Tough sales job taught me delicate business of running corner office


Vivek Investments MD managing Chintan Thacker displays his products during the interview. PHOTO | JAMES KARIUKI

Chintan Thacker returned to Kenya from the US in 2004 armed with a postgraduate degree in jewelry studies. He had worked in India as a diamond grader and seller for one year.

On return his father appointed him a salesman at Vivek Investments Limited which traded in kitchenware and plastics, items that were a far-cry from the precious stones the then 24-year-old was accustomed to.

Mr Thacker traversed the country selling and over time learned other skills, including recruiting staff, book-keeping and dealing with feedback from business partners and customers.

Vivek, started in 1994, has diversified its product portfolio to include stainless steel items, furniture, PVC flooring, homecare products as well as window blinds and curtain rods.

More importantly for the 35-year-old, the business is now selling gold, silver and other precious metals, enabling him to deal with what he studied in America.

As CEO of Vivek Group, he heads several companies which collectively record more than Sh700 million in annual revenues. The business should cross the Sh1 billion mark this year, he said.

“When I came back into the country, I got about learning what my father was doing despite it not being what I had studied,” he told Enterprise during an interview at his office located on Mombasa Road in Nairobi.

Crisscross country

“I used to crisscross the country making deliveries. Some customers would disappoint us while sometimes our vehicles would break down and we would spend hours repairing them.”

For Mr Thacker, this first-hand experience of getting his hands “dirty” taught him how his father’s business operated and prepared him for the leadership position he now holds.

“Every time, a salesman talks about our business in Nyahururu, Nakuru or any other town, I am able to relate since I traversed these regions myself and know their individual needs,” he said.

While Vivek started off as an exclusively import and resale business, Mr Thacker’s father was keen on expanding his business to include a manufacturing arm.

His protégé, who was then a sales manager, was in a prime position to assist him with decision-making, especially on how to source the capital needed for expansion. In 2008, Marvel Lifestyle Limited was born, a company that today produces window blinds and curtain rods.

Two years later, Vivek ventured into the jewelry business, founding Rose Jewellery Company.

The firm then partnered with Nakumatt Supermarkets for space at their stores where they sold the products.

“Things had finally come full-circle. I was finally able to practice what I had studied,” said Mr Thacker.

“Vivek pioneered selling of real gold and silver products within a supermarket store. We are located at Nakumatt TRM, Mega and Prestige.”

Vivek went into full-scale manufacturing in 2012 when they built a factory to produce household products for their business partner Nakumatt.

The regional retailer had at the time invested Sh200 million in a venture to repackage goods such as sugar, wheat and maize flour, detergents and selected grains under its own brand.

Nakumatt launched the ‘Blue Label’ products in 2013 with Vivek supplying it with products like bleaches, disinfectants, air fresheners, dishwashing paste and fabric softeners.

“Kenyan products are of great quality, just as similar brands which are imported. In fact, locally-manufactured goods are at times much better,” Mr Thacker added.

Between setting up the Marvel, Rose Jewellery and the manufacturing business, Mr Thacker says the business injected approximately Sh100 million from loans and internally-sourced funds.

Two months ago, Vivek started producing its own products, including liquid and powder soaps as well as dishwashing pastes which trade under the brand name Ezee.

The firm also produces methylated and surgical spirits as well as castor oil and glycerin under the brand name Vivek.

All this expansion, including operating a sales subsidiary in Uganda, has seen Vivek employee numbers grow from 10 when the company was formed in 1994 to the 100.

Last year, Mr Thacker was named among the Top 40 under 40 men while Vivek has been ranked among the prestigious Top 100 Mid-Sized companies in 2013 and 2014, both surveys by the Business Daily.

Canada’s Tilburg University selected Vivek as a case study after the firm got the Kenya Association of Manufacturers’ award on Outstanding Innovation.

Entrepreneurs should look beyond their current offering, he offers, adding that they have to always seek untapped business opportunities which present Kenyans with problems. This is how to tap new income streams and enjoy less competition, he adds.

“In 2009, I initiated a strategy within the company which helped us to increase our sales by looking for unique markets. This strategy ensured we were in a league of our own.”