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Hotelier grows small gift shop into a weddings brand

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Mrs Liz Mwania, the founder of Top Bride Collections, shows a bridal outfit for sale at her shop in Nairobi

She converted her husband’s garage into a working station. With the Sh100,000 she had saved from her former employer, Liz Mwania embarked on a venture that has defied many challenges to pay off.

“I am a hotelier by profession as I studied front office management at Utalii College and finished in 1998. In 2010, a friend challenged me to start my own business and after several attempts, I founded Top Bride Collections in 2011 and  haves never looked back,’’ she told the Business Daily at a recent business forum dubbed Biashara Expo in Nairobi last week.

A risk-taker with a sharp nose for opportunities, Mrs Mwania shifted her business from home to small rental room in Kitengela town as the number of client’s increased.

“I wanted to identify myself as a brand. At that time I was baking cakes both for weddings and birthdays from this temporary shed. The returns were good but the need for expansion was inevitable,’’ she says with nostalgia.

At that time, a client came to her seeking a wedding gown and within two days, a friend informed her of a sale in Buruburu where wedding gowns were on offer. Her husband gave her Sh20, 000 to buy the items.

“Most people prefer to hire gowns for the big day. From our first client we made Sh15, 000 but got more referrals that enabled our enterprise to thrive and gain credibility in the market,’’ said Mrs Mwania, a mother of three.

Orders soon started flowing in, particularly from corporate customers.

The more the number of clients increased, the more urgent the need to hone her skills became. She subsequently applied for a one-year refresher course at Kenya Wedding Centre where she graduated in August this year.

“Currently we offer a complete wedding package that include gowns, tuxedos for hire and sale, tents and undertake corporate catering  as well as cakes for various occasions,’ ’ said the shrewd entrepreneur.

In a good month she handles between 10 to 12 weddings with charges depending on the number of guests.

“For 300 people we charge Sh550, 000 for a whole package including food, drinks and tents. We have 30 gowns that we have been hiring out for wedding’s,’’ says Mrs Mwania.

But the journey has not been easy. High prices of commodities have pushed up prices of cakes, with most clients choosing to go for cheaper ones. But she cites quality as one of the mainstays of her business.

“People want value for their money. We strongly believe that quality and honesty are the cornerstones of any successful venture. The two underscore the reputation of a business and also define its fate,’’ she said .

But Mrs Mwania says she has not reached the peak of business and has diversified her enterprise. She also lets out designer suits for special occasions, including job interviews.

“There are people out there who cannot afford a suit even for an abrupt interview. We saw an opportunity here and the initiative has been paying off. The charges range from Sh2, 500 to Sh3, 500 depending on the type of suit the client wants.”

Diversification has drawn in more business deals. Top Bride Collections moved from Kitengela to Nairobi’s central business district as demand grew.

“We needed more visibility since most of our clients are in urban areas. Although the competition is stiff, we have made enviable gains given the few years we have been in the market.’’

She notes that the industry’s future is bright and promising since weddings will not go out of fashion any time soon. What keep changing are the clothes . Although emerging fashion trends have made wedding expensive, couples are not deterred by the costs associated with the function.

“We import our gowns from South Africa because that is what most of our clients ask for. In any business, customer’s preferences dictate what to sell,’’ she said
Top Bride Collections targets both middle-class and high end customers most of whom are referred to them.

“The secret to any successful business is giving the client a quotation that fits his or her budget but not setting price tags that segregate the clients you handle,’’ said Mrs Mwania who has employed 10 workers at Sonalux House on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue.

She notes that most entrepreneurs’ fear is taking that initial step. “People give up before they try and I would encourage them not to shy away. Challenges makes you learn and identify opportunities ,’’ she says.

She was, however, reluctant to divulge how much she earns in a month but says she will be soon open more shops in Nairobi and its environs to create more job opportunities as she expands.

“It is rewarding when you grow with other people and show them the ropes of business,’’ she says, referring to the mentorship programme that she runs and which she says seeks to equip jobless caterers and hoteliers with better skills.

-Business Daily africa

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