Do you need to customise a gift item by engraving a name, a picture, or a symbol on it for that loved one? Are they into shoes, belts, money wallets, jewellery, marble, or any other stones? Look no further, as one young man known by his friends as K.K. Sarpong is using his startup to provide this service in style. He speaks to the B&FT’s Inspiring Startups to tell us why he resigned from a lucrative employment to start his own business.
Stephen Kofi Kyei Sarpong was born and bred in Konongo, Ashanti Region of Ghana. He is a product of Juabeng Senior High School in Ejisu. From there he furthered his education at the University for Development Studies (UDS), from where he graduated with a degree in Environment and Resource Management in 2013. From there, he did his national service with Rig World International Services, an oil and gas company where he was retained as a permanent employee.
Life was comfortable for him in the company as his boss gave him many privileges and opportunities to grow. But Stephen made a decision that shocked some of his friends and family—he resigned.
The build-up to his resignation
Stephen’s uncle owns a shoes and leather accessories shop. One day, he visited his uncle and saw a money-wallet he had imported from Canada. He loved the design and bought three to show his colleagues at work to see whether they would be interested in buying them. When he took them to work, the response was positive—they bought all. Stephen realised it would be a good business so he decided to buy from his uncle, add his own margin and sell at a profit.
Soon, he was advertising the wallets on an online platform – Tisu.com, and they became a sudden hit. He finished all his uncle’s stock of wallets in a few weeks. But Stephen realised just selling the wallets wouldn’t be enough. He wanted to add a value to them that would make them special and much more admired as a gift-item.
He decided to import leather accessories like belts, wallets, among others, and a customise them for clients by making engravings on them with their names, pictures or any symbol they like. It didn’t end there – he added local shoe production to the business.
It was at this point that he communicated to his boss he wanted to resign and start his own business. He responded by motivating him to go ahead, and since then Stephen has taken him as a personal role-model.
LeatherOnCall GH comes alive
After getting that motivation from his boss, he went to India for a few weeks to study about leather and get some training in leather works so that he could give customers the best.
Then, when he came back, he bought a laser machine from China to be used for customising and engraving names and symbols for clients.
The idea behind the startup is to produce and/or sell leather accessories and customise them to make them valuable and unique gift items.
Besides the leather accessories, he makes diary and book covers out of pallets and engraves names and events on them for customers.
Again, he has specialised in using corkwood to make shoes and other leather accessories – something unique in Ghana. In a nutshell, Stephen does everything leather and customises them for clients.
The vision of LeatherOnCall, Stephen says, is to be a leading name in customising gift items of any kind, so that whenever someone thinks of getting a wonderful present for a friend, LeatherOnCall comes to mind.
For Stephen, the biggest challenge is not necessarily finance but the required skill-set to work with. It has become increasingly difficult to get people who are interested in handiworks, especially in Accra, to work with. This pushed him to find people from outside Accra and rent places for them to stay. This is something that has increased his operation’s cost – and it’s taking a toll on his company.
Another thing he considers a challenge is the lack of marketing support platforms for startups. For example, he says, if the fees to register on government platforms like GIPC, among others, are significantly reduced – or even scrapped for startups – it would provide a huge marketing opportunity for them.
The role education has played
For him, education has been of tremendous help to him. It has boosted his confidence level to approach people of all sorts, regardless of their status in the society.
Secondly, it has also improved his communication with his customers, as he is able to professionally communicate with them in a way that always leaves them satisfied.
What help government can offer
As a beneficiary of government’s National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme (NEIP), Stephen considers government support to startups very necessary. He wants government to expand that programme to cover more startups than it is currently doing.
Again, he feels it is important government adds entrepreneurship to the curricular beginning from the basic school level. This, he said, will encourage youths to start saving toward establishing their own business.
Stephen says young people should appreciate humble beginnings. They should be proud of starting small and not thinking of spontaneous success when they start a business.
“It is important to give yourself time for the business to grow by putting the necessary structures in place,” he said.
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