Beating Phone Phonies

Published on 13th June 2006

Steve Kimani
After obtaining a Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from The Kenya Polytechnic, Steve Kimani, a 27 year old Kenyan national, landed a job at Com 21 and later Networking Communication. After four years of employment he quit his job and opened his own Phone shop. Pentapharm Phone shop, based at Nairobi city centre, has been his source of income since 2004. Steve shares his work experiences with The African Executive.

Excerpts:

Q. What motivated you to open a phone shop?

A. My employers at Com 21 and Networking Communications were very young, and ambitious. They were 26 and 27 years old respectively. This made me believe that I could also do it. Also, the demand for the cell phones was very high and I was sure I would get customers. Lastly, customers encouraged me to do so. They had faith in me. I remember back then customers were asking me to open my own Phone shop.

Q. What was your role at Com 21? 

A. I was a technician.

Q. How did you acquire the skills yet telephony was new in Kenya?

A. Com 21 hired some expertise from South Africa who trained us on mobile telephony and repairs for two weeks before we could start offering the services. After being there for one and a half years, I got a better deal with Networking Communications, where I worked for another one and half years. I decided to quit and open my own Phone shop. 

Q. Tell me about Pentapharm Phone shop?

A. We opened it in 2004 together with one of my colleagues at Networking Communications. I work there fulltime while my partner is part time. He still works for Network Communications.

Q. What exactly do you offer? 

A. We sell cell phones, spare parts and do repairs.

Q. How do you manage to combine selling and repairing?

A. I have hired someone who sells the phones, spare parts and attends to customers while I do the repairs. If I am not too busy, which is rare, I assist her. 

Q. What are your terms of agreement with the distributors? 

A. No distributor offers phones on credit. We too have adopted that policy; we do not provide any service on credit. It gets risky because some customers may never pay their debts. 

Q. What challenges do you face?

A. The major challenge is on capital because the demand for cell phones is high. People want the latest phones in the market which are quite expensive. Marketing ourselves and convincing customers that we have is what they really want is not that easy. When we opened the shop, we lacked management skills and this forced us to seek advice and pursue business management classes. Competition is stiff because there are so many phone shops in town. Lastly, at times customers buy phones and return them after one or two days claiming that they are faulty. We end up giving them other phones but on further scrutiny, we realize that the returned phones are okay. At the end of it all we make losses since we cannot resell the phone.

Q. Where do you take such phones?

A. We give them to customers to use temporarily as we repair their phones.

Q. How do you fight your competitors?

A. We maintain our standards by ensuring that we offer a one year warranty and at times we provide free repair services after the end of the warranty period. We ensure that we have new products. We are truthful to our customers. We offer only original products and advice them on whether to repair the phone or get a new one. Unfortunately most customers go for cheap products which in most cases are fake and can only last a customer three months.

Q. Describe your working day 

A. I wake up at 5am to watch Sky News TV up to 6.30am; I then prepare myself to go to the shop which I open at 8am. By 9am, I am already receiving phones for repair. I ensure I am through with all the phones by 5pm, and I leave to attend my evening classes at the Kenya Polytechnic where I am doing my advanced Diploma. After my classes at around 7.30pm, I go back to the shop up to 8.30pm thereafter I go home. 

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

A. Nearly 50.

Q. Any message to customers? 

A. Yes, they should always know that if a phone is faulty the chances of it being fine is 60%. They should also take note of who they take their phones to for repairs. There are too many people out there claiming that they repair phones; yet, they mess it up or interchange the gadgets in the phone with old ones. In less than two weeks, the phone is worse than it was. One is forced to buy a new phone, an ordeal that would have been unnecessary.

Q. What are your future plans?

A. Open a mobile communication centre where I can offer consultation services on mobile telephony and at the same time sell phones, spare parts and do repairs.  

Q. Do you have any regrets?

A. No

Q. Any message to upcoming entrepreneurs?

A. Be ambitious and do much in what you know you can excel best in since you know yourself better.


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