Ex-civil servant turns retirement package into a gifting enterprise


Esther Nguku, proprietor of Warembo Gift Shop in Eldoret town shows some of the items. FILE PHOTO | STANLEY KIMUGE | NMG

Sometimes demand dictates a shift in entrepreneurship. When Elizabeth Nguku took an early retirement package, all her thoughts were on starting a clothes retail store.

At the age of 38, she resigned from the Ministry of Agriculture where she worked as a field extension officer for 15 years. She received a Sh300,000 golden hand-shake package which she used as seed capital.

That was in 1996.

“We never knew that gifting was a business. We used to sell footwear, baby clothes, and inner garments but with time, we had many customers requesting various items to be wrapped as gifts. The requests kept coming and we decided to focus on this business, we also bought special gift boxes because that's what customers demanded,” she says.

Now she manages the business, Warembo Gift business in Eldoret town, with her husband who retired three years ago.

She says she saw a huge gap and seized the opportunity.

When buyers started ordering more gifts, she scaled down on footwear and clothes and narrowed it down to the gift and gift wrapping business.

Initially, she would receive 20 customers in a day, but now she gets about 150 customers.

Inside one of her shops, she has different items both locally made and imported from jewellery, watches, and carvings, to artworks. Recently, the couple opened two more branches in Eldoret town’s Central Business District, one, two months ago and another in 2020.

Initially, Ms Nguku ran the business together with one worker, now she has eight workers in the two branches.

“We decided to open two new shops because our customers felt they were in a central place. They appreciate this decision,” she says.

The prices of the gifting items range from Sh100 and Sh50,000. But the gifting business is seasonal. The demand peaks during the holidays when schools close in April, August, and December.

This is because there are many social events such as weddings, traditional engagements (Koito and ruracio), birthdays, baby showers and graduation.

“Gifts are seasonal because they are given when there are occasions and events such as Valentine's Day, weddings and birthdays. When schools are opened, we record relatively low business,” she says, adding, “However, we serve clients of all ages and gender. For instance, you will find an elderly person buying gifts for their grandchildren during weddings and young people gifting friends or relatives during birthdays or baby showers or Valentine's.”

Some of the buyers come as far as Eldoret, Iten, Baringo, Nandi, Kakamega and Turkana. They also occasionally get customers from Uganda.

“We also have those customers who relocated to Nairobi because of job transfers coming back to shop with us. For instance, those whose grandparents or parents bought watches still also visit our shop because we have built confidence,” she notes.

Today, she sits in her office full of lessons. So what lesson has she learned in her journey in business?

Having a good relationship with customers and suppliers, she says.

“It is also important to promptly pay if you have taken items on credit, especially from your suppliers because, if you don’t then it becomes difficult for them to trust you again.”

Ms Nguku adds that she has also learned the pitfalls of selling items on credit. While starting the venture, she offered items on credit which led to heavy losses.

“Giving out items on credit, especially to friends can fail your business. I tried that in the beginning and realised they will either take a long time to pay or end up not paying at all. If your business is not based on credit, you shouldn't let customers buy on credit,” she says.

She is also quick to observe that it is important for one not to wait until retirement to start such a business. “Because if you wait until you retire, you might not have enough money to replenish the stock. My husband was my fall-back since he helped me get some finances to buy new stocks.”

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