‘I am fully involved in everything we do’
There are just few of them ruling the world of small chops business in Nigeria, but he’s no doubt one of the most reckoned with. His clientele cuts across the high and mighty, people in the oil and banking sectors including notable politicians. Popularly known and addressed as LAREDO, Lanre Jimoh is a graduate of Philosophy from the University Of Lagos. The multiple award-winning entrepreneur began the trade 20 years ago in the busy but popular Sandgrouse market. He spoke to SUNDAY ADEBAYO on what it takes to run a successful catering business …… Excerpts.
Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of LAREDO. Can you just retrace how it all started?
That’s a very wonderful question and so interesting I will be talking on that. It was very rough and tough when we were trying to pave way, it was rough and tough but we thank God for today, because we were able to ensure a very strict compliance into what we do, but now we are enjoying.
Kindly share with us some of the challenges you’ve faced over the years in this business
Some of the challenges are visible; do you want to talk of manpower, energy or infrastructure? That was way back, because the present government is doing very well. Then we had a lot of challenges such as electricity, not much money to buy enough fuel to fill the generator and we are producing things that needed to be kept under a particular temperature. So these were very serious challenges such that at a point we decided to quit, but quitting means that we had nothing to fall back on, so we continued to struggle.
Based on what you just said now, can you recall a particular point at which you actually wanted to quit and what happened that period?
Not really, it was a thought, you know when you are doing things and you are not encouraged, you will always have a negative thought but the way I just balanced it is by asking myself, what else can I do? It is better I continue doing what I am doing and that is why I always try my best.
When you started 20 years ago, did you envisage getting to this level?
Not at all, good things often start with a joke. At that point there was nothing to fall back on after school, I was just doing this and you know it’s only when people pay for what you do, that is when it becomes a product. But when people started buying it, I had to put in a lot of effort. The only thing that directs human action is human mind, I was well directed and always worked with my instincts right from my school days. Whatever my spirit asked me not to do, I don’t do. Now it has become a career and more so, it is also an industry where we have a lot of players and as a pacesetter we have to remain focused. We have a lot of people coming behind us, looking at us at the top and also as a role model, that’s why we have more to do.
What will you say you enjoy most in what you do?
Every aspect of the business because it is a business of relating with people. So I enjoy everything and even if I come back to this world again, this is what I will choose. I studied Philosophy at the University of Lagos, so I know it is a study of reasoning, so if I come back to this world, that is what I will come back to do.
Within 1996 and now, would you say there has been any point in time that you collected a business that made you to bite your fingers?
I have a spirit of giving, so it’s not in all the jobs that I collect money from clients. Sometimes I subsidize, there are some clients that don’t pay, I considered that to be my support and that has actually help the business. I have a giving heart.
I remembered that the very first money I collected when I started was N1600 and this was a business that I did not invest a dime into. I started this business with the support of my mother. I started with my mum’s stove and later bought another stove to make it two. Anytime I was working, my mum also gave a helping hand so that we can make it faster, also with the support of my siblings.
How has your organization been able to tackle competition? Some started before you and others after you, what has been your unique selling point that makes you different and still gives you the edge in that sector?
I am a pioneer in the industry, nobody started before me. The only person that people know and think started before me was Saheto. But I can authoritatively tell you that we started the business together on same day. It was our own idea; you know it when somebody employs you. We used to be party attendees and like I said, the mind is a very terrible thing, except if you don’t think. We were young guys then, and very focused because it always very good to be proactive in life so that you can always see beyond the present. We started the business in his house and we were doing it together.
At what point did you actually separate from him that everybody started their own business?
We separated in 1993 and within that year I didn’t do anything. I went back to school at Yaba College of Technology and was doing this business in-between. Professionally, I started the Laredo small chops in 1995, but within that year I was still in doubt if I would do Arts or be a DJ, so I combined the three professions together. I weighed it to know the one to go for, later I noticed the small chops was now keeping me busy more, so I dropped the others.
Your new facility is a fantastic place, how much did it cost you to erect this massive structure?
It is never by our ability, it is the help of God. I can’t actually tell you the exact amount because this took me time to put together, but I have a solid structure with the help of Almighty God and also the support from my mother.
Can you just give us a mentioning of some of the equipment you have?
We have a 20kv generator that serves every equipment used and we have gas to conserve energy. So, when there is no light, we can switch to the generator because that allows the business to continue. We have a particular machine which, when ignited, can cater for 1000 people at a go, because what we do is commercial catering. We’ve been everywhere, we’ve been to North-East, South-South, South-West, and we’ve made names everywhere, we’ve written our names everywhere in Nigeria and everywhere you mentioned Laredo, it always registers on people’s mind. We also do this outside the country; I used to have an operational office in the UK, which was managed by my wife when she was still there.
I stayed in the UK for some period with my children, so we ran Laredo there, too, but at a point I was using Laredo, Lagos to run Laredo London, which was not advisable, so we just had to stop. I do this business because I’ve trained over 482 people, who have passed through my tutelage with a proofed record. They are all scattered across the globe and I have also travelled far and wide, so anywhere I need their service, all I do is to see somebody who is nearby, so I know who to call. We have catered in Barcelona, we’ve done this in London a couple of times and last year we were in Redding for the graduation of the kids of one of the major families that took us there. We have work ed across the globe.
Has there been any point in time that you have an order and you were not able to meet up with it?
Not at all because we have a very strong customer base, with that, we are able to put things in order. With a customer base, you always have a feedback and that feedback is something you can never jeopardize. That has never happened, there is no perfection in everything, but sometimes we might be late to deliver due to some circumstances. We have machines, every means of transporting our foods to the consumers. We have a delivery bus and I also have a personal bike that takes me everywhere in order to meet up with people’s needs because I am 100 per cent involved in what we do.
Where do you hope to see Laredo in the next five years?
I can see Laredo going higher because our customer base is enlarging everyday and these are new people entirely. Laredo is a vendor to the American Embassy, British High Commission Embassy, British Council, Standard Chartered, Etisalat, Coca-Cola and most of the multi-nationals.
Kindly introduce yourself briefly- education, marital status and family.
I was born in Lagos. I went to Olly primary school but later changed to a memorial school in Lagos and later to Dolphin High School. I am the third child of my mother, from a polygamous home. My father had many wives; he was a wrist- watch merchant in Lagos. He was a very popular man; he died in 1988. I studied philosophy in the University of Lagos and I’ve been engaged in lot of symposiums, workshops across the globe in search of knowledge, I have my beautiful wife Oluwakemi Noimat. She is from Abeokuta, but right now she lives in Toronto, Canada with my children. I have three girls and a boy.
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