VAVA Furniture Nigeria Limited is a leading Company that provides high quality furniture for corporate and individual clients at very competitive price. Ambassador Michael Tawadrous, the Managing Director/CEO of VAVA Furniture Nigeria Ltd is a versatile, passionate and accomplished entrepreneur who is determined to redefine quality and customer service in interior designs in Nigeria. The United Nations- SDG Ambassador (teachers without borders) spoke on the Focus of a CEO in this interview with Nnamdi Nwokolo.

What influenced your choice of business?

The inspiration to go into interior designs and decorations was borne out of my love for colours as well as passion for interior decorations. I feel much fulfilled toeing this business line and God has also given me the Grace to excel in an industry I’m passionate about. I started VAVA about five years ago with a showroom along the Lekki-Epe corridor, however, in a strategic attempt to get closer to our clients, we opened new showrooms in Ikeja, Victoria Island and Lekki areas of Lagos as well as Abuja, Port-Harcourt and most recently two showrooms in Ibadan with intense effort to open new offices in Ghana, Egypt and South Africa. The company was registered to deliver value in a dynamic industry, with the main purpose of designing, manufacturing and selling elegant and state of the art furniture to diverse clienteles.

What has been the most challenging experience of running a business in Nigeria?
It has not been easy running a business in Nigeria. You’ll agree with me that as you are expanding the business, the challenges and successes are also expanding. We encounter a lot of challenges as the business is growing, but we have developed a mindset of seeing challenges as opportunities for further growth.

As a manufacturer, the biggest challenge we are facing today is that we source our foreign exchange from the parallel market, which is not good for the growth of the industry. Unfortunately, in our industry, we have to import all the needed raw materials for production. There is no single company that produces MDF, HDF and MFC boards in the country up till date, but we import annually over 9 million boards, and that consumes millions of dollars. The other challenge is that having moved around the world, I have seen countries with organized markets where you can get all the raw materials and accessories you need for production. The market to get all the raw materials for production is the missing link in Nigeria as far as I’m concerned.

How hard is it to have a company that produces the raw materials in Nigeria?
It is not very hard but the challenge is that it is capital intensive to have a company that can produce those raw materials locally. Funny enough, most components needed to make the raw materials available are in abundance in Nigeria, like the saw dust and wood etc. It gives me great pain that every day, we get rid of thousands of kilos of saw dust that cannot be used whereas in some other countries, the saw dust would’ve been a source of raw material as well as revenue for us.

Is that the reason why most people prefer importation rather than local production?
There is a tough change going on in Nigeria and in a short period, importers of finished products will be out of the market because our borders are getting more secured. Now, let me also remind you that those items are contraband, so anyone who prefers importation to local manufacturing will have himself to blame in the long run. The efforts of the present administration have made it near impossible for importers of finished products to thrive and I urge them not to relent until we attain self-sufficiency in furniture production in Nigeria. At VAVA, we foresaw the present situation and we took a conscious effort to invest heavily in local production. It will interest you to know that everything you see in our showroom is manufactured in our factory in Nigeria.

How much of local content is in your human capital?

We are committed to our immigration quota and to be frank with you, we have not used up to 10% of our quota. Over the years, we came to the realization that getting raw talents in Nigeria and shaping them to your taste is more profitable than engaging expatriates. We continually make a conscious effort to venture in sustainable and pragmatic ways of doing business, so considerate effort is also made by the management in training and improving the staff to meet up with the emerging global trend. As a strategy, VAVA is strongly committed to developing human capital locally as a way of contributing to the development of the country. I love this country and I’m not planning to leave this country, so I consciously want to add value to the growth of the Nigerian economy.

What are the unique factors that stand your organization out of the competition?
One of the factors that stand VAVA out of the competition is a unique blend of quality, competitive pricing and excellent customer service delivery. We go out of our way to research and get the best of materials to produce high quality products at a very competitive price. We fully understand what value and satisfaction means to our customers and we have the required skills in scaling up the value chain for our diverse clientele. VAVA is composed of a carefully selected blend of highly skilled and semi- skilled work force that are determined to ensure effective customer satisfaction, as they are inspired to challenge the status quo, finding ingenious ways to find efficiencies and engage with the world at large. Currently, two of our Managers are in the United States to explore new technologies as well as exhibitions to scale up the value chain. We also engage with our customers actively to develop new technologies for healthier and more sustainable products.

Our focus is to build our capacity to be able to export our products beyond the shores of this country after satisfying the local demand. It is going to take us time and capital intensive, but we are committed to generate foreign exchange by exporting our products. To be honest with you, our focus will be to serve the Nigerian market, then move to neighbouring African countries before taking the global market. Ranging from home, office, school and hotel furniture, VAVA has developed a quality assurance policy that guarantees not only quality but durable and pocket friendly products. The uniqueness of our products makes us stand out in the industry.

From your experience, what are the critical factors for building a sustainable future?
The challenge most entrepreneurs encounter is that they look for instant gratification. To build a sustainable business, you must look beyond where you are at the moment and focus on the future, in terms of where you are taking the business to, in line with your vision. It is also important to imbibe the virtues of strategic planning, honesty, integrity and good customer service. With these principles in place, the percentage of success will be very high. For example, VAVA is a quality-driven company and the things we do are governed by core values and beliefs, which include integrity and customer satisfaction. The direction we are going, we intend to redefine quality and the service level in the furniture industry in Nigeria, so that customers will have real value for their money. This will go a long way to define who we are and the kind of organisation we are trying to build.

What drives you?

To be honest with you, there’s a very bad image for Africa in general and unfortunately we have not done enough to correct the bad impression people have about us. When I was coming to Nigeria, people painted a very tough picture for me, but when I arrived it was a different experience all together. Nigerians are very loving and accommodating people, so the driving force has been to reciprocate the love Nigerians have shown me. Our basic strategy is to contribute meaningfully to the development of this great country in terms of investing in human capital as well as expanding our operations to create more jobs for Nigerians.

How do you unwind?

I’m a keen polo player and I relax with friends. Beyond that, I also engage in community development service. Presently, I’m working very hard to bring a Non Governmental Organisation that is focused on building schools and investing in education to Nigeria. It is called International Fund for Development and Planning, but we are finding it extremely difficult to register it in Nigeria, as the Corporate Affairs Commission has failed to register us because of the International attached to its name.

This organization is registered in different countries and they have done marvelously well in those countries and I see no reason why it cannot be registered in Nigeria. I’m also a United Nations- SDG Ambassador (teachers without borders) as well as a counselor at the International Court of Arbitration and a Peace Ambassador.