“Nigerian Interior Designers Succeed in Competing with International Brands” | The Guardian Nigeria News

Mejire Arubayi is a PRINCE2 Certified Senior Program Manager with extensive experience in delivering various strategic projects within organizations. He holds a first degree in economics and an MBA from the University of Sheffield Business School, UK.
As an astute project manager and business analyst, Mejire has demonstrated results in the operations of multiple mission-critical and high-value systems in multi-platform environments in Europe and Africa.
A contract manager at WOODstyles Limited, a joinery and fit-out company that strives for perfection in the design and production of quality woodwork suitable for a variety of luxury goods, Mejire in this interview with MARY DIAMONDtalks about the place of interior design and designers in Nigeria as well as how the industry contributes to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and the economy as a whole, among other issues.

Tell us about your accomplishment as a project and design manager?
I have undertaken several business transformation projects and consulting roles with cross-functional experience from a wide range of industries ranging from hospitality, finance, healthcare, public sector, retail and building. I have been in design for the last 12-15 years and in interior design for hotels, offices, private homes, among others. I worked on several projects in Nigeria before joining Woodstyles Limited as Contract Manager. It is on the basis of these experiences that I now provide strategic direction for Woodstyles Limited, whilst remaining a hands-on project manager overseeing project needs. However, I naturally chose Woodstyles because it involves the type of designs I do: high end finish, luxury finish, detailed finish and bespoke finish.

From your experience, what is the place of interior design and designers in Nigeria?
Initially, we used to think of interior design in Nigeria as a green field, but over time, that narrative has changed. Among other things, we had all these experienced interior designers and interior designers, but we didn’t name them. Thus, everyone begins to realize the importance of having an interior designer on their project.

There was a time in Nigeria when some people thought they had to import to get high quality luxury designer goods. Do you think that has changed?
This will take time to change, however, the curve is starting to tilt on our side. Government policies have started to help. But despite everything, it is expensive because we have to compete with imported products. We won’t say because a product is made in Nigeria then it should have a poor standard. We want to compete with international brands and we are succeeding. So, it’s like we bring international standards to local brands and it’s done by Nigeria in Nigeria for Nigerians. Most importantly, we understand Nigeria’s extreme weather conditions and produce for the market accordingly, which gives us an advantage over those who import furniture without regard to our weather.

How does the weather affect furniture and millwork designs?
In Nigeria, we have an extremely harsh climate – the harmattan and the rainy season. These seasons affect the woodwork and that is why you see that some houses have doors, and in the rainy season the doors will close but in the dry seasons the doors will not close. This is because the gate bends in the dry season and shrinks in the rainy season. There are tables that will twist after a while and chairs that will make noise. Thus, we understand the market and the type of wood and raw materials to be used in this market. In Lagos, we are very close to the sea; there is a lot of salt water and it affects your door handles. This is not produced in Nigeria but we use those which are produced to a specific specification.

Are there enough raw materials in Nigeria or do designers still have to import?
We still have to import some of our raw materials. Nigerian industry has not developed to the point of being able to produce the fittings, metalwork, handles, locks, etc. But we are getting there. We have started to develop some of these accessories, which are just large-scale commercial projects. But the type of market we’re in is very high end. We want luxurious door handles etc. So for now we are importing and hopefully in the next five years Nigerians will create industries to produce all these things.

Do you think the interior design industry has the potential to contribute the most to Nigeria’s GDP?
Yes. This is based on the fact that Nigerian designers locally are starting to do really good interior designs and Nigerians are starting to trust them to do interior designs. We now have many top interior designers in Nigeria. Thus, revenues that should have accrued to a foreign company would accrue to Nigerians. This means they earn more; they pay more taxes and the GDP increases. Turnaround time is faster.
If we buy furniture overseas and everything is made overseas, that means we would lose currency and the naira would fall. Now that we are doing it in Nigeria and being local, the turnaround time is shorter; after-sales service is better. Our customer contact time is 24 hours. These are the advantages of our local presence. All of this has multiplier effects on the economy, which then goes up to GDP. So, we may only be a small fraction, but the way we are going, in the next couple of years, interior design and furniture will become a huge contributor to Nigeria’s GDP.

What are the challenges holding back the industry in Nigeria?
In the country, we face many challenges, such as electricity problems. We have a very sophisticated modern factory in Nigeria where all of our equipment needs a constant power supply. We always have to run our factory with generators because we can’t afford machines that go on and off because they’re computerized.
We also have the challenge of recruiting staff with the right skills in Nigeria. We spend a lot on local staff because we believe in local content rather than hiring expatriates. So finding the right people with the right mindset who are ready to work has been a challenge. This pushes us to continue to train people.
The supply of raw materials is also a challenge. In the industry we’re in, we can’t afford to be wrong. If someone orders cabinets and doors and you buy the wrong raw materials to produce, initially it would seem fine, but if three months later termites start eating the doors and cabinets, you can’t tell customers to leave the house so you can replace them. That’s why we can’t go below the norm.

During and after COVID-19, hotel occupancy rates have plummeted. How does this affect the industry?
It works both ways. When occupancy drops, where will occupants stay? Airbnb! They stay in Airbnb and Woodstyles apartments in between and staff those apartments. These customers stay in hotels; they have a minimum quality level that they want, whether they stay in a hotel, Airbnb or any other type of residential property. You never rule out a standard traditional hotel. Not everyone wants to cook; some people want to register. Not everyone wants to make their bed. Thus, we serve all markets independently.

As a bespoke brand, how does Woodstyles fit into the design space?
Over the years, interior designers have reached a level that goes beyond just making furniture. That’s why Woodstyles flaunts its professionalism as a bespoke furniture company more than ordinary furniture. We create anything, as long as it is made of wood and metal. We do this based on a design made by an interior designer or interior designer. We have had the privilege of working with Microsoft, BBC, to name but a few. Our most recent residential project was by the interior designer who designed the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. They had intricate details that we had to work with. There were doubts about whether we could deliver, but we did and handed over the project. We are currently working on a project with an interior designer who designs one of the world’s leading five star hotel brands here in Nigeria.

How does Woodstyles cater to the luxury tastes of different customers?
More often than not, most of our clients come without design ideas. This is the advantage we have at Woodstyles over other landscaping companies. We sit down with the clients and design the space for them. We choose the type of wood, accessories, etc., and this will be based on the sessions we have had with the clients. We discuss with clients the type of home they want – modern, classic or a mix of both. It also depends on the age of the client.

Many customers in their early thirties want premium products. Many people in their 50s and 60s want contemporary items. So we have to know what they want and give it to them. We advise and work with their budgets. However, as an ISO company, we cannot afford to go below the standard as this will affect our certification. We also provide warranty to customers. So we cannot give them an inferior product. We always give customers options that will last the test of time.

Where do you see the brand in the next 5-10 years?
Woodstyles is six and going seven. We have pioneered many innovations in the fittings industry and hope to be West Africa’s leading joinery company making all kinds of bespoke items. We continue to research and innovate and work with global brands to ensure we reach the top as quickly as possible.

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