When Charles Macharia quit mending shoes to venture into seedlings business, he never imagined this would eventually turn out to be a thriving venture.
Initially a cobbler in Nakuru town, Mr Macharia is now a renowned seedlings and landscaping businessman.
Popularly known as ‘Ndarugu’ among his peers, the 48-year-old entrepreneur started the seedlings project in 2000.
He told Enterprise that his fascination with young trees began during his childhood, and he only planted seedlings because his father was doing it.
“From my childhood, I have always been passionate about planting trees. Before I even had the notion of making money out of trees, I planted them and freely gave them away to my friends, neighbours and family members to plant,” he says.
The business that emerged out of his passion has now grown tremendously. Mr Macharia has employed several workers while his wife manages and supervises the entire processes of planting and caring for the seedlings. He has planted more than 12 million seedlings, maintaining a constant supply of 2 million seedlings at each given time.
When it rains money pours for him. This is because many people plant trees during the rainy season. During such times, he can pocket as much as Sh200,000 a day.
“Initially I could not even make Sh10,000 a day as I was unable to meet the demand from customers. That’s why I now plant seedlings every week, to ensure their constant supply, at different stages of growth," he says.
The venture is located in Nakuru town along the Nakuru-Nairobi highway.
The seedlings’ prices range from Sh1 to Sh5,000, depending on their type and the period it takes to grow and mature.
Vegetables such as kales, cabbages, capsicum, onions, tomatoes, cauliflower, beetroot, spinach and garlic seedlings cost Sh1 each. Travellers' Palm seedlings go for Sh2,000 each, Italian Cypress for Sh1,000, Rubber for Sh1,000, Acacia for Sh800, Bamboo for Sh500, American Cypress for Sh350, Phoenix Palm for Sh350, Umbrella Terminalia for Sh300, Carnation for Sh150, Nandi Flame for Sh100 and six different types of Rose Flowers for Sh100 each.
Mango, custard, orange, lemon, melon, guava, passion fruit, strawberry, grape and papaya seedlings, among others, sell for between Sh50 and Sh4,000.
At between Sh120 and Sh4,000, you can buy flower pots and vases depending on size and design.
“I make a profit of not less than Sh500,000 monthly from the seedlings. People now call me ‘mtu wa miti’,” says Mr Macharia as he beams with contentment.
But as his seedling business grows more competitive, Mr Macharia has been the first to move to a new field with untapped potential – landscaping.
“Individuals pay Sh400,000 for (landscaping) job, while big hotels, organisations and companies pay up to Sh800,000," he says.
Mr Macharia showed Enterprise homesteads and hotels in Gilgil town where he has designed adorable green lawns, spellbinding flower beds, bubbling water features, winsome designs, endearing patterns and enchanting canopies.
Mr Macharia, who has been in the landscaping business for five years, says it takes him between two weeks and two months to fully implement his landscaping plans. But it is not all flowery for Mr Macharia in the landscaping business. While the segment has been booming in Kenya’s major towns, digital disruption is gradually penetrating its roots into the sector, and most landscapers now use modern computer software to produce quality work.
The conventional design thought has been centred on taking a concrete jungle and softening it using plants. But we are witnessing a drift as more landscaping design software join the scene.
The software, he says, are sophisticated enough to not only give you a detailed idea of what your yard will look like, but cheap enough to make the purchase completely worth it.
“In recent months, I have embarked on getting training on how to use landscaping software. Nobody wants to be swept away by the strong waves of new technologies,” says Mr Macharia who admits that owning a botanic business helps him cut costs, compared to his competitors who have to purchase flowers, grass, seedlings and shrubs from him.
On average, landscapers make profits of between Sh200,000 and Sh50 million according to Mr Patrick Muyodi, the principal architect at Riverscape Designs and Landscaping Services
“As the market keeps expanding, this depends on location, size of facility, its type, design, labour and materials used,” he says.
On the international stage, landscaping service providers are using connected devices through the Internet of Things to track, visualise and manage all their machinery and personnel. Mobile apps allow the users to allocate all tasks to different workers and ensure projects are delivered within the set timelines.
This way, the businesses are able to accept large projects and complete them in record times. They can not only assign the resources, but also see them working real-time. Thus, they are able to manage their projects and tasks better, even with a few ground workers.