With branches in Ikoyi, VGC, Victoria Island, Surulere, Ikeja GRA, Apapa and Festac Town, Jude Oditah’s Megawash Drycleaners, there is no debating it, plays in the premier league of his sector. Innovative and inspirational, Megawash has simply redefined how the business is being done in the country today. Starting out exactly 15 years ago, there is no more stopping them, like he told YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, during a breakfast meeting at his Lekki, Lagos home. OJ, like he is widely known and addressed, also talked about his immediate and extended families. Admitting being an unabashed lover of fun, his first degree (from UNIJOS) and his Masters (from UNILAG) are both in Economics…
Megawash Drycleaners has been operating for 15 years now, how would you describe the journey?
It’s been bumpy, it’s been tough, it’s been challenging. But we have done it and we thank the Lord. It’s not been very easy, like I tell most people, and starting a business a-new, the first few years are usually very challenging and very tasking. You have to be ready and very focused and very determined to succeed. We have passed that stage and we want to thank the Lord for that. Traditionally, we know how we wash clothes in Nigeria – we have servants, we have all sorts of people who help us to wash and iron clothes. So, when it becomes an item of cost in anybody’s household, the person has to turn and look at it again. So, one of the biggest challenges we have is that in Nigeria we are not very exposed to these services. They see it as luxury. So, getting them to accept the services that we were giving to them was very, very challenging.
When will you say that Megawash as a brand got its breakthrough?
Luckily for us, by the time we came into the market in 1998, there weren’t so many good ones existing. And because we came to carve our own niche out of the industry, we made quite a lot of difference from the existing ones. So, it was easy for us to break into the market. We looked at the short falls of the ones that were existing before us and then decided to, well, invest on those areas. For example, there were nothing like home and office collection and delivery at no extra cost then; we brought in super express services, where you can get your suit and it’s done immediately. We brought in a lot of advancements to the business. So, it was relatively easy for us to breakthrough, because like I said, there weren’t so many good ones. So, when we came in with our level of sophistication, it was easier for us to break even – and let’s say like two years after we came in, it suddenly became smooth and easy.
What distinguishes Megawash from the other dry-cleaning outfits?
Like I said, I came into the industry to make a lot of difference. I like clothes and you can see that. Again, so many times before I even started dry-cleaning, I had taken so many of the precious clothings to the dry-cleaning houses and they didn’t come out very good. And then when I did them abroad I discovered that the only difference between what we do here and what they do there is just being careful and cautious. So, I decided that if I have to do this business, I must do it the way it’s properly done. So, I brought in very sophisticated equipment, which at that time was strange to most Nigerians. But we decided to use them here in order to match our counterparts overseas. So, the services we provided were easily acceptable because the differences were very sharp and given my level of exposure in the business as per going round the existing dry-cleaning outfits, and sometimes too I had to go abroad. Like when I brought in my machine, I brought it in with some technical experts. They came here, they educated us; they trained some of my staff. In fact, it was remarkably different. Megawash was remarkably different in its style, equipment and service delivery.
You run one of the biggest dry-cleaning outfits in Nigeria today. You also have branches in highbrow areas like Ikoyi, VGC, Ikeja GRA, Surulere, Victoria Island, Apapa, Festac Town and so on. How does it feel to be running one of the leading dry-cleaning outfits in your country?
Like you can see, a lot of people don’t know my real name, you see them saying Mega, Mega, Mega…Mega is now synonymous to my first name. Well, it is interesting to expand. We should have even expanded beyond this, but I discovered that in this type of business, the branch network is not what matters, it is the services provided. Wherever you are, people will come to locate you. We expanded quite alright in order to cover the nooks and corners of Lagos, because our customers will tell you we live in Ikeja, we can’t see your services there; we live in Festac…so we decided to take these services, spread them around so that at all points, wherever you are in Lagos, you can reach us, without having to travel too far. And we have been able to co-ordinate them very smoothly. It’s been wonderful. Most of the branches are growing bigger and bigger.
What must one do to succeed in dry-cleaning business? The reason being that there are a lot of people out there who also do this and they are not succeeding…
Like in every other business, you have to be self determined. There is no business you go into, if you do not have self belief and the determination to succeed, you will fizzle out; you must fall by the way side. Dry-cleaning is actually one of the easiest businesses to close down, because people don’t see it as a long term investment. So, when you have small money, you just invest in it, in a couple of years, you close down. But when we came in, we decided to make it a life time investment. I looked at it as an investment that can actually survive anyone for the rest of his life if the right attitudes are attached to it. So, I came in there with all my mind and all my heart and I focused on the fact that I must succeed. And so like every other business, if you must succeed, you must be determined, you must weigh your pros and cons; you must be ready to evaluate your concept and then don’t overshoot your cost, so you don’t see yourself crashing. So, all in all, you have to be really determined and you must have done your home work very well and be ready to succeed.
With how much exactly did you start Megawash and how have you been able to grow it to become a multi-million naira business empire?
My dear, I remember every penny I spent in Megawash, because it was a hard-earned money. It was money that I had gathered from here and there. Even from my brother abroad (Prof. Fidelis Oditah, QC, SAN). There was little or no bank representation that time. Let’s say I spent well over N10 million in the acquisition of the equipment, but when you add rent, it will be an average of N13, N14 million. And thankfully, we have been able to recover all that as time went by. But I think that if I were to do that now, I may not spend that amount of money, because now I know everything there is. I was just coming into the industry new, so I didn’t want to make any mistake. If I’m told that this thing is necessary I will get it, even if at the end of the day we will discover that it’s not necessary. But like our people used to say, it’s good to be cautious than to be sorry. Like when I did my Victoria Island branch, quite some machines were not necessary for this our power inconsistency, so in order not to be wasting valuable resources, we decided to restrict it to what is necessary for our economy.
