How Selling Garri, Kulikuli and Sugar Changed My Life

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Being relieved of one’s dream job is a truly devastating experience. That was exactly how Mr. Olubunmi Isiwoye, a banker, felt when he got the boot. He has, however, since gone entrepreneurial, selling garri, kulikuli and sugar, thus, turning his wheel of fortune. Isiwoye shares his journey with Hammed Shittu

For Mr. Olubunmi Isiwoye, a native of Offa in Offa Local Government Area of Kwara State, retrenchment from the banking sector in October 2015, where he was working as head of the business unit of the Zaria branch of the bank, was one of his lowest moments in life. That was before he got a new lease of life through a new business initiative – packaging and selling cassava flakes, popularly known as garri, the Hausa bean cake, popularly known as kulikuli, and sugar, all in one pack.

One day, in his quest to seek another means of employment, his fortunes changed. Isiwoye had decided to take his car to a mechanic village in Abuja for repairs. It was there inspiration struck and he told the mechanic that he would not mind supplying them with garri, sugar and kulikuli with water so that they can be buying from him every afternoon.

With the reply he got, Isiwoye, the breadwinner of his family of two kids, took up the challenge of doing the new business. He decided to do the supply every afternoon to the mechanic village in Abuja and with that, money started coming in every day to carter for his family.

Given his geographical knowledge of the town during his hey days in the banking sector, he located where to buy the kulikuli from in Zaria, while his wife, who had MSc in accounting but couldn’t get a job too, supplied garri from the sellers within Abuja metropolis.

According to the MBA holder, his background at the bank in heading about 65 staff, has helped him out in his present venture as his commitment was unequalled. He noted that it was the same passion and commitment he showed in the bank to the extent that he was spending his personal money to grow the bank, when the management was not quick in making the fund available.

Recounting his ordeal, he said, “The day I was sacked was on a Friday, but it was on Monday that I was given the retrenchment letter. I had just used my personal money again for the company, this time to paint the office on Friday.

“Before this time, there was no complaint whatsoever about my job from any superior officer, not a query. I was in charge of about 65 staff and I was in the good book of everyone. So, the sack completely got me destabilised, I wept profusely. After, I calmed down, I wrote letter to the management that I deserved promotion and not to be sacked, that they should tell me my offence.

“I wrote several letters to the management since 2015 on that experience, and up till now, I have not received any response. I looked everywhere, I had nothing to do. My wife who had MSc couldn’t get job, I was the only one working in the family and we had two kids then, life was so difficult for us.

“I ran to several of my relations for help, but none came, so I knew it was the same survival problem I was passing through that was affecting everyone, so I turned to God and started praying.”

On how he got the inspiration for his snacks packaging, he said, “One day, in the course of looking for what to do in Abuja, I went to service my car in one mechanic, there were over 1,000 of them in that place and it was in a hot afternoon.

“Then the inspiration came, I thought that in a hot afternoon drinking garri, with kulikuli and sugar all packaged in one piece won’t be a bad idea. I indirectly told the man working on my Toyota Corolla car that my wife packages garri, Kulikuli and sugar in one piece, and asked whether I can bring it for them to buy, the man was excited, he said that was exactly what they need.

“Then, there was no money so I contacted few of my friends and told them about what I wanted to do, in about two days or so, I was able to raise about N50,000 with which I started the business.

“Few days after, I brought the goods to the mechanic shop and the first morale booster I got was that right there in my presence, the 250 packs I took there were bought right there in my presence. I was so happy.”

His journey to success wasn’t without some hassles. While in Zaria, he said he was always harassed by NAFDAC officials to register the product. He said, “I was shocked because I didn’t have the money they were asking me for registration. I asked them how many of those women and girls that sell Kulikuli and groundnuts openly on the streets do they harass? They didn’t answer me, rather than they kept troubling me because of the very special way I was doing the business. Later I started the process of registration, so they left me alone.”

Isiwoye who has now relocated to Ilorin in order to reduce the cost of living and production, today supplies banks, offices, supermarket across the state, also in Abuja, Zaria and Kaduna among others. Today on the streets of Ilorin, Kwara State capital, he moves around with the packages of Kulikuli, garri, groundnuts, and sugar and sells them in shops, offices and even distributes to supermarkets.

He said, “Because of finance, I can’t afford to have permanent staff. What u do is that whenever I have production, I pick my staff, closely supervise them and pay them after the production. It’s almost the same set of people. I feed them during production and pay them after. When next I need them, I just call them.”

On what make the products special from the ones they sell on the streets he said,” when I was in Zaria, what I did was to first search for the best hand that was doing it, and I met the woman. Among every other person, she truly knows how best to do it, and I know it from the taste, her patronage was truly high.

“As a business man and an MBA holder, what I did was to first analyse her own recipe, then I increased the ingredients in my own case. That is why people prefer it to the ones on the streets because, the difference is truly clear. You can eat the kulikuli alone, that one is bigger in size for the family because you can’t finish it at once. You can eat it and just drink water or anything you like on it while working in the office (it’s truly delicious), it’s between N200-300, I call it ‘Kuli Africa’.

“I also have a complete sachet of garri, kulikuli or groundnut with sugar and a cup you can drink it with for just N100. To the glory of God, there is no where I go that people don’t buy these products.”

On how are he has been surviving with this business, compared with his former banking job, he said, “If I get any banking job today, I won’t do it. I am fulfilled with what I’m doing. Though the profits are not much, but the sales are very high, so we are surviving.
“The most important thing is that there is nothing as good as doing your own work, nobody pushes me around anymore. The passion with which I worked for the bank, I am using it to work for myself and I am getting results. Today, I feed my family conveniently and perform my obligation as a responsible brother to my younger ones and even my parents.

“With my own experience, I will like to challenge the youths not to look for jobs because there is none anywhere. There is nothing as good as doing your own job. My beginning on this business was rough, but thank God, today, I’m getting over the challenges, things are much better now.”

However, he said the major challenge he has is presently facing is to expand the business, adding that it has been a dream that has been difficult. “The progress is very small but steady because of the limited resources that I have. My desire is to expand the business, getting better accessories and equipment but the funds are not just there.

“I have tried, but none is coming. I would have loved to have my own permanent staff too, but I can’t because of this same challenge. I need a loan of about N1 million to N2 million to achieve this,” he added.