Readers I realize this is a long post but you have to read this article
by Irene Ayemi
Grace Obalolu, until a decade ago, was a graduate of Food Technology pounding streets and offices looking for a job. One weekend, a job came from a most unexpected quarter and in an unlikely manner. Obalolu’s close friend was getting married and the lot fell on Obalolu to bake the wedding cake. The unemployed graduate had learnt to bake cake some years ago while in school, but never thought it could be financially rewarding. For the wedding cake, her friend insisted on paying N30,000, although Obalolu had offered to do it for free.
As it turned out, the cake was an exquisite creation and before Obalolu knew it, it had opened a flood of requests. Within months, Obalolu had forgotten about seeking paid employment. She has grown to be an employer of labour with four staff directly in her employment and many others on call whenever a job comes up which, she enthused, is a regular affair. From only cake-baking, the hitherto jobless graduate has progressed to undertaking contracts on entire wedding events –from letter-writing to being a compere, to provision of food and drinks. Today, Obalolu is not only an entrepreneur, she, as she tells TheNEWS, lives comfortably.
So many other entrepreneurs have found a goldmine in wedding events. From being mere social functions, weddings have suddenly become huge money spinners for many an imaginative mind and industrious hand. Exploiting the African cultural must-do sentiment attached to wedding, many people, both graduates and other classes, are taking to the various enterprises attached to the wedding event to make a fortune. From the flock, the expression ‘wedding planner’ has now found a snug place in the lexicon of social functions in Nigeria.
The planning, for an entrepreneur, could be a holistic undertaking of the various aspects of a wedding, or specialisation in only one area – whether it is letter writing and presentation, cake making, bridal and maid gowns, groom and bestman’s suits, balloon decoration, sale of wedding rings, rental of special wedding vehicles, compere, catering, drinks, chairs and tables rentals, bride make-up, special wedding hair-dos or special head-gear (gele) for the bride. A new dimension has even been added to the affair: at least, two magazines dedicated mainly to wedding issues are in circulation.
The more the planners, it seems, the merrier as they feast on what seems the most celebrated of all social functions. In Lagos, the nation’s commercial and social hub, alone, a random count by this magazine last week revealed over 100 cake-bakers whose volume of business derives largely from wedding patronage. From high-flyers in the business could come cakes with a price range of N50,000 to N500,000, depending on the number of steps in a cake, the uniqueness of design and, of course, the pocket depth of who is paying. Bimbo Babalola of Royal Haute Couture, 10, Oladipo Diya Crescent, Ikoyi, says she has been thriving basically on baking cake for wedding couples for the past six years. “It’s been a lucrative business,” she discloses. It couldn’t have been otherwise.
Babalola’s cakes do not come cheap, with the lowest price at N50,000 and regular, appreciable patronage. Not unconscious of the stiff competition that obtains in the industry, Babalola emphasises on quality and innovative designs to curry attraction.
At Creams N’ Cake, the least price for a wedding cake is N35,000. Also smiling home from handsome sale of wedding cakes are Bakers World, Absolutely Elegance, Cake by Tosan, Bamsol Bridals, Tantalisers, Sweet Sensation and Cakes N’ More. As one confectioner admits to TheNEWS, the patron’s status often determines the price charged by bakers. “We tend to know some couples who will pay big without flinching and we charge them accordingly. The huge price is attended by high quality cakes from our end, though,” the baker explains.
In the big business of wedding, the art of talking has also been elevated into a money-spinner. Women who would, otherwise, be described as jobless chirping birds are making a good job of a seemingly bad habit. The alaga iduro or alaga ijoko (sitting or standing chairperson), as she is called in the South West, is the official compere at engagement ceremonies between couples, and at the main wedding event itself. The demand for these comperes is determined more by their individual ability to jazz up a function with witty remarks and songs than by mere guide of the programme of events.The more an alaga iduro can spice her chirps with rib-cracking remarks, the hotter the need for her services. And for speaking out loud, a compere could go home with an official fee of a minimum of N30,000.
A high profile alaga iduro in hot demand charges as high as N250,000 for one function and could get as many as three to five in a month, although the fees will vary. The fee excludes donations that come her way, in the course of her jibes, from appreciative guests of the couple, who are either appreciative of her services, want to be vainglorious before friends and family members or simply believe it is embarrassingly untraditional not to “spray” her with money. These extra earnings alone, on some occasions, surpass the official fee. A compere who is taken away by her clients from her domain to perform in another state, as it often happens, pads her fee with extra expenses.
