Struggles of a startup: Building Nigeria’s largest furniture mall

Over the past decade, we have all looked with admiration at how rapidly the internet has reshaped the way we shop, eat and transport ourselves. With Furnish.NG, we can add purchasing of furniture to the list of “activities made easy”.

Buoyed by a combination of frustration, a longstanding vision, and a prepared spirit, founder and CEO Ndianabasi Udonkang has moved quickly to build Nigeria’s largest furniture online mall in Furnish.NG. The online mall offers an attractive market to a host by showcasing a host of local carpenters and furniture makers a consumer crowd eager to put to bed their frustrations over poor or high prices.

In this interview, Ndianabasi takes us through his struggles with the industry and how that fueled an appetite to change things for the better.

Attraction to the furniture business

My establishment of Furnish.NG was as a result of three major reasons. Firstly, I have had several bad experiences with local carpenters who were contracted to make some furniture items for my home. The experiences were bad as they did not stick to the quality of materials agreed upon, quality of finishing was poor, and they couldn’t keep to the time of delivery. My neighbor also had similar experiences. So Furnish.NG was established to provide customers with peace of mind by guaranteeing customers with wide range of designs, quality of material and finishing, and timely delivery.

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Secondly, Furnish.NG is a result of my cumulative work experiences. Extending from my mechanical engineering background, I developed interest in architectural and engineering designs from my university days. After working in various design firms for about 4 years, I resigned to establish Donkan Designs Technologies which is an Architectural, Engineering, and Construction designs company. My experiences on interior design projects for numerous clients lead me to discovering the need for an easily accessible catalogue of Furniture, Homeware and Interior Décor items. Furnish.NG as a solution provides access to the largest online catalogue of furniture, homeware, and interior décor items in Nigeria.

Thirdly, quality furniture at showrooms are ridiculously expensive and out of reach of the average working-class Nigerian. Furnish.NG was establish to provide affordable quality furniture and homeware items to Nigerians. By focusing on low margins on our items at larger turnovers, we believe we can break the myth that quality furniture must necessary be expensive.

Furnish.NG not limited to furniture making

Furnish.NG is not focused on furniture only. We have plans to roll out our homeware and interior decoration inventory in the nearest future.

Growing Furnish.NG into Nigeria’s largest online furniture store

The execution of Furnish.NG was very deliberate and strategic. It took about one year of planning before we launched the store and when we did, we already had over 1000 SKUs of furniture online. We are not resting on our oars. We have a target of adding up to 10,000 SKUs in the next one year. This will include homeware and décor items and will consolidate our stance as the largest furniture and homeware store in Nigeria and in Africa.

Favouring an ecommerce store over a traditional shop has helped our growth curve but having a physical store is important

The beauty of technology is that it provides a lower cost of entry into any industry. We started with e-commerce because it saved us from the enormous cost of setting up a physical showroom for displaying our inventory. It also provides easy access to customers across the nation. However, Furnish.NG will roll out physical stores across Lagos and later across the country as we understand the market better and funds become available. We believe that over 90 percent of furniture sales are done offline, so we have to be were customers are in order to achieve a sustainable business.

The average furniture maker on the street is not a competitor

Furnish.NG is designed to be a marketplace which will also allow small-scale furniture makers to sell their products. So, we at Furnish.NG see them as future partners instead of competitors. That said, Furnish.NG is favourably positioned in the competitive furniture space. Our prices are currently comparable to those of local furniture makers and additionally, we provide quality assurance and wide choice of designs.

Strategies entrepreneurs can use to boost growth apart from setting up online shops 

E-commerce is centered around trust and excellent customer service. Operators should ensure that they have a comprehensive process for quality assurance and control for their operations. When customers find you dependable, they will return and when they do, they will come with more customers. Excellent customer service helps to ease the tension around the status of orders as a customer eagerly awaits his or her order. Post-delivery experiences such as returns and replacements of orders are also important.

Additionally, they should explore various customer-acquisition channels such as email marketing, online advertisement, referral marketing, social media marketing, etc. to driving more traffic to their stores and increase sales. Strategic partnerships with suppliers and manufacturers could be vital for access to inventory at lower cost prices.

Affordability and quality of product are our watchword and we balance both effectively

Like I said earlier, our experiences have shown that affordability and quality of furniture are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, it is very possible to provide quality furniture at very affordable prices. For example, we are very used to seeing sofa sets priced at millions of Naira at the major showrooms, however, at Furnish.NG, we can effectively provide the same quality of furniture at over 50 percent of the prices at showrooms. We are able to do this because we are focusing on making very moderate margins on our sales while targeting large volume of sales. We are positioning Furnish.NG to provide quality living for everyone.

Current economic conditions have not affected us

Our sales are increasing at over 100 percent month-on-month since our launch in April 2016. Admittedly, we recognize the adverse effect of the economic condition on the purchasing power of many Nigerians, however, we also believe that the current economic conditions has increased the demand for locally-made furniture. The plunging exchange rate of the Naira against the Dollar is making furniture importation very expensive, hence many people are looking inwards. The real estate sector is still expanding year-on-year. This implies that many people are building and moving into new homes which require furniture.

We will remain profitable at this period by keeping our prices steady and finding very creative ways to keep our cost of operations low.

What we hope to accomplish with Furnish.NG

We hope to scale across Lagos in the next 2 – 3 years by rolling out walk-in stores and showrooms at strategic locations around the state. We also hope to scale Furnish.NG across the country in the next 3 – 7 years and across Africa within the same period.

We look forward to making Furnish.NG the household name for affordable and quality furniture and homeware items in Nigeria.

 

Quick Fire Questions

Favorite business brand?

Coca-Cola is my favorite business brand. They’ve been able to keep the brand relevant through continuous innovation and adaptation with each generation of customers.

Favorite business leader?

My favourite business leader is Aliko Dangote. I admire his business acumen and contribution to the economy of Nigeria.

Most Inspiring Quote?

“Knowledge acquired or discovered but not passed along is non-existent.”

Most admired Nigerian Entrepreneur?

Aliko Dangote.

Top Travel Destination?

Obudu Cattle Ranch in Nigeria. Seychelles outside Nigeria.