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Medical student shares lessons about running spice, food, and clothing businesses

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Umm Ayman was born in Jos, Plateau State. She is currently a first-year student at the University of Jos, studying science laboratory technology. As a child, she was introduced to Tambari magazine, a publication of Sunday Trust, by her late grandfather—that was the time she started developing business ideas. Determined to achieve her life goals, she ventured into the spice business in her teenage years. Umm Ayman now runs three businesses and is doing well in them. She tells us more in this interview with Rilwan Muhammad.

Can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Umm Ayman Muhammad Abdullahi. I’m the founder and CEO of Aymanaah’s Empire. I’m based in Jos, Plateau state but an indigene of Bauchi, Shira Local Government Area, to be exact. I attended Prince and Princess Academy for my primary school education and then proceeded to The Green College. Thereafter, I moved to Plateau Decency High Academy where I completed my secondary school education in 2020. I sat for my Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and passed with good points which led to my offer of admission at the University of Jos to study science laboratory technology. I got admission in 2021, and ASUU went on strike soon after I started. 

You were offered admission to study SLT at Uni Jos; was it the course you had wanted to study while growing up?

No. It wasn’t the course I applied for. When I sat for my UTME, I got 207 and the cut-off mark for the course I wanted to study – medical laboratory science – was 220. I was offered SLT instead. But while growing up, all I wanted to become was a medical doctor. However, when I was in junior secondary school, I had a change of mind and felt that I wanted to become a businesswoman; an entrepreneur, and a multimillionaire woman. When I was in JS1, my late grandfather (may his soul continue to rest in peace) used to buy newspapers. He’d buy Sunday Trust, and there’s a Tambari page, which featured women who excelled in different spheres of human endeavors. I read quite a lot of such interviews. I think my grandfather started reading them when Media Trust started its publication. We have heaps of them now at home. I started reading them when I was in Primary 5. I’d get copies and read them until he died in 2016. I generated a lot of business ideas by reading them. 

And did that have an impact on the choice of your business idea?

Their stories were amazing. I read a lot of stories of women doing excellently well in their chosen careers – doctors, engineers, businesswomen, make-up artists, etc. Reading their success stories, I developed an interest in business and decided to attend a culinary school. Because of my school, however, I resorted to attending virtual classes where I took courses on cosmetology. The Tambari page is weekly, so if a woman featured in the week was into makeup, I’d go online and make some searches on how to start the business, what it takes to be a make-up artist, etc. I had different ideas on entrepreneurship through that, because I was reading and researching different businesses— the women being interviewed and featured on the Tambari were into.  There’s my late elder sister who was into fruits and veggies. She’d go to the market, buy items and then ask me for their names. When I couldn’t get the names correctly, she’d correct me, and that kept on for some time until I learned and acquired skills in the business she was into, which ultimately led me to venture into spice making business. I had ideas on fashion design, cosmetology, and many other businesses. I decided to concentrate on spices first. I started, made, and sold them within three days. It was a good start because my sister was there for me. I started the business with passion, but the passion later died down following the death of my sister, who was the source of inspiration and guidance for me. For some time, I jettisoned the business and concentrated on other businesses, but I’m coming back stronger as I’m clearing grounds for the re-establishment of the spice business. Currently, I have a recipe book. So Tambari magazine actually did help me a lot in becoming the business-oriented person that I am today. It’s my favorite magazine. I still keep some of the copies.  

 

When exactly did you start the business?

I started a culinary business in 2019. I was making curry powder. And as I mentioned earlier, my sister (may her Allah continue to grant her soul eternal repose) was the one who introduced me to the business, after having gathered a thing or two from Tambari magazine. But when she died, I stopped doing business and concentrated on another business. However, I’m working on some projects now, and after I finish, I’d come back to my culinary, this time stronger InshaAllah.

 

What business are you currently into?

I’m now into fruits and veggies, and also a clothing business, where I sell atampa, abayas, luggage bags and trolleys, etc. I started the clothing business October 2021, and for the fruit and veggies, I started this year in 2022. 

When did you come up with an idea and implemented it?

The idea of the business had been with me right from childhood when I was in Primary 5. And I told you earlier that reading Tambari had exposed me to so many business ideas – from fashion design to culinary and other businesses that the magazine featured. 

 

Did you have prior experience in the business before starting it, aside from the ideas you got reading the magazine?

