When one thinks about toys, the most common texture is plastic, but Janvier Niyigena, a father of one, uses wood as the material for the toys he makes as he says it lasts longer and is not easily destroyed.
Now in his early 30s, Niyigena doesn’t regret giving up a career in business management to mould toys for children. He says he not only gets to earn a living, he also ‘makes life meaningful for others’.
He is a self-taught entrepreneur and had no skills in carpentry at the time. So he taught himself how to make the toys and with time, it got easier.
Niyigena spoke to Business Times’Simon Peter Kaliisawho shared more about his career.
Where did you get the idea and how has the journey been so far?
I got the idea after attending an education symposium held at Kigali Serena Hotel in 2013 focusing on Early Child Development (ECD). I realised there was a gap regarding objects that can help in ECD in Rwanda. I also realised that most of the toys readily available on the market were made in foreign countries, and so I took the opportunity.
An employee arranges some of the toys.
First, I thought of having similar toys of the same texture, like those mostly made from plastic. It was not in my means, however, given the capital required and my budget. And so I decided to mould them from wood.
What is the market like?
The market has been moderate as some schools have already reached out to us, but we hope it will not be schools only, parents should buy for their children these toys because they are important for early child development and they are long lasting. The plastic ones break shortly after purchase or in the single playtime of a child.
And the prices?
Prices depend on the quantity, and the size of the toy. We have some that cost Rwf 200 and others Rwf 15,000. They are affordable.
Achievements are many but the most important is that I do not knock at company doors to submit my CV anymore. Also, I have been able to create jobs for more than 14 people.
Some of the wooden toys on display.
Secondly, our products in 2017 were recognised by the Ministry of Education, which means they are allowed to be used in all ECD schools countrywide and in the region.
You have been in this business for more than five years. What challenges have you encountered so far?
As I mentioned at the start, I studied business management. I did not have the basic skills in carpentry, I had to teach myself, and so it was a challenge.
Also, some people do not see the value in what we make; they do not understand the benefits of these toys.
There is also the ever increasing price of our main input, which is wood; the price has been on the high end, which has had a negative effect on the profit level of my business.
What are your future plans in this business?
I look forward to at least each school using our toys and, every parent buying our products. I want to make it a big company, where we will supply products to ECD schools all around East Africa.
What would you tell students who still hope to find employment?
They should try any business as long as it is legally allowed, but they have to give it attention, patience and dedication if they want things to work in their favour. They should also have long-term goals.