Vincent Mclarn is not your quintessential businessman; while others could not identify with the business opportunities in the green effort of the Lagos State Government, he saw the opportunities inherent in these parks, applied and was appointed the manager of two frontline parks in the state. In this interview with National Daily’s Funso Omodeleola Mclarn share is thoughts on hospitality business in Nigeria. Excerpts:
WHY did you choose to go into the hospitality business and not other perceived lucrative business ventures?
A couple of years ago I was privileged to relocate from Nigeria to the United States of America where I lived, worked and raised a family. I left Nigeria because my locality then; Surulere in Lagos Nigeria was a hostile environment, where robberies take place at will; I witnessed five robberies and lost two friends to violent attacks in the area. Insecurity was the major reason why I left Nigeria to a place where life makes sense, where things worked; but I never forgot about home.
I recently relocated back to Nigeria to contribute to nation building. Investing in the hospitality business is as a result of experiences I gathered before I took my leave of the country, while there in the US and when I returned back to Nigeria.
Nigerians by nature we are our brother’s keepers and we are highly industrious people. We cannot continue to complain about government not working, school systems not working, religious systems not working and stay aloof refusing to contribute our quota; burying our heads in the sands. Majority of Nigerians are living in hell, while very few are living in bliss and luxury. I went into the hospitality business because I care to spread the good life; hence the establishment of Uncle Vinnie’s hospitality brand.
What is the sum total of Uncle Vinnie’s offerings?
Fun and food, good fun and good food; in the area of food what we do here is unique we offer our patrons healthy meals. We extract fat from our food and give Nigerians that carbohydrate food we eat and cherished as Africans.
Uncle Vinnie’s is showcasing African food to the world and one of the strategies we are adopting is presentation. We have Chinese foods making inroads into the palates of the peoples of the world. This can be achieved with African foods. Our establishment is exposing Nigeria meals in a very good way and brining fun into it.
In the area of fun we discovered that Nigerian families hardly have a decent environment for a family time out. Every one now rely on electronic platforms to socialise. Most children are not happy anymore, spouses communicate through social media platforms, outdoor life is becoming extinct.
This is why we are offering a healthy environment for family bonding by securing the right to the Ndubisi Kanu Park. The park is an oasis of leisure where we have green garden, walkways, swings and slide castle, basket ball court, restrooms and sitting arcades where our patrons can sit to relax and observe nature. We are also working on provision of wireless internet services in this area we are talking to Swift Network.
Giving the fact that outdoor culture is dying in Nigeria what are the strategies in place to bring patronage?
Things are not absolute; Nigerians are outgoing people they only have limited choices when it comes to outdoor leisure facilities, look at the Shoprite shopping malls in Lagos, residents of Lagos are trouping there not necessarily to make purchases, but they go there for leisure time out. Apapa Amusement Park used to be packed out; there was a time football matches are sold out in this country.
Even women love to visit neighbourhood football pitches but the environment is not encouraging and not conducive as smokers litter these pitches.
Our park the Ndubisi Kanu Park is a no smoking park; this makes it an ideal family park, a healing arena for leisure. We just got the approval of the Lagos State Government to manage the VGC Park in Lekki; by 2016 the park will be the best place to go for leisure in Lagos State.
Green leisure parks is the business forte of Uncle Vinnie’s why?
I returned to Nigeria while consulting for Microsoft I noticed the establishments of green parks by the Lagos State Government under the immediate past Governor Mr. Babatunde Fashola and being managed by the Lagos State Park Agency LASPARK under the astute leadership of Mrs Anibaba.
I am aware that parks outside of Nigeria are leased to managers as I travelled round the State I knew these parks being put in place will require good managers. I saw and quickly seized the opportunity; hence I applied and was granted the Ndubisi Kanu Park in Ikeja as our pilot leisure park in the State and now the VGC Park in Lekki.
Parks as our forte is a deliberate business step; we decided to operate our business in uniquely healthy environments. We are also looking at Agodi Park and Resorts in Ibadan and we are interested in some parks in Abuja.
