Small Enterprise

Car washer beats the odds to become fuel station owner

Total Limuru Road Station dealer John Maina Kinywa. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG
Total Limuru Road Station dealer John Maina Kinywa. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG 

When John Maina Kinywa started work at Total Kenya in 2000 as a car washer, it never crossed his mind that one day he would run an entire petrol station.

He had just cleared high school and his peasant parents could not afford fees for his tertiary education.

Eight months after starting work at a station in Nanyuki, Mr Kinywa was promoted to a court attendant before becoming a senior customer attendant.

His diligence saw him rise to the rank of supervisor and in 2013 he became the manager of Limuru Road Total Station.

“I have seen this station grow in leaps and bounds. When I arrived here, the station was doing 240,000 liters but now we are doing 450,000 litres in a month,” he said.

He attributed the growth in sales to the good customer service offered at the station, thanks to his workforce of 50 individuals who he rewards occasionally.

Mr Kinywa is one of the 88 beneficiaries of Total’s Young Dealer Programme, which seeks to partner with independent business people in running Total service stations as dealers.

The programme, which is part of Total’s continuous growth plan, offers financial support to individuals who show potential to grow the business.

To be considered for the programme, applicants must have worked at any of the 196 Total stations countrywide and displayed skills in running an oil business.

The programme gives young entrepreneurs capital to run a station and also offers them an opportunity to make their own money.

Total pegs the capital injection, which should be repaid within five years, on the size of the station.

Mr Kinywa received Sh18 million to run the Limuru Road Total Station, which he has since repaid.

“The beauty of being a dealer is that you are able to improve the station because you have worked there initially at a lower rank,” said the 40-year-old entrepreneur.

Among the improvements at the station was installing motion sensors, panic buttons and CCTV cameras to boost security.

This was informed by a burglary in which LPG gas cylinders were stolen just when he had taken over as manager in 2013.

Another challenge in the business is the fluctuation oil prices, which can drop a few days after filling up the tanks. Mr Kinywa said it takes a fighting spirit and a desire to grow the business for one to wade through the challenges.

Today, he has mentored eight of his former employees to become dealers like himself, stationed in various stations across the country. In a typical day, he reports to work at 5.30am and is briefed by the night-shift team before proceeding to check records.

Six o’clock finds him at the forecourt where he interacts with customers during the morning rush hour and gets their feedback until 7.30am.

He then takes stock and reconciles financial reports by mid-day before proceeding to the mini supermarket at the station to do and evaluation of various products.

He releases the day-shift team at 4pm, just in time for the evening rush hour where he gets to interact with customers at the station. Prior to moving to the Limuru Road station, Mr Kinywa had managed a station in Kajiado.

Back in 2000, he had submitted an application to Total’s regional manager to be considered as a customer attendant.

Despite this, he was picked for the car washer position but this did not dampen his spirit.

He said that his humble beginning prepared him for the bigger task ahead.

For this reason, every worker who achieves set target gets an incentive on top of their monthly pay.

This, he said, has played a major role in boosting employee moral while growing business for the station which operates around the clock.