Ice Code has become a household name in the country today in the area of providing drinks for guests at different events. In this interview with SAKIBU OLOKOJOBI, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Ice Code Services, Eniola Akirijan, speaks on how the business started and what has distinguished it from others. Excerpts:
For how long has Ice Code been in existence and what’s your area of specialty?
We’ve been on for about seven years now and we are into drinks for parties, seminars and other events that may require drinks. Basically we buy drinks for our clients, whether for marriage, burial, birthday and other events. We buy, we ice and we serve drinks at parties. We do for seminars too or any other event you can think of.
How did you come into the business?
It was not a business I planned to go into from the onset. It just came about out of what my husband, Martin Akirijan, of blessed memory did for pleasure. Whenever he was going to parties, he would have a cooler of drinks kept away in the boot of his car. On getting to parties, if the drinks were not coming at the right time or not enough, he would bring out the ones in the boot and share with friends. So, after his demise, I was doing the same thing. Then, one of my friends, a lady, said I could make a living from it by taking the idea some steps further. I gave it a thought and I tried it as a business. The outcome is what we have today – Ice Code. That was how it all started.
How would you describe the outcome of the experiment and what have the reactions been like?
It has been awesome, it has been alarming. I have a large clientele; Ice Code has become a household name now and there is hardly a party in Lagos or Nigeria that you don’t feel the presence of Ice Code. It has been really beautiful.
You said it was not what you set out to do initially. What were you doing before Ice Code?
I am a Mass Communication graduate. I studied Mass Communication at the Ogun State Polytechnic. I worked for a while at Vanguard newspaper and later went into general business of buying and selling. After my husband died, it was not so easy; the challenges were just too high such that I could not cope with the responsibilities of the home and the children. So, when my friend sold the idea to me, I worked on it and today to God be the glory.
What are the major challenges, considering the competitive nature of the business, the economy and other factors?
One of the major challenges of the business, that is, the drink business, is the unstable prices of drinks. It is a volatile market. At times you tell a client that a particular drink is this amount, he pays you and you get to the market only to find out that the cost of the drink has gone up. You find it hard to go back to the client to tell him or her that the price has gone up. He may not be able to pay the difference. So many other challenges, but God has been there to help us overcome them.
Also, the competition in the industry is so high, very stiff. You find out all manner of people coming into it and it is largely dominated by men. When they see a woman doing it, it is like challenging to them and I don’t know… May be they feel uncomfortable or threatened.
On your part, how does it feel like doing a job that is male-dominated?
It is so good because I’m passionate about what I do. I’m not bothered about who is into it, whether male or female. I love what I am doing and that is what is important. One thing that has stood Ice Code out is the sincerity with which we do the business. I have integrity and a name to protect. I carry out my business with those things in mind and I have benefitted immensely from that. There are occasions where our client would say: “Oh, madam you have done a good job and you are returning drinks to us! Oh, nobody has ever done that to us.” We return the left over drinks as a part of our sincerity. I am passionate about what I’m doing.
Apart from the integrity aspect, how else have you carved a niche for yourself or Ice Code in the industry?
I must say the issue of integrity is one major aspect and we are widely applauded for that. It is a niche that can’t be overlooked. Besides, we have taken our business with utmost seriousness such that we display good ability to take challenges and deliver promptly. So far, nobody has said anything negative about Ice Code. Without sounding as though blowing our trumpet, I must say it has been kudos and kudos all the way. I would say that is partly responsible for the growth the business has enjoyed over the years.
Do you supply only drinks produced in the country or you supply imported ones too. I’m asking this considering the government’s policy that is not supportive of the importation of such products.
In this aspect, a lot depends on the client. If the client can afford it we go for it. Having said that, I must say that mostly we use imported drinks. We use those produced in the country as well. If the client can afford it, why not? We buy for them. Infact they give us specific brands to buy for them; we cost and deliver.
Why did you go the drinks way, considering the other aspects of events planning and related services?
Like I said, it was something that we had been doing, but not for business until my friend gave me the push and I keyed into it. That was after the death of my husband. Like I said, it came from the background of us taking extra drinks to parties for ourselves and our friends. That was the background. It was about drinks. I did the first one for commercial purpose and it was excellent. I discovered that I enjoyed doing it because I got great responses. That gave me the urge to go deeper into it.
Which is your biggest engagement so far?
There are many of them. The 70th birthday of King Sunny Ade was a big one. Last month, the MD of Fine Coat Paint buried his dad and it was a large crowd. The portion I handled was about 3,000 guests. There was another member of the House of Representatives that buried his father. The size of the guests was massive – more than 4,000 guests. We were able to handle it and we did it successfully. Another is the 25th coronation anniversary of the Kabiyesi of Ajiran. The crowd was overwhelming and it is one of the different events that I always feel great about. There are so many others.
What are your regrets going into the business?
Regret? Yes, my regret is that I did not start it long before I did. I wish I had started it long before my husband passed on. I wish I had started long ago. But in my opinion, if my husband were alive, he wouldn’t have allowed me to go into the business.
What are your memorable moments doing the job?
A lot of it. Getting compliments, getting hugs at the end of it with many saying “we cannot imagine how this event would have been without your services.” That keeps me going.
What’s your advice for those planning to come into the business?
They should have passion for the job. That is very important. They should be truthful about what they are doing on the job. It helps a lot.
What is your opinion about the future of the business?
The future is very bright. Every day, there are parties, there are occasions. There is no day you don’t have people celebrating one event or the other – there are naming ceremonies, old people are dying and you are celebrating life; you are having big birthdays and other events. So, the future is very bright. It is a continuous thing.
How big is your clientele?
So large that I cannot give a full list here. We have members of Ikoyi Club, members of Island Club and many more. We do big and small parties. We do end of the year parties, customers forum and other events. We go into them. Anything that has to do with drinks and water, we are into it.