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Saturday, 24 March 2018

How I built a multimillion naira business in a wheelchair – Lagosian

Stanley Nnoruga is the Chief Executive Officer of Stanzo Collections, a fashion importation company based in Lagos. Confined to the wheelchair as a teenager, he told The Punch's Eric Dumo how he has managed to fulfill his childhood dreams despite his disability

You were not born with disability, how did you end up in a wheelchair? 
I was born and raised like every other normal child in the society. At the time of my birth and several years after then, I had no disability. But it was around 2003 while in secondary school that I began experiencing difficulty in moving my legs.

What was the cause of this difficulty and how did this affect your development, especially education? 
I was later told that I had Muscular Dystrophy, a disease that results in increasing weakening and breakdown of skeletal muscles, leaving sufferers without the ability to walk. The news came to me like a bomb.

The condition indeed affected my growing up in many ways as a young boy, especially in the aspect that I could no longer play well with friends the way I used to. I loved playing football, attending parties, participating in church activities and also dancing, I couldn’t do any of those anymore. It was a painful transition for me because my life completely changed.

But because the situation wasn’t as bad then as it is now, I had no problem going on with my education. I graduated from the university in 2012 and proceeded for my National Youth Service Corps Programme the following year.

Apart from that, I have certificate in Java and C# programming languages which I acquired during my industrial training. This has gone a long way to help me in life today.

Even though you are into importation business today, what dreams did you nurse as a child? 
I wanted to be a mechanical engineer but after I lost my ability to walk, I had to have a rethink and decide on going for a computer-related course. This choice was based on the fact that I needed a career path where I wouldn’t encounter too much difficulty as a result of my disability. I wanted something I could sit at home and do, that was the reason why I decided on this. I thank God today that decision had paid off.

Did you experience any sort of deprivation as a child? 
The only form of deprivation I can say I experienced while growing up was the fact that my condition denied me the privilege of going on school excursions with fellow students. But aside this, I would say there was no deprivation.

I was raised in the Ogba area of Lagos and childhood was fun for me. Until I lost my ability to walk and became isolated from many of my friends, it was really interesting growing up. But after that incident, I was forced to spend most of my time indoors.

Even though my parents were strict, they treated me with love and never discriminated against me. Also, they made us fight for our own success in life despite their relative wealth. We were never pampered, so we appreciated everything that came our way through hard work. It was this training that has helped me to become the man I am today.

But then on a personal level, I have had to deal with a lot of stigma from the public. As a matter of fact, I have been turned down on several occasions while trying to look for work as a result of my condition. I have been able to handle all of these through the grace of God. I am no longer ashamed to go out because I know and believe that God has a purpose for me.

Have there been times when people tried to take advantage of you as a result of your physical condition? I experience this a lot. In fact on several occasions while driving on the road, people who hit my car drive off after realising that I cannot walk. They know that I cannot come down from my car to confront them, so they simply drive off without even apologising to me. There are several instances apart from this.

You run a thriving importation business today, how did you get into it? 
I have always wanted a business I could do right from my room and make good cash as a result of my disability. I came into the business in 2012 after graduating from the Anambra State University. I realised that with my condition, working for someone else would throw a lot of challenges on my path and make my life more difficult. There are hardly facilities in our society for people living with disabilities, this and other factors I considered before arriving at my decision.

So, I decided to start a small business from home and be my own little boss. I spent several nights doing research on what to do with my NYSC allowance. One day, I stumbled on an idea on the Internet on how to import certain items with small capital. So, with my small allowance, I followed the idea step by step and successfully imported 15 pairs of female wristwatches which were new in Nigeria at the time. This was in February 2014. I sold all the wristwatches almost immediately and made more than 100 per cent profit. I thereafter used both the profit and capital and imported more of the items, the result was amazing.

After several months of importing wristwatches, I added female handbags, before I knew what was happening, money was all over me. This was how my company and brand was founded.

So, what have been some of the biggest challenges running a business of this magnitude in a wheelchair? It has not been an easy experience, I must confess. Without the help of my brothers and some friends that always assist me in going to the airport to clear my goods and also helping to arrange them at my warehouse, I wouldn’t have come this far. A lot of times they are the ones who help me attend to clients.

There are several other challenges but through the grace of God and my knowledge of online marketing, it has not been difficult selling my ware on and offline.

You recently got married, how did you meet your wife and how were you able to convince her to marry you? I met my wife in December 2015 when she saw off her brother to a party in my compound. Later that day, she came to our flat to charge her phone and so from there, we got talking. I was seated then, so she didn’t know that I had issues with walking. One day in February 2016, she decided to come and pay me a visit; that was when she realised I couldn’t walk. She wept but summoned the courage to stick with me after I explained that I wasn’t born that way.

However, when I told her I wanted to marry her, it became a bit tough. But despite reservations from her family members, she later accepted to marry me. I look back today and I am grateful to God for bringing her into my life. She has not only brought sunshine into my life, she has also given me a million reasons to approach each day with renewed hope and vigour in life.

There are many people living with disabilities in Nigeria today who think that is the end of life, how can such persons make the best out of their situations? 
For such persons, I would say they should look no further if they require any proof that God can make anything possible in life. As an individual, I have never allowed my disability to limit my aspirations in life; instead I have allowed it to be my driving force.

I know there are so many odds against people living with disabilities in Nigeria, they must not be intimidated by these challenges but instead use that to push towards success in every aspect of life.

How do you think the society can make life better for people with special needs? 
The truth is that people with disabilities are largely on their own in this part of the world. Government over the years has hardly done anything tangible to make life easier for persons in this category.

However, one of the ways I think this can improve is if government can mandate all public and private firms especially banks and other government offices to create access ramps for those of us in wheelchair. Also, firms must be mandated to employ one or two persons with disability. This way, we’ll be able to provide equal opportunities for all and make the society a better place.

What would you say are some of the biggest lessons disability has taught you? 
Disability has taught me how to buy goods from China and to my warehouse right from my bed. It has taught me how to build something from nothing.

Also, I have been able to broaden my knowledge of e-Commerce and importation as a result of my disability. Maybe if I hadn’t been in a wheelchair, I could have been working for someone else and never find fulfilment in life. But because God destined it this way, I am finding fulfilment in everything I do and adding value to the society. I am grateful to God for where He is still taking me to.

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