Editor’s note: Pictures after the interview text.
We were able to catch up with the highly mobile but cool looking CEO of Ibadan’s biggest Events company and ask a few (not really) questions.
Your Yoruba is really fluent and I perceive you’re from Akwa Ibom. Means you’ve been here for a long time or you just learn languages really fast…?
I came to school in UI. All of those times I had friends that were not able to communicate in English so I tried to drop my little grammar to pick up their language. They started teaching me, I started abusing people without even knowing it and getting into trouble with the language. So, I had to learn. And I love languages, so… A little bit of Hausa, a little bit of Ibo, a little bit of this and that… It always comes handy in this kind of business because you can’t really tell when trips will be taking you across your borders
So what did you study at UI?
I studied Information Science.
How did Dexterity start?
Well, I learnt from my mum actually. Those days when decor was balloons and stuff; much different from the way it is right now. I schooled in Oyo town. So when I finished secondary school I had to come stay with my mum and assist her at home, go with her to do our church decorations. At some point we had to leave the church for some reason, but because my mother was the one decorating the church, it became a thing of concern for everyone. Eventually it was decided that I would stick around and continue with the church decorations while my family moved on to another church.
You know now, back then there was no chatting chatting and calling calling, so you were less busy, so I engaged myself in the church décor like, all the time. I was always there decorating. The only time I reduced it was when I entered UI. It was at that time I wasn’t too available.
Then campus fellowships, freshers’ welcome parties, a lot of people got to know that I was into decorations and everyone was talking about Favour, Favour…. So I was very popular in UI, even though I was into student unionism or politics and things like that but I was really popular. So I continued attending that church even while I was studying in UI but I realised that lectures and study were not allowing me to concentrate, so I told my mum, this thing is taking my time, but I have a flair and passion for it. She suggested I train people who will assist me and make the work easier. What did I know at the time? My mum’s books came in handy then. I read them, some parts I couldn’t understand, but I went ahead with the training.
I went to the pastor and told him I needed space to conduct my training. I advertised the training everywhere, but no one showed any interest in it. You know, back then, this business was gender sensitive. People go, ‘ah, okunrin t’on se décor, obinrin l’on see…’ It was a major problem
But I continued. There was a time I came up with an idea of an interdenominational training, but it was in the church. That was the mistake I made. It should have been outside the church so that my muslim friends could come, people who didn’t go to church, people from other churches, you know. So they were very skeptical about it, but for me, church was cheaper as the venue. I didn’t have money for any other venue.
I made fliers and spread them all over the place. Three thousand Naira for three days; I think I made about twenty thousand fliers. That was a lot, because from inception, I’ve loved to do my things big. Initially printed fifteen thousand fliers and went back for another five thousand. Got some friends to share the fliers around churches and other places and gave them transport money. Some friends just took the money and dropped the fliers in their houses without bothering to share them. Then they came back to the church and announced they were done. That went on and on, and for me, it was really discouraging but whenever I went to my mum to complain about it, she simply told me, ‘aye nse ru e, you’ll be fine.’ I didn’t understand why she was like that, but at some point, I just continued.
The workshop came and I was expecting like 200, 300 people at least but only 8 people showed up. And 3 of them did not pay. They were my friends. I wept as if I lost a baby. When I got home, I met my mum at home and she was probably expecting me to be all smiles and stuff, but I cried and responded to her. I had borrowed money from my dad, for the handbill, borrowed money from everybody.
Someone came a few days ago and brought the handbill to me. I almost passed out. You can see where I’m coming from now.
I did that for like two years, about six times, because my mum kept on encouraging me and urging me on. The last time I did, I got like 150 people. Here’s the handbill, you can see the date on it. That’s like 12 years ago.
What are the vital things you consider before and while planning an event?
I need to know where my client is coming from, who you are, what your preferences are, a little bit of your background, where you grew, who your friends are, etc. A bit of interaction with you will tell me who you are and where you’re from. For example if I have a new client and they ask me for a rough estimate for 500 guests, and you tell them 10 million… For some people, they’ll be like, 10 million? Okay I’ll give you 20 million. By that alone, you already know you have lost it because you have charged so low, below their expectations; for some people, I mean. Different questions will be going in their mind like, can he handle this kind of money? Will he be able to deliver? So, before you talk about money, you should know a bit of their background and lifestyle.
How do you choose business partners (e.g. caterers) when organizing an event? What are your criteria to assess their eligibility/quality?
Over the years, you should be able to know whose cake is the best, who is reliable and who is not, etc… You don’t really need long term partners actually because good and reliable spring forth everyday. What is wrong with youth of these days is not that they don’t have the energy, no. They’re very agile and active. What they lack is focus and consistency. They try this business today, but the market is not so good, so they switch to another business tomorrow, and another one next tomorrow. I always tell people that if they stick to it and are consistent, it will pay off some day. If you can prove your mettle when the opportunity comes, you’re made. Anyone I work with and I see that you’re teachable, you’re good to go. Some people are quite rigid and unwilling to change. These ones I avoid because they’re too much work. I work with you if you’re flexible, willing to learn and spend money to improve yourself and your business.