We specialise in the provision of healthy green outdoor environment where people can socialised and meet real people and not virtual people as we meet and fraternise with on electronic platforms.
Will Uncle Vinnie’s franchise be open to willing entrepreneurs?
Winston Churchill once said “the nose of a bulldog was built backward, so that it can bite and breathe at the same time”.
I am positive person, I have 1001 reasons why I should let go and pack up this business; but I also have one million reasons not to go back to the US and continue with this business. I am sourcing partners who will understand the vision and have the capacity to articulate and interpret the Uncle Vinnie’s dream.
Uncle Vinnie’s franchise will be open and available to local and foreign entrepreneurs.
Is there a plan to have Uncle Vinnie’s comprehensive health farm resort?
I am glad you brought this up; we are planning to establish a green and heritage resort where writers can come in to write in a therapeutic environment, artists can in come to paint and sculpt, corporate organisations can come in for retreat, schools can come in for excursions and where there will be accommodation for family time out.
We will be bringing tropicalized exotic trees and plants that are going into extinction. We will be having a cinema and we hope to challenge Nollywood to produce contents for screening such as documentaries that tell the stories of African legends such as Queen Amina of Zaria, King Jaja of Opobo, Oba Sango of Oyo among others. The world is ready to see Africa. Mahmud Ali Balogun is great with documentaries.
The resort will also have a library and museum and all the apertures of a resort. I was in the Lagos State Governor’s Office recently I saw the picture of old Ikorodu Road we hope to wall these pictures under the “Lagos before and after Project”.
As an entrepreneur are you encouraged by the credit institutions and credit systems we have in Nigeria?
In Nigeria as in most societies if you don’t have a landed property that has title deeds you cannot get funded by credit institutions and systems. Most people with ideas hardly get support to move from point one to point two to even pitch their business plans to would be creditors and investors in the very least.
Nigeria thinkers and would be entrepreneurs have no hands on institutions to identify them and work it out with them. It is not an ideal situation. Whatever business you want to go into in Nigeria you have to start with what you have.
I started Uncle Vinnie’s with meagre resources, I started with two chairs, I went for the best that is available, it cost N3, 500 then but since I am set to offer the best of service I got just two chairs that I can afford. I had no equipment, I lost stock, I had to throw away Chicken and Fish and I had to resort to cook wares from my Kitchen among other measures. My family had to relocate out of Nigeria. I worked it one step at a time.
I am aware that once our cash flow is good marketers from the banks will look for us to do business with us.
As a consultant for Microsoft and other international concerns with the level of intellectual engagement that goes with it; venturing into a hospitality concern is it not a step down for you and your career trajectory?
It is all about service and servitude. I consulted for Microsoft in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland as well as in Nigeria. I learnt a lot from my briefs and the people I had to interact with in the course of these assignments. I am versed in people management.
Remember I earlier said going into the hospitality industry is a function of my experiences; I am a great cook. I grew up with my grandmother; several of us living with her then were boys. I used to help her out in the kitchen and this affords me food in excess that I used to sell my portion to my other siblings. I always have friends come over to my house when I was outside of Nigeria what bring them is my meals.
A combination of my people management and my culinary skills led my going into the hospitality business.
Men are rarely interested in cooking and the kitchen; is there a plan by Uncle Vinnie’s to bring more men into this line of business?
It is no longer rare for men to be in the Kitchen most restaurants have men as their Chefs. There is a man; a Chef who revives dying restaurants all around the world, that is his specialty.
On a personal note I love food and I love good food and I am aware many people love food and good food at that. Cooking is interesting vocation and a big business.
Uncle Vinnie’s is putting in place a catch them young cooking module for the younger man. Here they will learn how to make Pizza and Burger; they will learn how to grill Chicken and Fish. Whatever they make here they take it home, we will make cooking interesting for the younger man. We will give them our aprons, they will take pictures.
Younger Nigerian men should get into the cooking business because it is highly profitable and it takes little capital to start out with.