Mother of two and founder of Dezionite International Ltd, Mercy Ikeji, launched her interior design and cleaning services company with the help of Shell LiveWIRE Nigeria in 2010.
In 2009, while searching on the Internet for a job to enable her to fund her education, Mercy spotted an advertisement for Shell LiveWIRE and seized the chance to combine her passion for sewing and interior design with the development of business skills, to start-up her own interior design business. The Shell LiveWIRE programme enabled Mercy to develop a viable business plan and provided her with a N250,000 (US $1,240) start-up grant.
Commenting on the initial support she received from Shell LiveWIRE, Mercy said, "I learned the business skills and entrepreneurial concepts from Shell LiveWIRE. I didn't know about writing a business plan, or the principles of starting a business, nor the critical steps in financial management. Shell LiveWIRE equipped me with these essential skills.
"The seed capital I received from Shell LiveWIRE enabled me to open my first shop and I kept expanding from smaller to bigger shops. I also branched out into providing cleaning services based on the teaching we received, which advised us that the ability to generate multiple streams of income is key to business success and sustainability.”
Mercy provides a range of professional interior design and cleaning services to domestic and commercial clients throughout the Niger Delta, and the business has grown from a one woman enterprise to employing 13 staff, with offices in Port Harcourt and Lagos.
The business has also grown from producing soft furnishings for the home such as curtains, bed sheets and blinds to providing corporate gifts, wall papers, 3D wall murals and cleaning services for a growing list of domestic and commercial clients. In fact, the high quality of Mercy's services has enabled her to become a registered Shell supplier.
Dezionite's impressive performance to date, along with its prospects for growth, have been recognised through the Shell LiveWIRE programme, and Mercy has received additional funding of N5m (US $24.8k) to expand her business.
Another boost for Mercy's business came last year in the form of a Shell LiveWIRE Let's Go Trade grant, which enables young entrepreneurs to undertake international trade visits that will potentially open up new markets and accelerate innovation within their businesses. Mercy received US $3,000 which enabled her to visit Dubai in order to experience best practice within the commercial cleaning sector, and design trends within the interiors industry, along with the opportunity to source cost-effective suppliers.
One of the most valuable insights she gained during her visit to Dubai, was during a visit to one of the world's largest cleaning companies, which uses wireless security cameras as a means of establishing trust between the company and its clients. Mercy has introduced the same technology into her business, and the feedback from clients has been extremely positive.
Commenting on her Let's Go Trade visit, Mercy said, "It enabled me to create an international concept for my business, and the use of the cameras gives my customers peace of mind. It's enabled me to attract many new clients too, who were perhaps sceptical about signing up for cleaning services due to security concerns.
"It's given us a definite edge over the competition, and an international outlook to the business.”
Looking to the future development of her business, Mercy said, "We want to have six branches around Nigeria in places like Owerri, Abuja, Calabar and in the north. We want to employ 1,000 people by 2020.
So, I need to expand, get new branches, and more customers. We need to get 500 cleaning clients and I have it as a daily routine to have marketers working daily to create a new clientele.”
Mercy's ambitions for the expansion of her business have also been backed by the Shell Grofin Enterprise Development Fund, which has provided a N5m loan on the strength of her business model.
In addition to her plans for expansion, Mercy is also committed to improving her community, and has set up a charitable arm called 'Dezionite Helping Hands' to provide local disadvantaged families with items such as clothing, toys, books, furniture and bedding donated by her clients. Also, through the Shell LiveWIRE programme, she is volunteering her time to train and mentor other budding young entrepreneurs.
Said Mercy, "Shell LiveWIRE is the bed rock of my business. It has been essential in helping me to develop a viable business model and providing the seed funding I desperately needed to start my business. The support of my mentor has been invaluable and the access to additional funding will enable me to achieve my expansion plans, to take things to the next level and create even more employment opportunities.”