Mrs. Olayide Banjoko, once an extrovert teacher, who turned in her chalk for the more promising microphone of an alaga iduro, has no regrets. “When I was a primary school teacher, I could hardly feed two times a day and take care of my children. Now, I am comfortable, with two cars and a house of my own, all gained from my alaga iduro, alaga ijoko vocation which I started five years ago,” Banjoko explains. Mrs. Yemisi Adeniran, a journalist, was nudged into the business by a friend who insisted she do the talking on her engagement day. “Shy at first, I eventually summoned courage to go through it. I was surprised at the inspiring commendations that followed my act. That was the beginning of my business boom,” Olaniran, whose minimum fee is N30,000, quips.
Many wedding couples, especially from beyond the South West who have not yet imbibed the alaga iduro culture, have found a variant in stand-up comedians who are making a tidy heap as masters of ceremony at wedding events. To blend with the particular environment, the comedians go as far as learning various dialects with a view to applying them appropriately to spice up their performance. The fees of these comperes could be any amount from N50,000 to N500,000. Ordinarily, facial make-up, especially of the bride, would attract no fee in the scheme of wedding arrangements. This could be done by any friend, relative or parent. But weddings are no longer ordinary events, as every aspect of it gets more commercialised.
With the trend of civilisation and the importation of Western culture, ideas of foreign make-up artists like Mary Kay, Markwins, Elizabeth Arden and Black Opal are being aped. Tara Fela-Durotoye, the Chief Executive Officer of House of Tara International, wedding specialists, looks back at the challenges she faced when, nine years ago, she embarked on a hard-nosed redefining of the make-up business rather than set up a Law chambers. As the then fresh Law graduate recalls, brides were reluctant to pay to have their faces made up when they could easily get the service free. The tune today is sonorous. “Though I have no huge money in the bank, looking at the asset and number of staff I manage, I think it is okay,” she declares confidently.
Tara sees in the make-up venture a lot more potentials than currently obtains. House of Tara’s fees range from N15,000 to N70,000. “I make more money when they request to make up for all events – groom party, bride’s party, wedding proper and thanksgiving – that hold during the wedding period,” she explained. Nike Kareem has also turned her back on her computer engineering training to embrace the make-up business. Kareem’s EWAR is located at 33 Toyin Street, Ikeja. “Considering what I invested in the business and the returns from it so far, I think it’s worth it,” she says. The bride’s particular requests and distance determine her fees, which do not go lower than N20,000. Kareem’s weekends, she reveals, are always fully booked, with a higher volume of business during festive periods.
EWAR is also making money from “structural construction” of the head gear (gele), as brides in traditional wear seek to stand out in this aspect. For merely tying gele for a bride, Kareem pockets up to N3,000. If anyone still harbours any cynicism about the commercial value of make-up in weddings, he should take a look at Bayo Haastrup of Ijade-egbin Consult. Haastrup is making a bold statement in the application of the make-up business in stylish living. The artiste has extensively travelled in Europe and the USA mainly making-up wedding clients and models. For his efforts, he cruises around town in a fleet of sleek cars.
Some tailors, or fashion desigers as they prefer to be addressed, have branched out to specialise on wedding apparels, as entrepreneur. Even many university graduates in both the humanities and sciences are increasingly casting their certificates aside to exploit the goldmine they have discovered the sewing or supply of wedding clothings is. Agwu Godfrindo, Proprietor of Gofindos Clothing and Accessories Ltd. with two shops in Lagos and another one in Abuja, shares his experience on patronage of wedding shirts, tie, suits and trousers. Grooms, he tells this magazine, not only purchase their entire outfits from him, they also clothe their train. Shirt prices range from N3,500 to N15,000, depending on the name of the designer a customer wants. A groom’s suit costs between N50,000 and N500,000, while ties are sold for between N1,200 and N3,500.
During the Nigeria Fashion Show, NFS, held recently, a very important phase of the competition was the bridal wear segment. Models paraded expensive bridal wears created by the competing designers. Indeed, TheNEWS gathered that many Nigerian designers make good money deigning bridal gowns that are a depature from the “very convetional”
Ronke Lagunju, owner of Bridal House at 23 Opebi Road, Ikeja, lives decently on sales of bridal gowns, invitation cards and bridal wedding accessories. “I have no regrets starting this business,” she muses. She certainly doesn’t, considering how well her shop on Opebi, where owning a shop is a statement on its own, is patronised. She has six staff on her pay-roll.
