Dr Daniel Young is the Chief Executive Officer, Daniel Young Global Investments Ltd, a company that is into the manufacturing of uniforms, cloths, shoes, bags for international and local markets. In this interview with CHUKWUEMEKE IWELUNMO , the entrepreneur looks at the prospects his company has made, challenges and way forward for local manufacturing in the country. Excerpts:
Please tell us a little bit about your company?
The major driving force is that we looked around and found out that most of the things we are bringing into the country with regards to clothing, shoes and bags can be manufactured in Nigeria with the same standard as the ones we are bringing in. Having looked at some of the brands that we enjoy today in terms of clothing, we decided to match their standards and their production quality. We looked at aspects that will give us the desired leverage and we decided to zero in on uniforms because uniforms create some kind of team spirit. If you look at the airline industry, you see the cabin crew, people in the counter space, pilots are all in uniforms and you wouldn’t want to deal with anyone who is not dressed properly.
Why did you go into uniforms?
It gives a sense of corporate identity. We decided to look at uniforms and all it entails starting from day care, nursery for schools, industry-based uniforms for hospitality industry, for military, for hospital amongst others. Anything uniform is what we do, either for sports or academic purposes or for industry use. If you look at our show rooms today, you will discover that we have been able to do our best to produce products that match global standards. We decided to reinvent the school shoes that we used to have in the 70s and 80s. What we have done is to take existing one and study and amplify what qualities that were found that were good and remove aspects that of the original designs that are no longer useful. If you look at the 70s design, you see that they have a lot of perforations on the leather surface. So, we reduced it and we used fabrics inside the shoes so the child does not sweat. We also reduced the weight of the heels for ease of movement. Children do not walk, they run, so anything that impedes their movement will not encourage learning. We have looked at those things and decided to bring a brand new product that will meet today’s taste.
How do you source your raw materials?
Everything you need in terms of fabrics can be found in Lagos. Once you can’t find it, you can get it from Aba. We have a lot of textile mills here. All I need to do is to go towards Oshodi, tell them exactly what I need and they will produce for you. Everything here can be found in Nigeria, so you do not have any limitation accessing raw materials.
Airlines and other aviation company have uniforms. Do you think you can change what we have now to something better?
Take for instance; the security personnel, they give them materials and they give it to someone else to sow. So you find out that there is no uniformity in the sowing. Some look like cloths made by left handed tailors. To a large extent, it is a function of internal policy and what is driving the organisation. Any organisation that wants to have a uniform should contract that aspect of the job to someone who is an expert in the area, so that when the cloths come back, they look uniform.
How do you see Dana Cabin crew uniform?
Airlines that operate in Nigeria are not patronising indigenous companies. All the cloths in my show room are made here. They beat Dana standard by every way. We have a range of products that are unique. If you bring cloths from the United States to me; all I need to do is to remove it and take the pattern. If I ask you to differentiate the one you brought from the one I made, you won’t be able to differentiate. What we have here is proper supervision, skilled workers. What drives the standard is the taste of the man behind it.
When you work with me, you know that it will be difficult for anyone to find an improvement on what you have done easily. Most of the airlines don’t patronise indigenous companies. You cannot be bringing products that are made here outside the country and you are changing Naira to dollar, to go and buy those things. Government policy is already in place on made-in- Nigeria goods but Nigerians may not patronise a Nigerian product, rather they will take the money to Dubai to buy goods to supply.
Have you started talking to aviation companies with the hope of making uniforms for them?
I showed the security boots we took to the managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). He was very excited and asked me to present the copy to Fire and Security. They accepted it and agreed that I should supply them. When I went to procurement, it was a different ball game. They said they already have an existing supplier who is not supplying made in Nigeria goods. There is a bottle neck somewhere. Within the system, there are bottle necks that will not allow a Nigeria made product to supply. We have the capacity to produce for them and we can produce an average of 2000 shoes in two months.
How affordable are your products?
You cannot buy a good school shoe for less than N7, 000. We have equivalent of Clark shoes that go for as low as N3, 000 to N4, 500. They come with warranty. Because of my background, every work I do is carrying my name, ‘Daniel Young,’ which is the name I will hand over to my children. If the name is known for production of substandard goods, it means my children cannot use that name.
Is there no way, you can interact with major decision makers that can change the status quo?
If a product is good, it sells itself. If I have good products that speak for themselves and people use it and testify, others will be forced to buy from us. If we are looking for a cheap way into the market, in which case it becomes a man-know-man based product, the product can’t stand on its two feet. The moment the person who gave you the link is out, the business dies with its glamour, which is mostly the case with the businesses we do in Nigeria. This one is not tied to aviation or any other company.
What progresses have you made since you commenced?
Our uniforms are highly in demand. As we speak, there is one we were given yesterday, which we will deliver tomorrow. It will be used for an event on Saturday. So, what I do is that I call my workshop in Aba and they swung into action. I have a production place in Aba and in Owerri. We have a building here in Lagos for production and next week we will start putting machines up. The challenge we have as a company is the fact that people are not being clear about their objectives. We want to create a brand that can be recognized internationally. If we decide to concentrate only made in Nigeria shoes for schools, it is enough to give over 5,000 people work in the next one year.
Lagos State alone has over 3,000 private schools. With an average of 100 pupils per school, it gives you a huge amount number. If we capture five percent of this market, we have done well. So, it is all about focusing on what we want. The brand should stand on its own. It should go out in the market and compete with other brands. If we win, we know we have won, if we lose, we come back and look at what we have done wrong and correct, until it can stand. Last year, I got a call from Namibia to produce shoes for their police force but I couldn’t take the offer because part of their condition was that I was going to set-up a production outfit there. I sent samples and mine won it. I told them to give us another year, we will be able to come after we have the money to setup there. We have also looked at brands and products that we doing well globally. All the things we have in my company is made here.
What are challenges are you facing?
The basic challenge you have when you are an entrepreneur is that most people are in a hurry to succeed. You have to take your time. Only a man digging a grave starts from the top, if you put 20million as start-up capital, it must go. The seed must first die. It is better to build it from ground up, just wait. It might take five years for this brand to gain the recognition it requires. That sustaining power is what most people lack and that is what they consider a challenge.
I told someone that if this is what recession means, I want it to last for another ten years. I am not aware there is recession. It is not about the income or money that you have but about the hope you have in what you are doing. Even though you are not getting money out of it, one day, the result will show.