For many people with young families, leaving the safety of formal employment to try their hand at a risky business is not an option.
Not so for Mr Stephen Muriuki, 35, of Nyeri town. Mr Muriuki took the plunge into business after 12 years of working as an accountant at a local bank. He resigned in 2011 and started Realtech Auto Limited, a car selling enterprise.
He initially went through a rough patch, just like any new investor does, but eventually cut a niche for himself in the competitive used cars market by importing only unique cars.
â€œI decided to quit formal employment armed only with the idea and no capital or savings. Liabilities accrued from employment which included mortgages and car loans. While in employment I had networked and got the idea of sourcing unique cars loaded with extras,â€ said Mr Muriuki.
His wife supported him, he said, otherwise he would have shelved the idea. He also gives credit for his success to his former workmates and employer, who Mr Muriuki said supported him even after he left.
â€œMy work-life taught me a lot and was of great help when I left to set up the company. Even after quitting the job some of my colleagues became my customers and the company supported me too by timely settlements of my benefits,â€ he said.
Mr Muriuki had researched on the venture before leaving employment. He found out that many car buyers had no time to shop around and had limited brands to pick from. He also found out that customers often bought models recommended to them by friends and relatives.
â€œBuying vehicles is not a one day affair. However, most people want to get behind the wheel in the quickest time possible yet they have no time to shop around for the best deal.
â€˜â€˜Such people are my target clientele because I can source for them unique cars and deliver them at the appropriate time,â€ said Mr Muriuki. He relies on his old customers for referrals, he said, adding that one client can provide up to three referrals based on how much they appreciate his services.
Before he left employment, Mr Muriuki had already received five orders which grew to 43 units last year valued at Sh70 million.
He expects to sell at least 60 units this year, having received 12 orders so far, and is planning to broaden his search for orders to corporate clients and government institutions.
From a one-man enterprise in 2011 where he worked as the accountant, marketer, secretary, and driver his company has grown to hire three full-time employees and several contracted drivers.
He has also diversified his business from selling cars to include dealing in Tramigo vehicle tracking devices, as well as construction machines and equipment.
In December, Mr Muriuki sold construction equipment and two wheeled excavators valued at Sh8 million to a client who was referred to him by a satisfied customer.
He has also received several orders from a group of tour operators in Nairobi after delivering a van as specified by one of their members at a lower price.
But business has not been smooth all the way. Last year he lost an opportunity to supply 14-seater vans to a Sacco because he could not raise the funds on time and banks were reluctant to give him a loan.
His biggest challenge, Mr Muriuki said, is that the business is capital intensive and risky. He said it was difficult to raise huge amounts of money from banks, adding that his saviour has been micro finance institutions.
His first orders were financed through customers deposits, financial institutions only lent him money after proving that his was a viable venture.
â€œCompetition is tight since there are people who can import on their own and even major dealers are selling to the local market directly. Luckily, unique and fully-loaded cars in top condition are not cheap and not many dealers want to bring them in bulk, therefore this is an area of specialty which I take advantage of. Unscrupulous dealers and importers abound, therefore building trust takes time,â€ he said.
Delayed orders are the scourge of the business, he said, â€˜â€˜and since there is nothing one can do in such a case, you are left facing angry customers who might lose faith in your ability to deliver.â€™â€™
Mr Muriuki said that he sources his cars directly from markets in the UK, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand depending on brand specifications.
Initially, his customers would pay for the vehicleâ€™s cost, insurance and freight upfront but today the company offers buyers the opportunity to pay 60 per cent of the cost and clear the balance on delivery, he said.
Order status, he said, can be checked online at the companyâ€™s website.
He said that his dream is to establish a one-stop shop for high-end customised cars with ready stocks, with sales sealed on the spot without waiting for orders to be delivered from abroad.
Mr Muriuki said that he also plans to set up a modern car diagnostic centre in Nyeri where he can tap into the Mount Kenya region market which is currently served from Nairobi.
â€œMy advices to employed people who want to do business is that they should choose between employment and business and concentrate on one.
â€˜â€˜By doing this they either become good and valued employees or successful entrepreneurs, but one may not realise the full potential of both if one attempt them at the same time,â€ he said.-Business Daily