
Aside from your gift business, what other things do you do?
I work with a charity organisation, we support most church charity and I have a friend that does charity event every Christmas and we get involved in it, so, we support charity work, most of the times. However, we are looking at starting our own charity.
How have you been combining your roles as a wife, mother and entrepreneur?
My advice to them is that they should take a day at a time. Believe in yourself and love yourself. Once you have self-love, things will begin to fall into place for you. You don’t need validation from anybody. Do what you love and everything would align. To youths generally, look inward. Don’t wait for the white-collar jobs, whatever gifts, passion or talents you have, turn it into money.
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