Bridging the gap in the Nigerian paint industry

By Nnamdi Nwokolo.   |   25 September 2015   |   2:06 am  
Abimbolu Babatunde

Abimbolu Babatunde

Career choice:
I would not say that my choice of career was accidental; at that time there was no input from parents. Your career choice is basically determined by the people you look up to as mentors. I chose chemistry over physics because chemistry lecturers at that time were friendlier than their counterparts in physics. Along the line, I discovered that there were certain drugs that were out of reach and could be researched into using local herbs and plants I decided to pursue a higher degree in pharmaceutical Chemistry at a University in Glasgow, but it was aborted because I couldn’t secure the commonwealth scholarship to pursue that ambition. I got employed in the paint industry and I worked in almost all the leading paint manufacturers in the country. My last paid position was Logistic Controller at DN Meyer plc before setting up Blendtech Limited.

Blendtech Limited:
As the controller, paint manufacturing at DN Meyer, providing leadership in production, Technical, and Engineering. I decided that I don’t need to put in the rest of my productive lives working for somebody. It was a period the government introduced the retirement policy of putting 35 years in service or 60 years in age. I gave myself a target and when it was due I left to do something for myself and ten years is gone and we are waxing stronger. I discovered a gap and we strive to bridge this gap in the industry. We chose a niche where the entry barrier is high because high technology paints require know-how in order to meet specialized industrial specifications. Our products are tailored in such a way that it is a raw material for industrial use.

Biggest challenge:
The major challenge we had was getting the raw materials at the appropriate time, as we don’t have the financial muscle to bring all the materials ourselves, so we depend on vendors. But, what has really helped us is that we developed alternative for every raw material, so that when the cost of a material gets very high, we switch to the alternative. Funding is also a challenge as the margin for paints is minimal that if you borrow money at the prevailing commercial rates, you’ll hardly break even. The cost of funds is still a very big challenge to most entrepreneurs. Government must find a way to fund the real sector. Thanks for the intervention funds and their single digit interest rate. But in all honesty, how many small scale producers have been able to access the facilities. I noticed a huge gap in the industry and I try as much as possible to develop diverse innovations that have really helped us to sustain this enterprise to meet with the challenges of the 21st century.

Unique selling point:
To tell you how dynamic we are; I want to share a story of how one of our products was developed. I was in a cathedral in Owo and I noticed that cobwebs have completely destroyed the beauty of the cathedral; I started thinking of what to do to tackle the menace of cobwebs in buildings. We went into research and developed Cobweb preventing paint. It took us 18 months to conclude the development and another 36 months to monitor the efficacy, and the quality and efficacy of that product is proven beyond doubt. Some people may launch out just to make money, but if the product or service you are offering is not perceived as valuable by the market, then your chances of making money in continuous basis will be limited. It is the extent that the market attributes value to your output that your bottom line would increase. We have also make continuous product development a driving force for our industrial product lines. Quick-Fill, which is our star product, is used by panel beaters for automobile care.

Protective coating for oil and gas:
It is wrong to say that indigenous manufacturers cannot produce protective coating for oil and gas. The challenge is that government has not been firm enough to compel international Oil Companies (IOC) to use local materials. For example, when these IOCs give you a job, they specify the type of coating to be used, mostly established known brands which most times turn out to be foreign products. The only time it worked was in the PTF era, when PTF made it compulsory for everybody to use local paints in their Projects. But now, in the Oil and Gas what the few active in that sector are doing is to bring known brands or bring in finished product and repack them in their factories, thereby satisfying the requirement of the local content. My quarrel with that is that when this is done, 90% of the job has been completed offshore, with the attendant loss of job (local labour to produce the product) and most importantly the loss of opportunity to ever include indigenous local materials being championed by Raw Materials Research Council of Nigeria.

Preference for foreign products:
The preference for foreign products is not because they are of higher quality than the locally produced ones. In fact the materials and technology for paint productions are the same world over. The only advantage they have is their operating environment which is much more conducive for development and manufacturing than ours. Proximity to materials and technology is a huge factor that makes the difference. It will interest you to know that of today; only few raw materials are indigenous to Nigeria. Titanium Dioxide, the highest singular volume of pigment used in paint making, has its core materials Ilmenite deposit in Jos area, but no investor has deemed it fit to invest in its production locally as of now. Another big challenge for local manufacturers in the Oil and Gas is the fact that the design stage of the project, specified paint seldom includes locally produced paints. Often known brands are specified as both the designers and executors of the projects are always acting in known terrain. To get there will take efforts and time, unfortunately, efforts on this for now is limited, uncoordinated and unaligned.

Success factors:
Success is usually a journey not a destination. Although so many challenges will come to derail your ambition, the ability to stay focused is critical to a successful venture. It takes knowledge, discipline, commitment, perseverance and vision. It’s important that you don’t allow external influences to kill or frustrate your vision. It is important to state that before you go into any venture, you do an internship on the field, do not depend on what you read on the papers or online. Have a practical knowledge of the industry you are going into. However, once you are doing something you absolutely love to do or you are functioning in a field you are specifically endowed to operate in, it makes the journey easier and the challenges of business more bearable.

Advice to young professionals:
Passion is vital to the success of any enterprise. You also need to have an in-depth knowledge of the type of business you want to go into. You can equally attend seminars and conferences to brush up your knowledge about the global business environment. Critical success factors are both internal and external, because to operate a business you need a lot of perseverance, resilience and determination because of the many high priority issues. Leadership especially, must be focused, visionary and passionate about achieving excellence.

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