Aside from the tips and the ideas I learned reading the magazine I didn’t have any prior experience before delving into the business. But what I did was, after I started, I frequented Google. I’d search to read about the business, how to be successful in it, the do’s and dont’s and other things. For the spice making, after I had my recipe, I took it to my sister and she offered help. I was supposed to launch my spice business in February 2020, but my sister died while the idea was in the pipeline. That affected me and the business and I couldn’t continue. But as I mentioned, plans are underway to re-establish the business. 

 

What motivated you to be in the business aside from reading pieces from Sunday Trust’s Tambari?

I’m a positive-minded person. Whatever I set for myself, I make sure I work out a modality to achieve it. After I thought about the idea, I talked to my mother about it and she nodded her approval. I contacted my sister who’s living in Kano to help connect me with wholesalers that deal in atampa and abayas and all. I was also motivated by courageous women I see on social media platforms doing well in their businesses. 

 

Before starting any business, experts advise that one should carry out feasibility studies; was there anything you did in that regard?

For me, I just knew that clothing is one of the basic needs that one must satisfy. The atampa print for example has been there long before now. And for abayas and other designer clothing materials are also in demand. The fruit and veggies, too, being food, fall under physiological needs. So, with that understanding, I felt certain that the business could thrive. 

 

How much capital did you start the business with?

For the clothing business, I started with N10,000. I advertised online, got interested buyers and sold the materials. I started small, with only a few customers buying from me.  

 

How would you describe your earliest experience in the business? 

I was somehow afraid when I started because I advertised for almost two months without getting people to buy the materials. I felt discouraged, but my parents encouraged me to continue, that it was fine to have challenges at the initial stage. So I kept pushing and here we are. Alhamdulillah now, we are growing. I’m now planning on obtaining registration with NAFDAC for the spice business. I’m also working towards registering the business with the Corporate Affairs Commission. 

 

You run three different businesses all by yourself. 

Yes, I want to combine them all, register them and then work on improving them. Under the spice business, for example, I’m working on some projects that, when implemented, would boost the business. The whole idea is to diversify. I understand it’s a strategy that will help me ensure the sustainability and growth of the businesses. 

 

Can you recall the first profit you realized after the take-off of the business?

For the clothing, I realized between N1,000 and N1,500, because the customer bought only one material. I later sold wedding paraphernalia (groom’s presents to bride – kayan lefe) and then started realizing reasonable profit from there. 

 

Can you let us into how you operate the business?

It’s more or less an online marketplace. We display our goods online for interested buyers to see and buy. We are now working on developing a business website to ease the way we run the business. But we have plans to open a shop where we can display the goods physically.

 

What’s the hardest part of doing this business?

For the fruit and veggies, the one challenge we face is price fluctuation. Some of the products we sell don’t have stable prices as they are seasonal and others are perishable. But I’m rebranding, and working on how to address the challenge. We’re planning to introduce mechanisms right from packaging to transporting the products to check spoilage. What we are now doing to reduce incidents of spoilage is we tell drivers transporting the products to our customers to place the goods atop other luggage inside the bus boots because a heavy load on the goods would amount to damage or even spoilage. You know we sell them in their fresh form. Sometimes we even harvest at the crops’ early maturity stage so that they don’t spoil even after taking a day or two. 

 

Do you have a farm where you plant these crops?

No. For the time being, we get them from some farmers. But our plan is to have a farm where we will be producing the crops ourselves, sort of backward integration if you like. 

 

You mentioned price fluctuation as a challenge; aside from that, what other challenges do you face doing business?

Another challenge is the delay in delivery we sometimes experience from the side of the drivers who transport the goods to the customers. But we are also working towards solving the problem. You know you don’t get such issues with reliable drivers. For the clothing business, because we just started, so far, we don’t have any big challenges, and it’s our prayer that we will not have any as the business flourishes. 

 

What makes you love the business?

I have a passion for business. Although there are challenges here and there, there’s always this joy that comes with doing what you have passion for. There are times when you’ll be constrained by challenges so much you think of quitting the business, but with support from parents, we are moving on. Recalling the ambition I had since childhood and looking at the fact that I’m on the road to achieving and actualizing the dream, I feel at ease and happy that I’m on the right track. 

 

What resources or books did you read that is instrumental to the growth or success of the business?

I read The Smart Money Woman: An African Girl’s Journey to Financial Freedom by Arese Ugwu. I’ve, through the book, learned a lot of things – how to manage customers, manage the financial status of the business, and other things. And Tambari magazine had also been helpful because that was the first resource I used that broadened my business horizon. I also use the internet to search, research and get acquainted with ideas on how to be successful in the businesses I run. 

