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I started my business with N50, 000 – Agusto

Folayemi Agusto is the Chief Executive Officer of The Artisan Gift Company, an establishment that was registered in January 2014 to provide services to celebrants and event makers. As an entrepreneur, Agusto who was featured in the premier edition of GT Bank SME Market Hub ‘Merchant Monday’ programme, said her expectation when beginning her business is very different from the reality she has gotten. In this interview with UZEZI ADESITE, the graduate from University of Virginia, USA, discusses her business and issues in the event management industry.

Tell us about The Artisans Gift Company?
The Artisans Gift Company is a gift and favour business based in Lagos Nigeria. We sell a range of gifts and favours for all sorts of events like baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, birthday parties and also package corporate gifts.
Why did you set up this business?
I started this business because I am very into event management and planning. I have attended lots of events in Lagos over the years and I never liked the gifts that were given out. I have seen vegetable oil as gift, I have seen garri. My cousin received bleaching cream last year. I have seen so many buckets and trays; so many odd things that people might not really need at home. So I wanted to change this industry I guess and change the gifts that were given out to things that are more practical, more useful and functional.

Why the name ‘The Artisan Gift’?
It is called The Artisans Gift Company because an artisan is someone who makes things by hand and is skilled in their crafts so I offer a range of unique and hand crafted gifts.
Do you make any of the items you package personally?
I make some samples, because I know how to sew. For instance if I need to make a tote bag, I can make a sample, but I don’t make any of them personally myself.
Since you started, how has it been so far?
It’s been good. It’s been interesting. I have learnt a lot about myself and how to run a business in Nigeria.
What were your expectations before starting? Are you meeting them?
I have been getting orders consistently every month since my first order in April. But I really thought I would be bombarded by orders and everyone will just run to me and it would be so easy, but obviously I haven’t had that experience. I thought it would be so fabulous and I would be so rich, but unfortunately, the reality is that I am taking it day by day and month by month.
Who exactly are your services for?
I work for anyone who wants to give our gifts and party favours. Like at weddings, I can work for the couple, the bride’s mother, the groom’s mother, friends of the couple, I can work for the event planner, company, anyone.
How do you get to meet your clients?
I have just relied on my network and friends for the moment. My first order was actually through my cousin who works in the company. They were hosting an event and I asked if she knew if they needed gifts or souvenirs for the event and if there was an email of someone to contact she could help me with. I wrote in and was asked to send in a catalogue which I did and we went from there. Also if I know someone that is getting married or any of my friends know, I ask to be introduced. So I just try to grow my business from my network. And I use the internet as well. I use Instagram a lot to share pictures of our gifts and favours and I also rely on event planners because that is a huge and growing industry in Nigeria, so I talk to them if they can refer me to their clients. I have just been trying to build my network basically.
What kind of gaps have you noticed in the event planning and management industry since you started?
A database of suppliers and other useful people the industry needs. For instance, let’s say I am looking for someone to do screen printing. It is hard to find the needed people. I have to ask around if anyone knows someone who can do screen printing, who is reliable and does it well. There is nowhere I can go online to find a database of people who are capable of doing screen printing, or bag making, leather goods etc. I just have to ask around whenever I need any of these things.
What was starting like? Did you exactly need any funds to begin?
I started with my own money. I started with N50, 000 of my own money. I used it to order samples and so far I have just been reinvesting most of the money I make from each order back into the business to grow the business. So there are so many businesses people can start without tons of money. If you are into bag making for example, I am sure you can attend a bag making course in Nigeria for like N25, 000. During the course, you make some bags and use as your samples to make more bags for people so it is not every time you need a large sum of money to start your business.
Where do you sort the gifts and favours you package?
I try as much as possible to have things made in Nigeria and support the local economy so I have many things made in Nigeria and at the same time I import some products that I cannot get here.
How affordable are your services for clients?
I have things from all different price range. I have items as cheap as N350 and some go up to N12, 000 per item.
A lot of youths complain about lack of jobs, not seeing the opportunities around them. What can you say to them? How can they be focused enough to look around them?
I guess sometimes, it depends on your interest. I was really passionate about even management. For me, it was like, if I wasn’t an event manager, what else can I do in this industry? Which other gaps do I see in this industry that I can provide a better service than what is been currently offered? So that is one way. You can find something you are interested in and look around for the gaps or find what you can do better than other people are currently doing. I would like them to know it is very easy to start a business in Nigeria depending on the skill of your business. If you think you can do something and you are focused very hard in doing it, you most certainly can do it.
What are your future plans?
I am taking it day by day. I wrote a business plan but to be honest, I haven’t followed it to the T. I am actually just taking it day by day, trying to grow my business. I want to be better and better.