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Take us back to the beginning

Being a woman entrepreneur in an industry largely dominated by men can be daunting. But not for Lucy Agwunobi, the co-founder of Arredo by TRT – a Nigerian company that designs and manufactures high-end furniture. It was the thrill of breaching uncommon boundaries that first attracted Agwunobi to study architecture and to later start her own business in the male-dominated furniture industry.

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Agwunobi’s journey to conquer the Nigerian furniture industry began as a child whose love for design and beautiful homes spurred her to later study architecture at the University of Nigeria. After graduation in 2005, Agwunobi worked as a project architect for a furniture company for two and a half years to gain practical experience before going back to school to pursue a master’s in architecture. In 2010, Lucy teamed up with her newly-wed husband, Jonathan Agwunobi, to co-found Arredo by TRT.

She says her husband was instrumental in them starting at the time they did. “I kept thinking we needed capital and more experience. But he told me that I was ready and we could do it. After we got the first contract, I became more confident,” she says. Unlike most entrepreneurs who struggle to find capital to launch their business, Agwunobi says Arredo by TRT was launched without capital. This is because the business model demanded clients to pay a certain percentage upfront before the completion of a project.

“Our model is not retail,” Agwunobi explains. “You don’t come into the store and buy it off the shelf. Our model is ‘made-to-measure’. So we didn’t need much capital; we had experience and drive and that’s all anyone needs.” The need for experience becomes clear when Agwunobi explains that little avoidable mistakes could cost a business the entire budget of any project. These mistakes would be, for example, not documenting your client’s colour choice (instead of just taking the instructions verbally), labelling errors in the production drawing as well as ignorance of industry standards and appropriate wood choice.

Although Agwunobi concedes that they made a couple of bad decisions and lost some money in the early years of the business, they were able to pull through with their ability to “learn fast and keep on going”.

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