From Theory to Practice

Published on 6th June 2006

Joseph Nthome, a 36 years old Kenyan national, is a farmer based at Ikalaasa village in Eastern Kenya. Following some lessons conducted in his local farmers’ group by African Nazarene University Students in Free Enterprise (ANU-SIFE) on business management, Nthome realized he could do more than farming. Late last year, he opened a laundry shop which he runs at the same time attending to his farm. Nthome visited The African Executive office and shared the following experiences:

Excerpts:

Q. Tell us more about yourself

A. I am married with three sons. After my O level education, I came to Nairobi in search of a job and landed one at Flex International and later at All Pack industries. After being employed for around three years, I realized I could earn more than what I was earning by farming. My farm was lying idle then; I quit my job and resorted to farming.

Q. What crops do you grow?

A. I grow cereals mainly, but of late I have begun planting fruits.

Q. Were you affected by the drought?

A. Yes. I had no crops in the field. During this time ANU-SIFE came to our area and taught us business management. From the knowledge I acquired I realized anyone could open a business. I opened my laundry shop that has helped me acquire a little more money.

Q. Why a laundry shop and not any other?

A. I noticed that most business people in Ikalaasa took their clothes all the way to Machakos town, which is over 40kms from my village, for laundry since there was only one laundry shop. The business does not require much start up capital too.

Q. How much was your starting capital?

A. Approximately Ksh.500. I paid Ksh.200 for the room and bought basic necessities such as basins/buckets, soap and water which I buy on daily basis.

Q. How did you market yourself?

A. I identified people who took their clothes to Machakos town and convinced them that I could clean their clothes. I also approached a few business people in Ikalaasa and explained the virtues of looking clean. Water is a scarce commodity in my area hence I convinced them how much they would save by making use of my services. For all customers, I washed their clothes at no cost at first.

Q. Do you pay any money to the government?

A. Yes, Ksh. 40 on market days only to the county council.

Q. How many customers do you attend to in a day?

A. This varies. On market days I have more customers than the other days. On average I attend to 20 customers on market days and 7 customers on normal days.

Q. What type of customers do you attend to?

A. Both male and female from several age groups belonging to different socio-economic status. I do not have specific customers.

Q. Are you making profit?

A. Yes. I make up to Ksh.500 on market days. Other days I make between Ksh.100-300.

Q. Do you have any employees?

A. Not yet. For now I am all alone. My wife assists me though. I hope to employ some when I expand.

Q. Do you have any competitors?

A. Yes, only one.

Q. What value do you add to your work to capture customers?

A. I iron their clothes.

Q. How do you combine farming and laundry?

A. I balance the two. I work half day in the farm and the other hours in the laundry except on market days that is Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are many customers then.

Q. What challenges do you face?

A. Meeting deadlines. At times I am too overwhelmed with work to be able to attend to the customers as they would like. I operate on a first come first served basis. There are customers who bring their clothes at 2pm and want them by 7pm yet I already have a queue to process. I end up delaying to give back his clothes. Secondly, some customers accumulate debts; I am forced to go in person to request for the payments. Lastly, some customers take too long to come and pick their clothes and since I do not have enough space to store them, I am forced to deliver them in their homes.

Q. Have you heard a chance to get feedback from your customers?

A. Yes. So far they are okay with my work. They only complain when I delay to finish their work.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. I intend to improve my services by buying a dry cleaning machine. On farming I want to start adding value to the farm products especially on pawpaws by making juice and jam. I am already planting them in large quantities. Since I already have skills, I am saving money to purchase the fruit processing equipment.

Q. What would you say about Kenya today?

A. The gap between the rich and the poor is too big. In my village, I see families that have no basic needs. They sleep hungry and have no clothing, yet in the same village we have people living a lavish life. From my own assessment lack of exposure is the main problem. These poor people have land and a few of them have businesses such as groceries, but they lack the skills to manage their farms and businesses.

Q. Are you making any effort to assist them?

A. Yes. I belong to Ikalaasa farmers Network where we learn from each other and we usually share this with our village mates.

Q. What advice would you give?

A. People must identify their problem and work it out. In Ukambani we experience water scarcity. If we had water, we would not have poverty in this region. I am engaged in water harvesting in tanks and shallow benches that retain water, therefore crops around the benches are sustained with water for some time. For the upcoming investors, there are opportunities out there and it is up to you to look for them.


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