Small Enterprise

I started pharmacy as student, now have outlets in 14 counties

Louis Somoni Machogu at the Haltons Pharmacy headquarters in Kasarani, Nairobi celebrating after receiving Top 40 Under 40 award for raising community health standards. PHOTO | COURTESY
Louis Somoni Machogu at the Haltons Pharmacy headquarters in Kasarani, Nairobi celebrating after receiving Top 40 Under 40 award for raising community health standards. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Louis Somoni Machogu started Haltons Pharmacy in October 2007 when aged just 26 and while still undertaking his undergraduate degree at the University of Nairobi.

Today, the business has 52 outlets across 14 counties and a workforce of 180 healthcare professionals. It has also attracted external investors such as private equity fund Fanisi Capital. Last year, the company recorded a turnover of Sh380 million.

Dr Machogu says the entrepreneurial journey bug bit him early on in life when. After completing his secondary school education, he supported his parents by repackaging and selling milk purchased from a big processor in Mtwapa.

However his customers demanded fermented milk so he started adding value to the product and sold it at Sh70 per litre.

“Many customers wanted fermented milk. So we would buy the milk at Sh35, ferment it and then resell it for double the amount,” Dr Machogu told Enterprise in an interview.

This entrepreneurial spirit followed him to the University of Nairobi where he met his wife and three other pharmacists who would later become his business partners.

One of the partners is currently a director of KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme’s Nairobi office. One has invested in the education sector while another imports medicine.

The trio got a loan from Co-operative Bank and set out to increase access to healthcare at the grassroots. They opened a drugs store on Koinange Street, Nairobi, 11 years ago.

To grow its branch network, Haltons entered into an arrangement with Vivo Energy to have drug stores located at Shell service stations, a model which helped the business save set-up costs.

The drug retail chain also entered into a similar arrangement with Tuskys Supermarket chain.

Haltons targets busy and strategically located shopping malls or stand-alone buildings.

The retail pharmacy chain dispenses prescription and non-prescription drugs, health checks such as blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol levels and advice on management of blood pressure, gout and diabetes.

In September 2013, Fanisi Capital bought an undisclosed but majority shareholding in Haltons, promising to significantly expand the business locally and regionally.
At the time, the pharmacy chain operated only four outlets.

The PE-backed expansion by Haltons mirrors that of pharmacy retail chain Goodlife — formerly known as Mimosa Pharmacy—where Catalyst Fund bought a stake in September 2014.

“30 years from now I don’t want to be old and lamenting over lack of accessible healthcare,” said Dr Machogu. “A partner must bring out the vision of a company. When the vision isn’t implemented the way it was intended you will lose. Success is bringing in likeminded people to help you in growth.”

His journey has not been a smooth ride, he has had to face numerous challenges which he calls lessons that enabled him become a millionaire at 35.