By SONI KANAKE – DAILY NATION: Life & Style.
Not every business idea is good for you and what works for others will not necessarily work for you. Some ideas may require you to tread carefully before implementing. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH
A growing number of women entrepreneurs continue to thrive in the market-place; however, what works for one person may not be another’s breakthrough. Some business plans look good on paper until they are implemented. Some argue it has to do with timing and prevailing trends. Soni Kanake explores.
Agatha has been trying to get a job for the last two years after a retrenchment that left her stranded financially. “I have borrowed money from everyone I know until they must dread my phone calls,” she says. Luckily for her, her brother stepped in to assist and offered to finance any viable business idea she would want to venture into.
As organizations continue to restructure, many women have found themselves in Agatha’s predicament, wondering what business would put food on the table. However, not every idea is good for you and what works for others will not necessarily work for you. We look at a few business ideas that may require you to tread carefully before implementing.
Jacqueline, 30, and her husband have been operating an exhibition stall on Nairobi’s Dubois Road for the last five years. They specialize in women’s accessories, and they target the younger woman, especially college students and the young working-class woman.
“For your business to succeed, you need to know who your clientele is and focus on their needs. Keep yourself updated with all current trends for that particular age-group,” she explains. Exhibition stalls, which all sell the same clothes, handbags and accessories are mushrooming at a high rate and a walk around the city reveals that there are exhibition stalls on every street both downtown and in the central business district (CBD).
In view of this, one would consider this a good venture but wait… “Getting a stall is not as easy as it looks, especially those that are situated in strategic locations like the building entrances,” confesses Jacqueline, who says that the goodwill can be quite prohibitive as it can run into millions. Another common trait with these exhibitions is selling similar products like they all get them from the same source. “Actually they do,” confesses Jacqueline, who now travels to China every two months on average to get new stock.
Often times those who travel buy from the same factories or shops thus importing similar products. “However, if you have customers who can pay more, we source for high-end products,” reveals Cate, who’s been in the business for close to 10 years. Now in her 40s, she too operates from downtown and says it has worked for her. “I tried opening a stall in the CBD but unfortunately I had to close shop after eight months as it wasn’t bringing in any profit,” says Cate. “Over time, my business has evolved from retailing to selling my products in wholesale,” she says.
Most of the upcoming businesswomen cannot afford to travel abroad and Cate and Jacqueline have capitalized on that. They travel regularly and bring stuff for other stall owners. The two who are in a group of other successful stall owners are enjoying the fruit of their sweat though they confess it did not come easy. Starting a stall from scratch is an uphill task and unless you have a really unique product and have enough money to pay for goodwill at a strategic position, it would be advisable to venture into something else, advises Cate. Jacqueline concurs with her and sites the large number of women who open stalls and close shop shortly thereafter. “Women rarely do due diligence and usually assume since it works for the next woman, it will work for them,” she says.
Ras, a hair stylist based in Nairobi’s South B area, has been employed in estate salons for the last 10 years. “The tricky part about an estate salon is you need to keep sourcing for new clientele, especially because people keep moving house,” he notes. Doris, who works in an estate salon in South C says that her boss had to relocate from the shopping centre to cut costs since the customers were complaining of the high charges despite them using quality high-end products.
On the other hand, Steve Kumari, proprietor of The Roots Dreadlock Salon, believes a salon would be more successful in a town. “As a professional, you cannot move to the estate as it will limit your clientele base. When you factor in our roads and negotiating in traffic, people would rather have their hair done in town,” explains Kumari, who’s been in the salon business for 17 years with 10 of those as a salon owner.
How easy is it to penetrate into the salon business successfully, one wonders? “The industry requires one to invest in time and years of experience. You cannot expect overnight success,” says Kumari who was one of the pioneers of modern dreadlocks in East Africa and who also runs a one of a kind dreadlock and natural hair products shop in the city. You have to establish a personal relationship with your clients, he advises.
