Eniibukun Adebayo, founder of Clean Ace Drycleaners, a popular dry-cleaning brand in Nigeria, under the auspices of his foundation, Clean Ace Foundation, recently established a dry cleaning school, Clean Ace Academy as a way of strengthening the dry-cleaning industry in Nigeria, In this interview with Mary Ekah, the Ondo State University graduate of Economics who said washing of clothes has been his family tradition, speaks on what influenced his decision to be a washer-man and his efforts over the years to revolutionise the industry
Tell us a bit about your journey into the dry-cleaning business?
I have been dry cleaning for 25 years now. It started from my grandfather, my father and then I. My own components of the business started in 1991. It is the only business that I have done and I take it more as a calling. I noticed from the onset that there was no proper structure in the industry. And we looked at it that for the industry to thrive, there was need for some measure of conglomerate energy and resources put together to be able to advocate, regulate, renovate and compete in a favourable positive manner that will bring creative energy into the dry-cleaning business. So I came into the dry-cleaning industry in 1991; my cleaning brand is exactly 12 years old. I have worked in my father’s business and also with the biggest and best laundry in Nigeria, which I was also the founding partner. At a point I pulled out. I wanted to go into consulting in the dry-cleaning industry, but by self-conviction and divine direction, I was convinced that it was better I first build a successful brand before I can start training or consulting for others so that the brand would be a prove to people that this man really has an idea of what he wants to give out or share. That was how I ventured into dry-cleaning and now we are coming up with the academy proper.
What was the inspiration?
As a young boy, in primary and secondary school then, I loved ironing cloths. I always told myself that when I grow up, I want to be a washer-man. I didn’t like to wash but I loved to iron. I could spend the whole day ironing; even if you don’t say thank you, I can continue to iron for you. I ironed so much that even my father’s friends on our street and estate then would wash their clothes, starch them in their houses and bring them to me at the weekend and I would spend my whole Saturday and Sunday to iron them. It was something I did passionately and enjoyed so much. In 1991, when my father was starting his own laundry business, I had finished secondary school in 1988 and I was expecting admission into the university. I kept writing JAMB for six times. During that period, my father started his laundering business and I loved it because it helped me to express my ironing skills. Then, I saw bigger irons like the ones in my training factory now. Eventually, I gained admission and my father asked me, what I wanted to do. If I wanted to continue with his business or go to the university because I was so much involved in the business at the time. I said yes, it was good for me to be educated because it will help me improve on the things that I liked doing. So all through, as I was growing up, I only had it in my mind that for me and as many young people that are interested in the dry-cleaning business, I was going to make sure that there is a good company where people can work and be proud to say, ‘I am a washer-man’ and will not feel anybody pushing them aside in the society.
Coming into the dry-cleaning business proper, I now saw a lot of loopholes why young people will not be interested and that was because there was no structure, there was nobody training them, everybody was just doing it on the local level. Only few people were able to go to England or America to learn dry-cleaning professionally. I now said instead of going to America and UK to train, we must have a training centre here. I spoke with the Americans and other people all over the world asking them to come and set up a school in Nigeria but you know the problem of coming to set up a business in Nigeria so I had to take it upon myself to do it. I felt that if this was the only legacy I can leave, it would have been worth it. So I decided to create the academy and make it as standard as possible. I have travelled as far as South Africa searching for consultants and trainers that can really train people, to come and partner with us. We are asking them to come to Nigeria but all of them keep pulling back. And I said to myself, if people outside cannot help us, we Nigerians must help ourselves and that is what has brought about this academy.
What kind of training are we expecting at the academy?
We are bringing in innovation. Everybody in their own home uses the ordinary pressing iron and wet the cloths with water from their hands but we will be training them with bigger irons. They would see the re-engineering and re-defining factor in making quality fabric care affordable to all. We have people that are trained all over the world who will take part in this academy to train people in the professional way and method for proper laundry. The kind of training we will be giving will be based on practical. We would show them different types of materials and how to take care for them.
We want to also tell Nigerians that they should produce cloth with care label, because there are institute that check those materials abroad. A lot of people bring cloth to for dry-cleaning and causes problem, so we are working on insurance policy that is going to help. The academy will stand to regulate all these things to make sure things are done in proper way. The academy is coming up to support the sectors of the; tailors, vendors and the manufacturers and going by the quality of our facilities in the academy, we have spent about N50 million and more innovation is still in progress. We are number one in Nigeria and Africa and we want to reach the whole Africa because the academy is for everybody.
Is the training going to be free?
It is not going to be entirely free and that is why I talked about the Clean Ace Foundation which is our way of giving back to the society, but the academy is the operational arm. It must be self-sustainable. It’s not for profit and of course it will not be run at a lost. We are not begging people to come and support. It is what we have been called to do. It is a legacy we are proven to leave behind. We have come into the dry-cleaning industry and we are not going to leave it the way we met it.
This seems to be a family tradition that has been laid down from your grandfather, so do you have any of your own children preparing to take over from you?
Gone are the days when parents forced their children to do what they wanted and not what their children wanted. These days, we don’t force the children but we can influence them. Like my son Josiah, from age seven, he has always come into the factory whenever I was working helping to pick up hangers and garments that fall on the ground. He was about two years old when we started the Clean Ace brand so automatically he has grew to see me washing and ironing cloths and from age two, he has grown to 20 watching branches of Clean Ace springing up from two branches to over 15 branches today. So, needless to say that I’m strongly influencing him to look inwards and may probably take up the mantle of leadership of the Clean Ace brand.
So would you say you were also influenced by your parents to take up dry cleaning as a job?
I personally liked cleanliness and looking very smart as a young child. And then, my father was a very stylish person, quite fashionable and a proper gentleman. So I learned how to do his clothes nicely and then when he started his laundry business, it was another training ground for me and I just kept developing interest in it. So I was heavily influenced by my father even as a very young boy in the line of cleanliness and doing things properly, especially in the area of washing cloths and ironing them. So it just became a hobby, a habit and later I have been able to form my whole life around it.
You started this job with so much passion and determination but a lot of people starting today do not have such passion. What’s your advice to them?
That is why we want to share the story of how God made Clean Ace what it is today at our newly established Dry Cleaning Academy. People must come to be encouraged and empowered. If God had done it for me, He can do it for you as well. All you have to learn is what to do and what not to do. I say, dry-cleaning is in my DNA because my grandfather did it and then bequeathed it to my own father and now it has become a life time trade in our family. So there are things we have learned over the years and those are the things that we are going to share at this academy.
Can you share a few of these life time lessons you have learned over the years?
One of such lessons is that you must save. My father would say, ‘what you have not saved, you have not earned’. So people must cultivate the habit of making sure that money goes into the bank. Secondly, cleanliness is next to godliness. My father practicalised that so well. He always said that if you have clean heart and hands, you must wear clean clothes. If you have clean hands, then you would want your entire environment to be clean. If you take care of people’s cloth so well, they would tell their friends about you. These are what I learned from my father. My father used to dress so neatly that in the evening when he is coming back from work and his friends would be asking if he was going to work because his shirt was always neatly worn. And learn how to grow business by learning how to grow customers – take care of your first set of customers very well, if anything goes wrong between you and any of them, ensure that you rectify it.