From an initial capital of Sh1,500, Mwangi Muchine has build a regional startup which sells furniture as far as Rwanda. For a short while after completing his ‘O’ level studies, Muchine earned his upkeep from drawing.
He then moved into carpentry where he was employed by different workshops. His biggest dilemma was how to raise funds to go it alone. In 2003, Muchine quit his job due to what he described as “not being able to reach his potential”.
“I felt like my dream was being suffocated by employment and I wanted to move beyond the confinement,” he said. He used the Sh1,500 he had saved to set up a carpentry workshop in Nyeri town and has never regretted the move.
After paying rent, buying timber and a few tools, he made his first item – a shoe rack – which earned him Sh150. Gradually more customers started flocking into his small workshop.
Impressed by his workmanship, satisfied clients spoke highly of Muchine’s work and he started bagging bigger contracts that forced him to sometimes close his workshop and work from clients’ premises. He also started saving part of his earnings.
“I saved a lot from the contracts. A third of the money went to rent, another third was directed towards buying more equipment and my upkeep, while I saved the rest,” he said. Every new order that Muchine got ensured that his business grew a notch. Today, he says he earns about Sh10,000 a day.
Unlike some of his peers who display unsold furniture at their workshops to attract clients, Muchine said that it is unlikely to see completed items lying around his premises because he makes most of his products by order. Most of these orders come from companies.
“A single order can be for furniture worth Sh400,000,” he said. Muchine has eight permanent employees and hires 15 to 30 temporary workers during peak season.
“I admired the transition of timber to furniture when I was young. I was determined to use my God-given gift to create beautiful furniture,” he said.
Muchine said that he invests heavily in the finishing of his furniture, using high quality materials to ensure durability. He invests in the wellbeing of his staff by bringing in counsellors to talk to them, noting that if employees are unhappy, anxious or stressed, they will not perform their duties well.
“Any time an employee is not at peace, their productivity and performance is reduced and the employer suffers loses as a result,” he said, attributing the growth of his business to good relations with his staff.
He added that some employers fail to get the best from their staff because they do not pay attention to their emotional needs. Muchine said that he enjoys meals and evening outings with his staff. He uses every available opportunity to market his work, including displaying his furniture on social media.
His favourite clients, he said, are women. “They are easy and interesting to work with. When a woman makes an order, she knows exactly what she wants, which is different from how men make their orders.
“A man often orders for a chair, but a woman adds clear specifications about colour, design and size, making it easier to work with her.”
Muchine said he follows up on sales to solve problems that customers may experience later. The hurdles he has to overcome include expensive, raw materials and high transport costs.
The father of three boys said that children fail to make right career choices because parents make decisions for them.
“Children portray what they would like to become from an early age and parents should recognise this and help them pursue their dream careers.”
He plans to set up a warehouse on the outskirts of Nyeri town and open more workshops in future. He urged banks to reduce interest on loans to encourage young entrepreneurs to borrow and grow their dream businesses.
This will also enable him acquire a loan for the expansion of his workshop, he said.