Simon Kuria believes that to succeed in life, one has to place his hands on many things. Having trained as an accountant in his early twenties, Kuria did not leave it at that. He also trained as a mechanical engineer, electrician and designer. This enabled him to travel and work in several countries in Africa such Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia. It was not until the early 90s that Kuria decided to come back home in Kenya and invest. Following a research on what would be the best thing to put up, he lay his hands on textiles. Today, the 45 year old Kenya national, has not only put up a textile stall but also an Automobile Tyre stall in Nairobi West. The African Executive caught up with him and he had the following to share
A.E: Why textiles and not any other venture?
Kuria: Because that is what I could afford. With my initial capital of Ksh. 1,000, I was able to buy night dresses for sale.
A.E: Where did you get your stock from?
Kuria: Gikomba, an open market about two kilometers from the city centre.
A.E: What was your experience then?
Kuria: Challenging. I had never done this before. However since I like challenges I was not going to give up easily. Different customers have their own expectations, and one has to meet their needs. Secondly, I felt so bad when a customer asked for something I did not have. I bought a book where I recorded all items that customers would ask for. The next time I went shopping, I made an effort to look for them. With time I was able to provide a variety of what they wanted.
A.E: Do you still get your stock from Gikomba?
Kuria: No. I later realized I could get the same things from Kawangware and Kangemi markets, about 4 kilometres away from town, at cheaper prices.
A.E: How often do you go for the stock?
Kuria: This varies. If a certain product is just about to finish, I have to rush and get more.
A.E: What have been your greatest challenges?
Kuria: The Nairobi City Council. I applied for a license in December last year but I have not received it up to date. Since my previous one has expired, I am forced to pay Ksh. 25 everyday to the city council yet they are the ones delaying my license. Secondly, competition is stiff though I look at this as an advantage too since to do business one needs competitors. They make one to be on the look out and provide the best service. Thirdly, the stock at times is not readily available; for example, I may be looking for blue curtains, but after looking for them in several markets I fail to get any.
A.E: So what do you specialize in?
Kuria: Curtains, toilet sets, duvets, night dresses and gowns.
A.E: Who are your target audience?
Kuria: Women as they are the house makers. At times men visit my shop, but that is rare.
A.E: Have you thought of setting up another textile stall?
Kuria: Not yet, instead I have opened Tall Automobile Tyres.
A.E: What do you do at Tall Automobile Tyres?
Kuria: We repair damages made on wheels and at the same time sell tyres.
A.E: How long has this been in operation?
Kuria: One year. I opened it in January 2006. Here I practice the mechanic skills I learnt some years ago. What I did first was I bought a machine from a friend that could repair all damages in the tube. After repairing, one would think its a totally new tube.
A.E: Where is it located?
Kuria: It is adjacent to the textile stall.
A.E: What was your motivation behind this?
Kuria: The need to diversify. I wanted to do something else other than textiles. Again, I would hear some of my customers complaining about punctures and how they needed to see mechanics. So it was an opportunity to offer two services at the same time.
A.E: What was your initial capital in this?
Kuria: About 20,000 from the profit I had made from my textiles sales.
A.E: What is your capital today?
Kuria: For the textiles it is about Ksh.50,000 while for the automobile tyres it is Ksh.100,000.
A.E: How much profit do you make in a day?
Kuria: On a good day I can make up to Ksh.1,000 or more from the two businesses.
A.E: Do you have any employees?
Kuria: I have six in total, whom I pay on commission. They market the businesses and the more clients they bring, the more money they take home.
A.E: How do you market your businesses?
Kuria: I interact a lot with people and let them know what I do. My customers also do it for me. Once I satisfy a customers needs, the customer refers his friends to me.
A.E: Do you think the Youth Enterprise Development Fund that was launched by the Kibaki government is worthwhile?
Kuria: No. I think this is just politics. The current government wants to win votes from the youth. First of all, you cannot give me money and tell me go start a business. I may not have the skills to do mechanics, tailoring and hair dressing. What they should first do is train the youth on their areas of interest then give them capital. Secondly, the issue of giving the capital to a group is not practical. This is likely to bring conflict. I wish they could give money to individuals.
A.E: What your advice to the youth?
Kuria: Work hard and be inquisitive. Do not just sit down and watch.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
Comment on this article!