In many parts of the world, carpentry is a male-dominated profession. At the AWP Network we were excited to connect with Mesturah Shittu, founder of Turahafrique Interiors. Mesturah is not only a mentee to AWP Network founder, Mary Olushoga, she is also a carpenter. Mesturah and her team were responsible for re-designing the Lagos State Deputy Governor’s conference room. The AWP Network connected with Mesturah to learn about her company and find out more about what it takes to be a carpenter in Nigeria.
Mesturah attended the University of Lagos and graduated with a degree in Environmental Chemistry. She then went on to obtain a certificate in Interior Design from the Maven School of Interior Decoration and Design. Mesturah has continued to keep her skills up-to-date by obtaining additional certificates and recognitions.
How did you come up with your business name?
My nickname back in college was “Turah of Africa” and this was given to me by my classmates after my visit to four (4) African countries. I got this name because upon my return, I had purchased outfits unique to each country’s culture and I wore these various outfits Monday thru Friday. Sounds like a funny story but that is exactly what happened.
In addition, circumstances made it so. I selected the name because the Department of Corporations also known as CAC rejected all the names that I had in mind. I knew that I had to use the name that could promote my brand as a successful furniture and interior design company and could stand the test of time. Hence the name, “Turahafrique Interiors Limited.”
What and who inspired you to start this business?
From the get go, I knew that I was not interested in a 9 to 5 job because I do not believe that I was wired for the typical routine activities. I got to know this after my six (6) months internship with the Nigerian Bottling Company in Ikeja where I interned. Before graduating from the University of Lagos, I went to see one of my Uncles who at the time was a Permanent Secretary for Lagos State. I informed him that I needed a contract because I could not imagine myself sitting down in one place and staring at the computer or mixing chemicals in the laboratory all the days of my life. He agreed to help me and since then, I have been involved in one contract work or the other.
The first contract he gave to me was to supply banquet chairs. After a series of successful contract work, I registered my business name in 2007. Upon graduating from University, I chose to attend the Maven School of Interior Decoration and Design to learn more about my area of interest. Shortly after, I opened a furniture showroom but closed it down.
Who is your target market?
I see my business as a B2B company. We work with hotels, restaurants, multinationals, real estate agencies, and/or individuals willing to live in a tastefully well-furnished space that suits their style and personality. It is important to note that much of our business comes primarily from other businesses.
How have you financed your business?
I financed the business with my savings. I also put money back into the business by using the profit made from the sales of the furniture sold. In this industry, clients usually pay a 75 to 80 percent mobilization fee, which is sometimes enough to complete a project.
What is your competitive edge?
My competitive edge is my approach to interior design. I use all the elements of design – everything from selecting a theme and color to using balance and lines. I use the best selection of available wood and technology to create designs that are breathtaking thereby leaving my clients asking if this was really made in Nigeria.
One of my strengths is also listening attentively to my clients and putting together available resources to birth their dream home or work space. I am able to create unique designs that are customized to suit each client’s taste and personality at a very affordable price. Anyone who uses my services will not be disappointed.
What is the long-term plan for your business?
My long-term plan is to birth an Ikea type business in Nigeria. I plan to start an online store where customers can shop for different furniture products and it is my intention to sustain this module in some locations around Africa to promote our quality wood and rich diversity, as well as export quality made-in-Nigeria furniture.
What challenges have you faced thus far?
I have had the following challenges: the first is the high attrition rate of highly skilled employees; the next is the high costs of operating a furniture business in Nigeria, then the lack of access to funds and financing needed to purchase additional machinery to grow and expand the business, the high cost of local wood and lastly the logistics challenge during procurement, delivering and installations of the projects.
What key things have you learned since starting this business?
- Leadership and management are the most essential elements of any successful organization.
- It is important to continuously seek knowledge, the right information, network and find mentors that can support my business ideas and expansion.
- Going at it alone will move your business fast but collaboration will move your business “farther.”
- I have learned to persevere and stay focused when faced with challenges.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say “there is no money”?
Money follows a great idea. After identifying a need in your environment, do your research and get all the relevant information about your area of interest. Then, garner the support of your family and friends. Do not just use your family and friends for financing but also make use of them for marketing purposes. Let them help you spread the word about your business through referrals and free sampling. Thanks to the emergence of social media, advertise your business using all social media platforms that relate to your target audience. I believe the money will come if you are committed and if you follow-through.
How do you think African youths can support each other?
African youths can support each other by (1) organizing conferences, workshops and seminars; (2) participating in mentoring opportunities, and lastly, striving to have a win- win support group and not a parasitic group.
How many jobs have you created?
To date I have six (6) full-time staff, 47 part-timers and every day, we continue to grow.
How has technology enhanced your business idea?
Technology is key to our business process. For instance, I use WhatsApp to discuss and communicate daily tasks to staff members especially when everyone is at different work sites. We are able to use technology platforms such as Skype to make video calls and to look at the progress of projects when I am unable to make it to a particular work site. These are some examples of how technology has helped to advance my business processes.
How can we support and improve innovation in Africa?
We can support and improve innovation in Africa by creating an atmosphere where young people can develop, nurture their ideas and innovations. We should encourage children, young adults to express their talents by enrolling them early in schools to help develop their ideas. Lastly, we should be willing to fund profitable ideas and innovations that can move Africa forward quickly.
Contact Turahafrique Interiors Limited:
Phone: +234 803 375 1673
Email: get2turah [at] gmail.com