The nearly instantaneous economic recession triggered by the Covid-19 shutdown wreaked havoc on businesses, large and small. Most companies dealt with the crisis by laying off employees to stay afloat.
Eva Ngugi, who worked as a sales consultant in the furniture manufacturing industry says her retrenchment in 2020 after a 13-year stint motivated her to start her own business. When she lost her job, she wasn’t sure about her next move. But she knew she had to come up with a plan to make a living.
But would anyone start a business in the middle of a pandemic?
“Starting a business in future was the ideal plan. I did not have another choice as I was job hunting but I felt compelled to start my business,” she explains.
It was an idea she had been mulling over for years — Deltex General Suppliers, a furniture-making business for offices, homes and institutions. She decided to stay in the industry that she was accustomed to and had industry knowledge of.
Ms Ngugi pooled some money from her savings and her father offer her a small office to get her business off the ground, starting her journey as the managing director of Deltex began in January 2021.
Yet it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“I was a jack of all trades when I launched. I couldn’t afford to hire people and I did most of the leg work to ensure that operations ran smoothly. It was the only way I could minimise expenses.”
According to research by the Small Business Administration, a majority of start-ups begin to fail in the first year, and by the tenth, only about 33 percent survive.
“Of course, I was afraid to start my business then fail because furniture isn’t an essential product amid a pandemic but I took the risk anyway.”
Ms Ngugi targeted people who were working from home to sell her products. It was her biggest market when she started her business because people needed comfortable places to work for long hours while at home.
“I came up with affordable at-home office furniture products and monetised on that.”
Ms Ngugi advertised her business on social media. Facebook was her anchor as she continued to grow her portfolio. She generated new leads and gained clients from the platform before opening other social media platforms and ultimately channelled her operations through her website.
She was also able to retain clients she had created a rapport with from her previous job which enabled her to have a softer landing.
“I reached out to the database I had created as a sales consultant. Some questioned my capabilities but that was an expected reaction. I had to convince them that they could trust me as a small start-up,” said says Ms Ngugi.
The furniture business is a male-dominated industry and that was one of the obstacles she had to face.
“From the technicians to artisans they are all male and I have to face them on different occasions. Getting them to take me seriously was one of my challenges but I have been able to stand firm on the concepts that I believe work well with my business,” she said.
She credits her success to her sales and marketing background because she was conversant with the products and had an understanding of her customer’s needs. Ms Ngugi now has 10 permanent employees and hires casuals on a job-to-job basis.
“I know how to calculate markups from the costs and I also ensure that I am running on manageable profits. I also monitor my monthly sales comparing the costs to the profits, which have allowed me to run my business effectively,” she says.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union (EU). Its contents do not necessarily reflect the views of the EU.