Mrs. Sho-Silva’s Rose Blossom Bridal sells everything wedding, from gowns, veils, bouquets, flowers and engagement beads to flower girl dresses at her 19, Ajao Road, off Adeniyi Jones, Ikeja. Her prices range from N50,000 to N100,000. Sho-Silva has eight staff on her employment. Chioma Dibor’s Brides & Bells comes with a difference. Dibor believes couples do not have to run into debts buying their wedding clothing needs when they can rent them, without mortgaging quality, at what she calls “affordable prices”. So Dibor rents out “classy” wedding gown and accessories to “help wedding couples cut cost.” Her rates hover between N20,000 and N25,000 for bridal dress and accessories, and N15,000 and N20,000 for complete groom suit.
Laying of red carpet at reception venues is generating sizeable income for Eden Pearls, located in four offices at Opebi, Festac Town, Lagos Island and Iponri Shopping Complex, all in Lagos State. Aside from carpet laying, Eden Pearls undertakes the entire venue decoration with balloons, flowers, ribbons and bridal bouquet. The entire contract could attract a moderate fee of about N200,000, but would be higher if the venue is outside Lagos. The extra charge takes care of logistics, accommodation and transportation. Planning a wedding event, Mrs. Modupe Kolade, Creative Director and CEO of Eden Pearls, admits, is a good business. But to her, the satisfaction she gets from it resides not in the monetary gains but from the smiles that a colourful, hitch-free occasion plasters on the face of the couple.
Cameramen, still and video, are also making a mint from weddings. With the art going so scientifically digital, professional photograhers and otherwise jobless graduates are increasingly directing their energies towards this calling. Victor Okoli, a graduate of Economics who has set up digital photography studios in Lagos, Enugu and Abuja with specialisation in wedding photography, says he finds “mental, psychological and financial” fulfilment in both the job itself and the “peace of mind that self-employment brings.” He started low-key some five years ago, but currently charges a minimum of N50,000 for his jobs which, he boasts, are virtually a weekly affair.
Former broadcaster, Bisi Olatilo, has even elevated the video recording art to a lucrative venture, capturing wedding events for airing on his Bisi Olatilo Show. A polyglot who exploits that advantage fully traversing the country bagging high-profile jobs from all the three major tribes and more, Olatilo does not come cheap. His charge for only one coverage could be as high as a million naira. From his efforts, the chubby independent producer has been able to build up a well-stocked studio, which, unfortunately, was gutted by fire recently. He is also a comfortable landlord and owns good automobiles.
Also booming is the sale of wedding rings and jewellery for the bride. Alhaja Simbiyat who has been in the business at the Balogun market, Lagos, for 20 years observed that there has, somehow, been an appreciable increase in sales in recent years.
Simbiyat’s genuine gold wedding rings cost between N45,000 and N200,000 depending on the karat. Aren’t they too expensive? “You will be surprised how much people want to buy them, especially the 18 karat gold, which costs up to N200,000. What I have discovered is that many people do have money in this country and showing off the quality of wedding rings on fingers is quite a competition among brides,” she responded. The huge patronage of wedding ring is understandable, given the fact that it is the seal of any legal union between a man and union.
Also getting a good piece of the action are providers of “Item Seven,” as food and drinks are now tagged at social events. Gone are the days that family members and the couple’s friends gathered in the kitchen to prepare the meals for an event. In nearly all cases today, the food aspect is contracted out to professional caterers. Salis Suleiman, spokesman for Samca Foods located at Sura Shopping Complex, Lagos Island, maintains that patronage from wedding couples has been so encouraging as to make the catering business a worthwhile venture. Some weeks, Suleiman says, Samca gets as many as four weddings to cater for. Caterers’ fees could be based on per pack or a general charge. In either case, the profit on an event ranges from N50,000 to N200,000, depending on the calibre of the client or the number of invitees. As in other cases, the fees go up when the caterer has to travel some distance to the venue.
Special eateries like Suya and spiced goat meat, known as “asun” have also been introduced. Akindele, an asun specialist at MKO Gardens, stresses that he makes more money from wedding than from any other event contract. His charges are based on the size of goat the couple wants and the number of invitees. A big goat goes for N18,000, medium for N16,000 and a small one for N14,000 or N15,000. “I even prepare five goats on some occasions,” he discloses.