 

I understand you started the clothing business in 2022, would you mind sharing with us the annual revenue of the other businesses you operate?

Alhamdulillah, we are recording sales and realizing a reasonable profit. We keep records of all our sales. We have a sales book where we record the sales, and we use that at the end of the month to calculate the total annual sales and profit. For the fruits and veggies, we have recorded good sales, even though the crops are seasonal, meaning they are not available all year round. The clothing business too is coming up and we are making headway even though we have challenges getting our goods from Kano and Lagos. 

 

Are you in partnership with any logistics companies or individual partners?

Yes, I have a logistics partner that transports the goods we purchase from Lagos to Jos. And I partner with our local drivers here for interstate deliveries. 

 

What marketing strategies are you adopting in promoting your business?

I advertise the business to people and also use sponsored and influencer ads in increasing the followership and coverage of the business. Since it’s by and large an online business (because most of my customers are online), one has to promote it using ads. So far these are the strategies I use in promoting the business. 

 

What are the tools you use in doing business?

For clothing, we have our own customized packaging nylon bags. For the fruit and veggies, we have empty cartons that we use as containers. Others are ropes, strings, sacks for packaging the products we buy from farmers, etc. 

 

Do you have particular farmers from whom you buy the goods or do you buy at the market?

I have arrangements with some farmers and anytime I want to buy the products, they transport them directly to our house from the farm. I get the goods delivered directly from the production center (that’s the farm) to our house, and as I mentioned earlier, part of my plans is to integrate backward and start the production myself.

 

How do you create an edge over other entrepreneurs doing the same business as you?

What I believe is there is no competition in business. The only thing is to strive harder, be honest, offer quality goods, and be good at what you do. Once you do that and you focus on improving your skills to promote your business, you’ll succeed.

 

How do you generate your profit from the business?

There’s the gross revenue that we get after the sales. We subtract the cost of buying the goods since we aren’t producing them (even if we’re producing them, there, of course, would be production cost) and also remove the cost of logistics – the cost of transporting the goods from the farm to our house and from there to the park for delivery. Subtracting all the costs, you have the remaining as your net profit. 

 

What plans do you have for the future, especially as they relate to the business?

For my clothing business, I want to open a shop, since we are an empire going by our brand name Aymanaah’s Empire. So, we want to have an empire for the clothing materials. For the fruits and veggies, I have plans which I’m working on. One of the plans in that regard is to integrate backward, have a farm and start producing the crops. For the spice business, I have, as I mentioned earlier, developed a recipe book, which I started when I was in JSS2. 

 

Can you let us into the processes you followed in writing the recipe book?

When I was reading Tambari, I’d jot down some important items, go on the internet and do some research. I watched YouTube videos and followed bloggers to get the ideas I needed to write the book. It was quite an interesting experience. A lot of effort had been put in place before finally having the book. Alhamdulillah! 

 

What has the business taught you?

I have learned to be patient, trustworthy, and honest with customers. Most of my customers don’t know me as it’s a 90% online business where you just place an order and the goods get delivered to you. So, I try to be reliable – delivering the exact products my customers ordered and all. Through the business, I’ve come in contact with different people, and you know being with people, you’ll learn a lot of things.

 

What are some of the memorable experiences you had with some of your customers?

There’s a customer in Yola who bought some goods from me a few days before this year’s Sallah. She’s been my mentor since when I was in junior class. The goods she bought were supposed to be delivered on that day but unfortunately for us, the goods got spoiled while in transit. The driver stacked heavy luggage atop the goods; delicate and perishable as they were, they got spoiled. When we talked and I learnt about the unfortunate incident, I offered to refund her the money but she didn’t approve of that. She said it wasn’t my fault. She’s very understanding. I recall she even gave me some tips and advice on the precautionary measures to take when packaging my goods.

There’s also another customer from Abuja who bought beetroot from me and she was so excited after she received the product.

There’s one also whose daughter I met on Twitter. The daughter saw my products – Irish potatoes which I was selling at N20,000 per bag. She told her mother about me and the price of my goods, which the daughter found reasonable. The mum argued with the daughter so much the former had to call me for confirmation. She called and we talked about business. She transferred the money and I delivered the goods to Kaduna for her. Happy that I delivered the exact goods she ordered, she referred more than 15 people to us, and they patronized us. So, these and other ones are some of the memorable experiences I had with my customers. 

 

What products do you carry?

