He was competing at the national level as an athlete and things were looking up, with his eyes set on the international arena. He dreamed of carrying Kenya’s flag high and standing on the medal podium, basking in the glory of the moment, as the national anthem is sung.
But Mr Hillary Korir literally switched lanes, swapping his running shoes in the 1,500 and 800-metre races he was specialising in with business.
It all started with a leg injury he sustained while practising in 2009, forcing him take a short break from the track.
But things suddenly flipped during the short break as a business bug bit him, completely reformatting his goals and aspirations. He found a new calling, too powerful to resist, and that was in the business world. He used his savings to open a small shop and later a posho mill. He also became a broker for quarry stones at his village in Kaplong, Bomet County.
Few laps chasing his business dream, and with an athlete’s fighting spirit, he resolved to leave his comfort zone and upgrade his business. He leased a plot in 2011, borrowed two 600 millimetre precast concrete moulding machines from a friend and set up shop at Kaplong trading centre near Sotik town on the Kericho-Kisii road.
Armed with a Sh9,600 capital he bought all the necessary ingredients, took other raw materials on credit and went on to make 24 culverts of 600mm which he sold one-off for Sh78,000. To him, that was a tidy sum bearing in mind the little cash he had pumped into starting the venture. This was also enough motivation for him to expand his business horizon.
From the humble beginning, Mr Korir has now expanded the enterprise to include production of precast concrete posts, paving slabs and ventilation velt.
Though he has employed staff with limited education, they have learnt on the job perfecting the art of making the construction materials.
“We have improved on quality of our products over the years and we strongly belief that experience is the best teacher,” says Mr Korir who has six employees, two of who have been with him since he set up shop.
The workers, who come from the surrounding areas, are paid on commission with the highest paid pocketing an average of Sh14,000 a week, while the lowest earner going home with Sh4,000.
He also offers indirect employment to loaders, transporters as well as suppliers of quarry and hardware materials including cement, nails and wire mesh. Local women have benefitted too as they supply food to the workers and clients.
Mr Korir, who dropped out of school in Form Two, says devolution has empowered local entrepreneurs like him.
“As a business, we are basically reaping the fruits of devolution with contractors awarded tenders by the devolved units sourcing services and products directly from us,” says Mr Korir.
His products are also in demand from schools, colleges, offices, churches, and private homes, which use them to construct toilets.
“Without culverts, the walls (of the toilets) usually cave in during rainy season posing a danger to the users. Culverts are used to reinforce the walls,” he says.
Despite tasting success, Mr Korir’s journey has not been a bed of roses. He has been swindled by contractors and has had to write off some of the debts owed.
“Some of the contractors have legitimate reasons why they have not paid us for the supplies as some of their clients have not paid them for the last three years. This applies especially to those contracted by the county governments,” the entrepreneur reveals.
Prices have also sharply fallen due to tough competition. In 2011, for instance, a 600mm culvert retailed for Sh4,000 compared to the current price of Sh2,500, while one measuring 9000 mm sold for Sh6,000 then but now costs Sh4,800.
“The demand for culverts is very seasonal. Currently the orders are looking up due roads construction in Bomet and neighbouring counties of Nyamira, Kisii, Nakuru,Kericho and Narok counties,” says Mr Korir.