Resplendent in relative comfort at his “Campus” on Allen Avenue is Malam Akilu, the “vice-chancellor” of his own University of Suya, a widely-patronised roasted meat spot. Akilu, like Akindele, admits that contracts from wedding couples for suya supply has fattened his bank account. “We kill a fresh cow sometimes as demanded by the couple while some just want a whole lap for their suya. Our own service charges start from N20,000, based on what the couple want,” Akilu states. There are so many others like him who make barbecue for wedding couples for a fee.
Lahan, an ice cream and cocktail drink producer stated that, they produce all ranges of drinks from fruits to ice cream and alcohol drinks. Lahan’s business known as Ice Cream has been in existence for the past ten years and it’s been a good business she said. Her drinks are charged per glass and the least of her alcoholic drinks for N65,000 and non-alcoholic for N18,000 for 100 glass.
Staff at wedding registries run by local governments have also devised their own ways of living off the event. As TheNEWS investigation revealed, most of the levies at the registry, whether in cash or in kind, are more for personal enrichment than official bills. The levies include N2,750 for registration, N1250 for form submission, N600 for marriage counselling, two crates of drinks, one carton of biscuit, one carton of the Five Alive juice drink and compulsory payment for photographs, whether they are snapped or not. When it is considered that some registries host more than 10 weddings in a weekend, the overall returns become something to cheer for the staff. A source at the Ikeja Registry, Lagos, confides that the relevant staff share the money and items among themselves. Some of the staff, especially middle-aged women, the source says, are known to be running petty businesses elsewhere selling the shared items.
With the business of wedding growing bigger comes the need for neat, spacious halls for receptions and the “partying” that normally follows. Entrepreneurs with a keen eye for business are meeting this need. In major towns in the country, event halls are springing up in good numbers. The high fees they charge but which wedding couples readily meet every week underline how the volume of the wedding business is really expanding.
At Liberty, a 1500-capacity hall on Lekki-Epe expressway, the charge is N393,750 per event. A cold room attached to it attracts a separate fee of N45,000 per day. The multi-purpose Eko FM hall, owned by Lagos Television, LTV 8, with a capacity for 400 seats, goes for N150,000 for five hours. Every extra hour attracts N25,000. The 9600 sq. ft., 1000-seat capacity open field at the television station with a cooling van goes for N375,000. Eko FM also renders rental of chairs for N350 per dozen and tables for N150 per one. Its canopies are hired for N1,500 for a small size, N2,500 for medium and N3,500 for the big one.
Charges for weddings at The Lagoon on the Ozumba Mbadiwe waterfront, which don’t come cheap, cover the cost of hall and provision of food and drinks as such items are not allowed into the premises. Rent for its Banquet Hall alone is N500,000, N250,000 for the main Restaurant Hall, N150,000 for Souls Sol, N200,000 for Rotunda and N1,000,000 for the waterfront. For every hour spent after the agreed time, fresh charges are billed. It was interesting to learn as this magazine went round last week that about 80 per cent of the event halls are already booked till December.
To further show how seriously entrepreneurs are taking the business of wedding, at least two publishers are in business publishing magazines solely focused on wedding matters. Dupe Ogunlola-Adeniran publishes Wedding Planner, while Bawo Ikomi edits Wedding Fair. Both magazines inform couples where to get what on weddings, where to honeymoon, give tips on make-up, educate on pre-and post-wedding experiences and splash pictures copiously on bridal and groom dresses, rings, cakes and accessories.
Core wedding planners undertake contracts for the entire event and then outsource the various aspects. Mrs. Yemisi Adetola Mafe, who operates at 1 Oloyede Close, Nelson Avenue, Iju, stresses the significance of this kind of arrangement to ensure complete success and relieve the couple of any stress.
With the entire job in the hand of an experienced event planner, she says, the bride and groom could go to sleep and still be sure of a hitch-free event. “We outsource all the services from A to Z. All the couple needs to do is contract our service and tell us what their budget for the wedding is. After that, the couple can just stroll into registry and reception without bothering about hitches,” Mafe assures. Adebola Lewis of Funke Bucknor’s Zapphaire Events, corroborates Mafe’s assertion. Apart from making good money for themselves from wedding events, the various professionals are also contributing to the growth of the economy by being employers of labour.
The workforce in the industry is currently estimated at over 10,000, directly and indirectly. Moreover, they also provide training to numerous apprentices. At Royal Haute Couture, Bimbo Babalola has 20 employees and 10 trainees. House of Tara has a make-up school “where people can improve their skills and set up their own businesses thereafter.” The course fee is N53,500 for the study period. Even the alaga-iduro, as Adeniran discloses, generates some extra earnings for herself training apprentices in the art of talking.