What steps have you taken to grow the business in the last 15 years?
Like I said, when we came in, there were existing dry-cleaning outfits and the way they were being managed, they were managed like a self-subsistence business. It was like they did not expect a drycleaner to be able to buy a good car. I’ve had people stop me and say are you sure that’s the only business you do? They even stop my wife (Ifeoma) and say: are you sure that’s the only business your husband does? Because when I came in, I discovered that there’s nothing you want this business to do for you that it will not do. It depends on how you position it. So, what I did, like I said, was to take up the service. You know in Nigeria for instance, people are ready to pay for whatever services you provide if they are worth it. So, what we decided to do was to take it up. Take it up to the level where people don’t have to take their clothes abroad to dry-clean, because then I used to have friends who pack their clothes during summer, each time they are travelling and say I want to go and dry clean my clothes in America. I’m sure you don’t find that happening again. We decided to match whatever technology they have there; their service delivery time, we’ve matched it, if not better. We even added a lot more edges. We brought in the sophisticated tailoring aspect of it; you do not even need to go to tailors to amend, to repair or to do whatever. Everything is being done here like a whole unit. And then by the time you know that we can come to you; people call us, we come to their offices, we pick up, we drop them for you. Because most Nigerians will tell you that they’ve been carrying their dirty clothes in their boot for one or two, three weeks, so we said okay, these are young professionals growing up and the Nigerian economy is beginning to rise. The young men are getting employed every day, they work hard and they go to work every day. We now said how can we reach these people without inconveniencing them and without getting them to pay extra? So, what we did was to say okay, why don’t we do some programmes; we did some promos, reached out to the corporate offices and the service centres and then we discovered that the patronage was very high and then by the time we did that, obviously, the mobile advertisement we got from the fact that we were the very pioneers of that office collection and delivery and home collection and delivery, did wonders to Megawash. It did not come without its own challenges o! But we were able to match those challenges with results.
In doing business, what is the best way to attain success and sustain it?
Building your empire solidly and also expanding it from the solid base.
Doing business in Nigeria is not easy yet you have been able to sustain yours for 15 years. What is the biggest mistake that most people who go into business here make?
I pointed that out earlier. You need to work round the cost factor; you need to know that Nigeria’s political economy is so fragile it can change at any time. A new government, a new policy, a new this. Nigeria’s economic policies have been very inconsistent, so if you want to do business, you must be careful. Again, finance is a very big issue. You must think critically about how to actually, if it goes bad, how to manage the losses and it won’t be too much to break you down. Secondly, there’s virtually nothing in the offing for the small and medium scale industries in Nigeria. There is no infrastructure provided for these people. Most loans are directed to blue chip companies. The only thing left for you to construct by yourself are maybe the roads. You do the light yourself, you do renovations yourself; every thing is provided by you. So, you should be ready because there is no support anywhere. If you start, you have started. You have to provide your light, you have to provide your technology, everything you do in Nigeria as at today; you must provide for yourself. It’s difficult to go through these difficult things and still remain. So, it’s very easy for you to fall by the way side. Therefore, you must be very ready like I said to take on those tasks on those rough roads and then ride on them. The banks are not going to give you money because you do not have enough security to secure those loans. But if you have collaterals, like you have a house; that means you already have money. But we are looking at people who are just about to start their businesses; where do they start from? No government incentives when you are doing your business here. If you fail, you fail, if you succeed, you succeed. So, like I said, Nigerians are actually rugged businessmen. You go out there, you fight whatever cause you see, you try and secure yourself, something nice and good and then your business goes on.
You are very fond of your family; can we talk about them and also tell us more about OJ?
Well, my name is Jude Oditah. I am from Ibusa, Delta State. I was born into a family of five. My youngest sister and my dad are late. I am married with three children. My wife’s name is Ifeoma and she’s been very wonderful. I have exciting kids – Kanyima, Kanyinebi and Kanyinulia. It’s been okay, we are managing ourselves.
You love fun. Why do you like fun so much?
Yeah, because like I normally say, if you have a man who out of nothing struggled so hard, worked so hard to get to where he is today, it’s only natural that he finds a way of relaxing and then saying kudos to himself for a job well done. And now if you look at most places in Nigeria, where do we go? You go to lounges, and when you go to lounges you get noticed. So, Nigeria is a not like any other place in the world where you can go to the beach, climb hills and think you are having fun. The only way Nigerians know how to celebrate successes or whatever is to go to the bars, the pubs, the clubs, the lounges and those are the ways I catch my small, small fun. But having said that, yeah, I’m a fun-loving guy. What can I do? (Laughs).
Your immediate elder brother, Prof. Fidelis Oditah, QC, SAN, happens to be one of the most celebrated Nigerians alive today, especially in the legal profession, how does it feel to be his brother?
Yeah, he’s not my only brother, I keep telling people who interview me that. We also have another brother, his name is Alex Oditah. He’s an SA to Delta governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. Fidelis, yeah! He’s good and sometimes I used to tease him because, in those days before he decided to come back to the country, I used to be the most popular person in that family. And then he came in with all those achievements here and there and it was easy for him to overtake me. Now, whenever I say my name is Oditah Jude, people say do you know Fidelis? I say yes, The Prof! He’s my brother. It’s been good being his brother. But the way we grew up in that our house, I actually don’t see him as anybody special, I just see him as my brother. It’s also the same way I relate to Alex. And really, when I look at him, I just look at him beyond his achievements; I just see him as the ordinary brother that I knew from the day I was born. So, it’s okay, it’s been quite nice being his brother and then he talks a lot about me. He refers his friends to me most of the time-my younger brother. It’s been fun. And he’s a fun-loving man too. So, I guess it’s been well being his brother.
NB: First published February 2014