Irenita Nneka Eze is a a Nollywood actress and the C.E.O, Nikky Cake Studio. In this interview with ANTHONY ADA ABRAHAM, she bears her mind on her business and why she decided to slow down in the movie industry
How was the beginning like when you joined this industry?
First of all, I studied theatre arts at the university of Calabar. After that, I needed to practiced what I studied in school, so I ventured into the movie industry and acted in one movie in 2009 in Enugu state, after which I left the industry and got the opportunity to produce a movie with Ndubisi Okoh and another one with Chidi Chikere. It didn’t work out for me the way I wanted, and I was looking for a business that could be sustainable and I could live on. After the movie experience, I was in Abuja and I started selling clothes. I would go to Dubai and buy clothes which I sold, but I wasn’t satisfied with it and I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do. I needed something that will help me achieve my goals.
If you are a successful entrepreneur, you will still get almost what you get from the movies. I wanted something I could make my brand, so I got into a shop in Abuja, ordered for a cake and they told me that there was no space, that I should have come a week earlier to make the request and that it was too late. I told her I would pay extra and she became rude and told me I will still be the one to complain if they didn’t meet up. Then I told myself that means there isn’t enough cake shops in Abuja. The next week, I went to Dubai, visited some Cake shops and studied how they bake cakes and everything. When the teacher was teaching, I tasted it and said I could find this in Abuja and she should give me something extra, something that when I get to Abuja, they will know the difference. I called one of her staffs and told her that I don’t think this woman is giving me what I came here for, she then said she was going to come to my hotel. I bought an oven, a mixer and everything and took it to my hotel room is to learn the exceptional tastes of cake baking. That’s how I started off and it’s been successful.
Why didn’t you combine the acting career with the cake business?
The cake business is a full time business. You wont believe I only get like two hours to rest on Sundays. Which might be just one Sunday in a month. It is a daily job, full time baking, I’m occupied with it 24\7. Plus, I’m actually excited and satisfied and I feel this is actually what I’m meant to do.
What’s the reception like from your customers?
It’s been amazing. Some people will say that Nigerians don’t know quality and that they like cheap things. They won’t pay, but they will still come and price. Since I started this business, my impression with Nigerians actually changed, we know quality and we like quality, like when I’m not around and my sister makes the cake and there is a mistake in the cake, the customer will be like Nikky you broke my heart; it’s like something went wrong. I have been patronising you because the cake I tested in American, New York is same with yours, so what’s wrong? It makes me feel bad. That’s why I can’t reduce the quality of my cakes because I feel I will break the hearts of people. This is how close baking is to me. We have done cakes for all walks of life. We have baked for the presidency, we have baked for the vice president, we have baked for state governors, we have traveled to different cities, we have done for ministers too. I don’t think there is any caliber of person we haven’t baked our cakes for.
So How long have you been in the cake business?
This is my fifth year in the business .I started off in 2014.
How Affordable is your cake?
My cakes are affordable for the quality you get.
You mentioned you have baked for the presidency and vice president what about the law income earners who can’t afford your cake?
Of cause, because when Buhari came in, it was hard for us due to the issues of importation. Most of our stuffs are imported and there’s a lot we can’t get here in the country. The day we even tried it, people kept saying we could get it in Nigeria, they kept calling and complaining that this is not your cake, so we could not continue using Nigerian products. We import from American, we import from Dubai, we import from Turkey. We have undergone trainings in all these places.
How conducive is Nigeria for your Business?
It is fantastic, we are pushing quality. At first they say oh…its expensive but when they tasted it and felt the taste, they knew we aren’t here to joke. We give them the value for their money and they come back very happy
Are you saying you have not had any challenges going into this business?
The only challenge I have now is staff. They would come to look for work saying they will do all the work. If I give them the chance and they work and see how hard it is because sometimes we close by 1:00 am. The first set were interested, they wanted to learn, they wanted to deliver but this set, what they know is just to go home, there is no good passion with them.
Are you now saying that Nigerian Youths are lazy?
No I am not. I’m a youth and I’m working. You can’t generalise it because some are lazy.
Talking about your man power do you have more female than males in your payroll? Most Nigerians are of the opinion that baking is a female job. What will you say about this gender disparity in your line of work?
I have the same number of male and female staffs. I will even say I have few females working for me. Their work is almost the same, only that the guys do more of the hard work. Mixing the fondant is hard work and it has to do with strength and energy then the girl can stand to decorate it for like two to three days without getting tired. Because most of the bakers I have are females and most of the designers I have are male. Most times, I bring them from Lagos, get an apartment for them in Abuja. I like to work with people from far. They give me what I want when they are not in their comfort zone. Although after a while when they are settled and mixed up with people around, it becomes another story.
You talked about learning your work abroad and been taught by good teachers. Do you have any plan of training young ones in the job?
Yes, I have a plan, I have a vision of training young women and young girls from the street. I would like to see them succeed. I know some people are there who don’t know what to do, some don’t have the opportunity. I want to mentor women.
Is it going to be for free?
Yes, it will be free. I feel it will be a big achievement for me if I could bring up someone under under my tutelage and they grow to be what they want to be and they succeed in life.
So I will take it you will be doing it for charity? Is there anything you have done for charity?
I like to keep this private but let’s just say I have a major orphanage I work with. If it’s that part, I practice “let your left hand not see what you are doing for your right hand.” When I do something, I do it for humanity, the blessing you’re expecting from doing charity is from God not humans. I have an orphanage I have been working with for the last two years. I have never taken any picture there. Throughout the first 1year, they made me go through the rules of I must first sign whenever I come to the orphanage but now they have known me. I go play with the children. Anytime I travel out of the country, I buy stuffs for them, clothes and many other things. I know them by name and I ask after each and every one of them. I know when they bring in new kids too. That’s what I do privately. I think I have only been to the place with only one person. When my mum ask, I will be like mummy I went somewhere, I don’t even give her details.
People believe it is a man’s world, do you believe that female entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage particularly in Nigeria when it comes to making money?
No way, people appreciate women who work for their money. We have equal opportunity as them and they appreciate hard work. People appreciate hard work, people you work for, people appreciate your vision. There are clients I have that are amazing, they ask what can we do to help you. They give me referrals, they are happy I’m doing something good. This makes you happy with yourself and what you are doing. I will say I have made genuine friends and people who just want to see you grow.
What’s your vision for the next five years?
I want the world to hear about us. I want the world to know about Nikky cake studio. We are planning a big bakery. A massive bakery in conjunction with Reset club. Everything baked will be done there. We intend to bring the best to Nigeria.
What will you say really stands you out from other bakers?
The taste of my cake. When more than 20 to 30 people taste and they just ask how did you? You didn’t train here, this is not Nigerian
What’s the most valuable lesson you have learnt in life?
Whatever you want to do, do it well and you will get the results. Don’t compromise in business, always give your best.
How are your friends from the entertainment industry reacting to your work now?
They are still my friend; they give me clients. In fact, they appreciate me more here than there.
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