You have to have the drive and consistency to ensure customers keep coming back, he notes. “The touch has changed. Nowadays women prefer male stylists,” says Kumari. “With so many salons in town and in the estates, opening a salon would no doubt be swimming against the current,” he advises. Also, salon equipment is quite pricey and some salons have diversified into colleges to sustain themselves.
THE TAXI BUSINESS
George Arasa, 38, has been a taxi driver for the last three years. Like most of the earlier generation of cab drivers, he was operating his business mainly by referrals. However, with the emergence of hailing services such as Uber, Taxify and Little Cabs, he has had to diversify. “Initially I would get numerous phone calls from my clients and had to refer some to my friends. Today, though, I cannot remember the last time a client called me,” says Arasa.
A leading cab hailing company recently collaborated with a local bank to loan cars to qualified drivers. “The downside of this, however, is that the drivers are bound by the bank facilities and the cab company. They will also end up paying more for their cars,” explains Arasa, who is fortunate to have his own car.
To qualify to be rider, one has to ensure their paperwork, both for the driver and the car are impeccable. “You then apply to your preferred hailing service of choice and wait for approval,” says Arasa. “Unfortunately most of these companies have temporarily paused approval until further notice as they claim there is an influx of cabs,” he says.
The cyber cafe business has been operational for over two decades. You are bound to find a cyber or two in every estate in the city and you would be spoiled for choice in big towns. However, today almost every young person has a smartphone, which they can use to access the Internet. This has cut the need to make trips to the cyber, not to mention the emergence of affordable Internet in homes.
Gabriel who operates a cyber cafe in Githurai, has 10 computers but admits that rarely are all of them occupied at any given time. “The trends have changed and we don’t have large numbers of people surfing like in the past forcing us to supplement with a printing business,” he notes.
‘Tenderpreneur’ is a word that was coined to refer to supplies businesses acquired through a tendering process. It attracted quite a large number of the youth as the start-up capital wasn’t prohibitive.
“My first tender was supplying mops to our local town council offices,” Mary says, beaming with pleasure. “It was worth Sh20,000,” she continues. However, she realized it was not all rosy. Some of the institutions you supply to can take up to 90 days to pay and often times you really have to keep following up on the payments, says Mary. As a new entrant into the market and with borrowed capital, you realize you cannot sustain the tenders and often times people opt out.
Commonly referred to as ‘mtush’, this has been booming business from way back. “We grew up wearing ‘mtush’ as we were many kids and our parents could not possibly afford to buy us new clothes,” confesses Anna. Like Anna, more and more families opted for second-hand clothes due to their affordability. With a ready market, selling second-hand clothes has been a popular venture over the years and many have thrived from the trade. But with the emergence of EPZ and the manufacturing of affordable and good quality clothing, this could tip the scales.
Sourcing for second-hand clothes is also not a walk in the park. “I have to be at Gikomba Market at the crack of dawn to enable me select the best mtush,” says Mama Agneta, a lady who has educated her four children on the profits from the sale of second-hand clothes. At times one is lucky and you can land on a bale with good clothes while other times you might get clothes that are not good thus going at a loss, she says.
Finding your way around the sprawling Gikomba Market and competing with already established traders could be more than you bargained for. The future of second-hand clothes may be uncertain with East Africa pushing for a second-hand clothing ban in a bid to revive the local textile industry.
Every market has the proverbial mad man and this is evident with the mushrooming of churches of questionable doctrines lately. “On Sundays we can barely hear each other in the house as a result of the new church in our estate, which has loud activities all day,” complains Minnie. She cites a church in one of the neighbouring countries where the pastor sells ‘holy water’ to his congregants.
Yet another pastor asks the female congregants who have trouble conceiving to sleep with him in order to sire children. “Such unscrupulous preachers give Christianity a bad name,” says Minnie. As a result of all the confusion, more and more Christians are resorting to mainstream churches and it would be wise to think twice before venturing into church business.