In 2002, Ms Caren Otieno was a roadside fishmonger in Nairobi’s Donholm Estate. But thanks to her consistency and an eye for profit-making opportunities, she now runs enterprises valued at more than Sh9 million.
Ms Otieno owns two hardware shops in Siaya County and runs several M-Pesa shops as well as agency banking outlets.
After two years selling fish in Nairobi Ms Otieno says she got bored with urban life and returned to her rural home.
“I decided I was better off staying at home to run my projects from there. I discussed with my husband on the ideal business and we settled on a hardware shop,” says the 43-year-old.
She started off with stock worth Sh200,000 in 2003, raised partly from her savings and a cash boost from her husband. Her plan was to run the hardware store alongside her farming activities in Mutumbu, Siaya.
In the start-up days, she specialised in selling iron sheets, cement and fencing materials. Through supplying such items, she soon established a relationship with local schools, non-governmental organisations, churches and individuals involved in construction.
Soon she opened another hardware store at the neighbouring Kodiaga trading centre.
Ms Otieno’s revenue inlets would expand with the onset of mobile money transfer service, M-Pesa. She opened her first M-Pesa agency business in 2009 and she now has five of them.
“This is a rural area and agency banking has been received very well; so well that it is the one parents use to pay fees for their children,” she says.
Ms Otieno’s employs 12 people full-time and her assets include two lorries for transporting stock. She has also stuck to her initial plan of cultivating maize and beans for sale.
“After catering for all my expenses, I remain with a profit ranging from between Sh150,000 to Sh200,000,” she says of her monthly income.
How did she do it?
Good customer service, she says, has seen her scale the heights in the entrepreneurship world.
“I never knew how much my customers valued me until I was attacked by robbers recently. The support I got would not have been given to someone who harasses their customers,” she says.
Equally, she was proud of the trust she has built in her customers.
“To succeed as a businessperson, your customers need to trust you fully. I’m glad it has reached a level where a customer doesn’t have qualms leaving me with their money to be collected later,” she explains.
Ms Otieno has also attributed her success to perseverance. She says she has been a victim of burglary and has fallen prey to fake currency users. Most recently, she lost Sh215,000 in a daylight robbery after visiting two banks in Vihiga County.
“Sometimes it boils down to how much bad news you can stomach as a trader, because drawbacks must arise,” she says.
The trader is also thankful for the support of her husband Barrack Otieno.
Caren now looks forward to venture into real estate where she plans to develop some of the plots that she and her husband have bought.