5 June 2007

Nigeria: For Sandcrete Block Making, Demand Outstrips Supply

Lagos — SANDCRETE block making is a business worth investing into. Like every other business venture, sandcrete block making is capable of yielding good returns on investment as well as providing a means of livelihood for the unskilled to cater for themselves and their families. And, like every successful business enterprise, the business must be well run to achieve its desired goals, even on a small scale.

For Ibrahim Abdullahi, who has been in the business of sandcrete block making using vibrating block making machine to produce vibrated blocks, for about three years now, the business is quite rewarding, adding that because more construction activities are springing up on daily, the business promises to be better with the break of every dawn. "The business is good and nice. In fact, in terms of patronage, the business is highly patronized. In most cases, the demand is more than we supply to those who want our blocks.

"The reason for the high patronage is that construction activities have continued to be on the increase. This is so because everybody now wants to live in his or her personal house, no matter how small and where the house is located. This has made the demand for blocks to continually be on the increase. We are not able to meet the demand of our numerous customers because everybody is working at the same time. As a result of shortage of man power on our part, we cannot meet up with their requests.

"There is shortage of man power because it is not easy to have a large number of reliable workers who will stay with you for a long time. The five workers we have here are from Cotonou. We got them through somebody in Cotonou, and you know it is not easy to travel to Cotonou every day in search of unskilled labour. These ones we have here are still with us because we treat them well. If we do not treat them well, they could have deserted us, after all, there are so many block making sites around where they can do the same thing they are doing for us here.

"Also, those of us in this business who are still at the small scale level cannot afford more than one delivery truck to deliver blocks to our customers. And, in a situation where about three or more people want to be supplied blocks at the same time, you discover that there is no way we can meet up. Sometimes, we appeal to some of our customers to bear with us by supplying them late. But, the situation becomes generally helpless if the only truck breaks down, meaning that we cannot supply blocks to anybody for the period the vehicle will be off the road", Ibrahim said.

Describing the business as seasonal, Ibrahim, who disclosed that his mother owns the business tagged Oluwaponmile Entreprise, said the business enjoys more boom during the dry season than the rainy season. According to him, construction activities are always at their peak during the dry season than during the rainy season, pointing out, however, that money is the major determining factor in construction activities. He stressed that for those who have the money, they can embark on housing projects any time of the year, whether during rainy or dry season, which means good business for sandcrete block producers.

"There is more boom in the business during the dry season than during the rainy season. This is because construction activities are more during the dry. In the same vein, because the rains disrupt construction activities, the demand for blocks is usually very low. There are, however, exceptional cases where some rich people commence housing projects during rainy season, which means good business for us", he said.

But, as viable as the business is, Ibrahim said there are constraints. According to him, one of such constraints is the wrongful supply of un-specified sand which is the major raw material for sandcrete blocks making. He said there is nothing as disastrous to the business as wrong application of sand for blocks making, as all blocks made from the sand will end up being broken to pieces.

Ibrahim, who noted that new comers into the business are usually the ones making the mistake of using wrong sand to produce blocks because of their inexperience, said such new comers into the business do not often last in the business. "They cannot last in the business because, if they produce blocks of low quality, they cannot attract patronage, and when there is no patronage, you will be frustrated, and once you are frustrated, you have no other option than to quit the business. "But, for those of us who have been in the business, from experience, we know the right sand from the wrong one when we see them. At the stage of supply, it is better to tell the supplier to return the wrong sand than to use it to produce blocks out of ignorance which will amount to total waste at the end of the exercise", he said.

Ibrahim also stated that the break down of the block making machines and delivery trucks is another problem facing the business, as such break downs will cripple the business within the period. He pointing out that shortage of man power is yet another constraint confronting the business.

On the future of the business, Ibrahim said the future is very bright because people will always want to own their houses, adding that "as long as people are thinking of building their own houses, it means one is in business, which is a bonus for block makers. If you go to any new site now, you will be amazed at the rate at which private properties are springing up. And I know that the trend will continue because everybody's prayer, today, is for them to move into their personal houses. This means that the future of our business is more than bright", he said.

For those aspiring to go into the business, Ibrahim says they need to have a piece of land as factory site, one vibrating block making machine, another machine for mixing of sand, pallets for carrying blocks for drying, five workers, two will be mixers, the other two carriers and one baker. They should, in addition, have a borehole, as water is indispensable in the business. On the average, they require about N150,000 as take off capital, which includes the cost of all items except land.

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