For the clothing, we have ankara prints (the atampa), laces, Dubai and Egyptian abayas and sometimes Saudi abaya. We also sell suitcases. For fruits and veggies, we sell Irish and sweet potatoes, beetroot, strawberries, blackberries, cauliflower, scotch bonnet, onions, green pepper, chia seed, almond nuts, flax seed, sunflower seed, cashew nuts, bayleaf, rosemary, coriander leaf, cucumber, carrot, cabbage, radish, avocado, mango, plantain, yam, lemon, grape, shear fruits, guava. 

 

What’s the peak period of sales?

Because fruits and vegetables are seasonal, the peak period of sales is usually during their season. 

 

So, you are not in any partnership with dry season farmers to ensure all-year-round business?

For now, I’m not. But one of my projects is to have a farm where we will produce, process at our factory and export them to other countries, not just within the country. 

 

If you were not in the fruit and veggies business, what business would you have been into?

I think I’d still prefer to be in my fruits and veggies and the reason is simply the passion I have for the business, and I like the products. When I was a child, it was our tradition to take fruits late in the evening together with my late grandfather. 

 

To start this business, how much capital would one need?

One would need at least N30,000 – N50,000. 

 

You mentioned that you use social media platforms in advertising and promoting your business; what are your handles?

I use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and WhatsApp. For Facebook it’s Aymanaah’s Empire and my personal handle Umm Ayman Muhammad; Instagram @aymanaah_; Linkedin @Umm Ayman Muhammad; and for WhatsApp, it’s my phone number: 08139315849.

I get new ideas out there – new recipes and customers. 

Did you attend any workshops or training in relation to the business you run?

For any physical training, no. But this December we are organizing a summit in Kaduna which is going to be organized by Arewa women entrepreneurs. For online training and workshops, however, I’ve attended virtual training where I was taught record keeping, price setting and differentiation, etc. Lately I attended a class with Map Academy and Arewa Women Group. They have been very impactful. 

 

Was there a time you felt like giving up the business? 

For the spice business, it was after the death of my sister. There was no one to mentor me. She’s part of the reason I started the business and when she died, it was hard to continue with the business. For the fruit business, the experience I had of spoilage of my goods meant to be delivered to Yola made me feel like quitting. If it were not for the consideration of the customer, it’d have been hard to convince me not to give up the business.  

 

What impact did your parents have on your business pursuit?

They have been supportive. The first person I go to any time I have a new idea is my father. I tell him about it and he adds to it and guides me on how to implement it. My mother, too, has been very supportive. Sometimes I do the packaging together with her. 

What procedures should one follow to be successful in this business? 

The first is to have a mentor whom you can always ask questions and seek guidance from. Then patience, research, learning new skills, and getting new ideas. 

 

How do you ensure constant cash flow into the business?

I don’t use my business money for unprofitable ventures. I understand that my business money has no business being in any unproductive venture. At the end of every month, I allocate a percentage of the revenue to pay myself a salary, and once that finishes, I will not take a kobo from the business for personal wants. My father’s an accountant and a banker. I get all the necessary financial knowledge and discipline from him. 

 

What is your annual revenue – both in terms of sales and profit?

It depends on the season. For example, during the last Ramadan, I recorded sales of over N800,000 from Irish potatoes, I sold more than 50 bags of the crop, realizing 30-40% of the revenue as my profit. For the clothing business, I made not less than N100,000 during the last Ramadan.

 

Where do you imagine Aymanah’s Empire in the next 10 years?

By then, I’d have opened a shop; an empire, better still, where we would print our own clothing materials. For the fruit and veggies, in the next 10 years, we would have owned very big farmland for production, processing, and marketing of our crops within and outside the country. For the spice business, as I mentioned, the plan is to open a shop where we can display the products. 

 

Looking back at your childhood days, who would you say had the greatest impact on your life?

My grandfather. He’s a man who lived an eventful life that was full of lessons. He would wake up in the morning, observe his prayers, take his tea, move around the house, read newspapers and sit with me to share his life experiences. He believed in my abilities and motivated me that I could achieve greater things in life! 

 

How do you think the government can help micro, small and medium enterprises?

By helping the business owners with grants and organizing skill acquisition programs with a view to teaching entrepreneurs new skills that would help them promote their businesses. 

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and people who want to start this business?

They should keep learning in order to remain relevant. For the upcoming entrepreneurs, especially those wishing to seize opportunity in this business, they should get mentors who would put them through. They should exercise patience and research and acquire skills, and most importantly source good capital.

 

 

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Rilwan Muhammad
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