Usman Tijjani Shehu earns more than a typical Civil Servant as a shoe maker in Jos. As the campaign for made in Nigeria products gains momentum, Shehu, who manufactures leather shoes and bags for both men and women, smiles to the bank.
Unfortunately, Shehu said, not many shoe manufacturers have shown similar passion in their productions, and it is such passion that is key to success. Other qualities Shehu’s products flaunt is good finishing and his ability to imitate expensive foreign shoes, earning him a plus in the trade.
Most of his customers either own shops in Jos, Bauchi, Sokoto, Kaduna and the FCT or online platforms where they showcase their products. For a growing online market, Usman manufactures more of male shoes, using his customers’ brand names.
“I don’t showcase my products online. I make the product, imprint my customers’ brand and supply it to them. I don’t sell online because I don’t want to be seen as competing with them. They sell across the country as if they are the manufacturers since their brand is on it,” he said.
With twelve people in his employ, including the physically challenged, Usman manufactures about thirty pairs of shoes a week and makes a hundred per cent profit. “When, for instance you spend N50, 000 producing 30 pairs of male shoes, you can get an additional profit of N50, 000. But for female shoes, the profit margin is usually thirty to forty per cent because the demand for their shoes is high while profit is low.”
With less than N100, 000, Usman said one can start such a business as long as the person is armed with the skill and passion. “You will however need a sewing machine, a filing machine which can be locally produced for about N10, 000 or N15, 000, raw materials and other smaller items like hammer, thread, and glue.”
Raw materials for Shehu’s shoe business are usually purchased from Kano or Lagos. “In December, we usually face scarcity of raw materials because the demand is high while some companies ensure that they exhaust all their stocks before the end of the year to enable them restock by January. Both local and foreign leather are found in Kano but we rely on Lagos for most of the foreign leathers,” he said.
The young manufacturer has also trained about ten people under the previous federal government’s Sure-P internship programme. Shehu said despite the number of people who have learnt under him, many face difficulties because a lot of youths only want to make money and not build a career. “I used to have that kind of mentality myself, but it is different now. This is my passion, a business I have built from the scratch. I am not willing to go after any office work now. If you give me a monthly paying job of N60, 000 right now, I will not take it because I can earn more than that in a week,” he said.
There are many people who visit Shehu’s shoes and bags factory at Audi road behind Masalacin Juma’a Street in Jos to either make orders or give specifications on a particular product. Shehu combines skill, experience and passion to succeed in a business he first came in contact with eighteen years ago as an apprentice at the famous Naraguta Leather Works. He had then moved to an area known as school line in Jos before he independently opened his factory six years ago.
After completing his secondary school as a teenager, Shehu, not wanting to be idle, approached his father and told him he wanted to learn at Naraguta Leather Works. “My father took me there himself because he used to have a friend there. Because the place is big, each of us worked under a specific master. When my master left Leather Works, he took me with him. I continued to learn with him before I established my business,” he said.
Since shehu completed a diploma from Aminu Kano College of Islamic and Legal School Kano, he has been unable to return to school. “I have been telling myself that once I settle down I will return to school but fortunately, I have realised that with the coming of the present government, these are the kinds of jobs they seem to be concentrating on, therefore, I think I am in the right place,” he said.
Shehu is happy the restriction on foreign currency has forced most Nigerians to buy locally made products, including shoes. “I imitate Italian and other foreign shoes for many people. Shoes that people used to buy for N250, 000, I now produce and sell for less than N10, 000 and they are durable and good looking.” He has turned what used to be a big community dump, owned by his uncle into his factory. Even his uncle never believed he could evacuate the refuse, let alone turn the place into a factory.