How do you use social media for your event planning or for attracting customers?
I believe words of mouth are the most important in selling my business. Are you following me on Instagram? No? But you’re here! You know me. Well, what I’m trying to say is, when you do a good job, your clients will never keep it to themselves. They always tell someone else who is a potential client, and that’s really important, especially in this kind of business. That said, I have over 9000 followers on Instagram and I don’t even know up to 10 people on that platform. Buttresses my point, right?
How would you manage stress as the date of an event draws near?
I think I manage stress very well. I can manage about six events in a weekend. Sometimes eight. I set out on time. For an event that holds on a Saturday, we set out on Wednesday. Sometimes Thursday. Hardly will you find us moving in on Friday, except the venue was in use. We try as much as possible to talk to the parties involved. Finish your work and allow your clients to come and see it. Again, all the items needed for the event are available, so I make sure I roll out everything. I make sure my staff understand what each event is all about. The whole building is dedicated to the same purpose. I have different sections for different purposes, like washing and ironing, carpentry, tailoring, tablecloths, napkins, etc. Everyone knows what their area is. Everyone knows their duty. I have team heads for every team who further instruct their team members. I don’t try to do everything myself so I don’t get stressed up, you know.
How would you react to technical problems during an event? What are the most common/serious problems you have encountered during an event and what did you do about them?
Well, there’s someone in charge of things like that, so you address the person. In fact, you have to test all your equipment and components before the event starts. You have meetings before the events and find out from every team if they’re having difficulties. No event is perfect, even if there’s all the money in the world. Something usually goes wrong somewhere. Human beings are not perfect. Your guests might be seated and the MC is stuck in traffic. But there’s always a way to manage those situations. If I’m handling your event, I make sure there’s always people on ground to cover up for lapses that might be very visible.
You have been in this business for over 10 years. Describe your most successful event. What did you do that made it so successful?
I think my most successful event was in Dubai. I had the setup in Dubai. Few days to the event, we needed to travel. I was supposed to go with 3 people, but I could only go with 1 person. I was contemplating how we’d be able to handle the event between the two of us. But luckily, getting on board, I saw some of my friends who were actually going for the same event. I was so happy. We had a little strategy session on the plane and made plans for the event. After resting for a short time, everybody came on board, they were ready to help at no cost and they all put in their best, about 50 of them, and it was a fantastic event. People were wondering why the clients had to bring in a decorator all the way from Nigeria, but we were able to show them why. It was simply amazing.
Describe an event that didn’t have the results you aimed for. What happened and what did you learn? Follow up: Have you ever had to plan more than one event simultaneously? How did you do it? What was the result?
There was this event in Ibadan I was going to handle the décor. At 7 pm, a night before the engagement, we had finished and we’d left. The lady (bride) kept calling me but for some reason, I didn’t pick my phone. Before I knew what was happening, the lady and her mum pulled down everything we’d done. I was told, “either you make a refund quick, or you do what we asked you to do.”
Yet, we were all tired and everyone had gone home. I was promised the wedding in Ghana but at that point I knew there was no way. I just rallied my people and told them, ‘let’s fix this.’
When we fixed it, it was awesome. The pictures went so, so far and there was some guy in Lagos who had a little knowledge of the business. He grabbed the pictures, touting them as his, and he got about 30 clients calling him. Those pictures were all over Wedding Planner. I was wondering how my pictures got to wedding planner. My friends who were abroad, and knew it was my work, saw the pictures and told me, ‘sue this guy, sue this guy… he’s been telling everyone he’s the one who did it…’
Eventually I called the guy as if I was a client and told him I wanted to give him a job so he could come to Ibadan from Lagos. I think he sensed it, so he started asking for money, 50k specifically, for ‘transportation and logistics,’ etc. Eventually he came here even without the money. When he got to our office which was located somewhere else at the time, he immediately fell on his knees, along with the wife, apologising. We had to let it go.
We only wanted to know how he got the pictured but he wouldn’t reveal his source no matter how hard we tried. The beautiful thing is this: even though the job was pulled down by the bride and the mum, we started all over and it became wildly successful.
How many events do you plan per year? How do you assess the success of each of your events?
I major in event decorations. Sometimes I plan events too. In a year I can plan about 12 weddings. As for decorations, I handle about 10-12 per weekend.
I don’t stay around for these events. I decorate and leave. But when I’m home, I get reports from people who were at the event, some of whom I don’t even know. These people call me and thank me for my work. “Hi, are you Dexterity? Well done. Well done. You did a great job” And it means a lot. That’s how I assess my job, basically.
What do you love the most about your job?
Haha. I love the flowers. And I’m passionate about everything about it. You know, seeing people around. A lot of people come around everyday apart from the workers. Some come for help or assistance too you know? And I’m passionate about helping people, so it’s great. It’s just about the passion because how much money do you need really? A little is enough.