Benedict Gikunda is quickly building a name for himself as an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry.
In 2012, he saw a niche in a fuel commonly used in chaffing dishes during buffet in hotels and he decided to quit his job to try his hand in business.
He registered Alesha Brands Marketers as a business name in 2012. In January 2013, he changed the business name to Alesha Brands and in October 2013, he incorporated it as liability company - Alesha Brands Limited.
“Many people including my parents told me to stick to employment but I wanted to venture into business. I felt I would make more impact when I’m in business,” he told Enterprise during an interview at his office in Kasarani, Nairobi.
Armed with barely Sh80,000 from his savings, he set off on his business journey. But starting was not a walk in the park. He did not have enough capital, customers and, worse still, not so many people believed in his idea.
“Things were tough when we were starting out. Lenders for instance told us to bank with them for six months before they could advance us any credit,” he says.
He did as lenders told him though and in 2014, KCB advanced him a loan of Sh2 million. He says he used about Sh1.2 million of the loan to buy a sachet packaging machine from Guangzhou, China.
He also bought a car to aid in delivery of his products to customers across the country. Between 2015 and 2017, Mr Gikunda says his business went through what he describes as the toughest moment. The sales, he says were not enough to cover operating expenses. Clients were taking up to 90 days to pay and bad debts accumulated. Orders were delayed and local purchase orders were cancelled.
“Things moved from bad to worse when banks sent auctioneers. This was the lowest point in my life. I had to liquidate assets, let staff go, borrow money from shylocks at very exorbitant interest rates of up to 30 percent per month and run a shell company for months without giving up,” he says.
This depressing situation was however turned around when the Youth Enterprise Development (YEDF) Fund saw the potential in his business and advanced him a working capital loan of Sh2 million. This was a lifeline to his entrepreneurial dream.
Mr Gikunda says with the credit, he was able to buy products in bulk, enjoying economies of scale. He was also able to meet all orders, a departure from the past when he would lose business due to liquidity challenges.
”The credit facility from YEDF came in 2019. Because we had learnt from our past experiences, this time round we invested in stocks to help us serve our LPOs quickly,” he says. He also digitised his invoicing system and he is now able to notify his clients on time before their due date for payment, improving collections tremendously.
“By the close of December 2019, we were able to supply nearly 100 percent invoices because we had stock courtesy of the money we got from YEDF,” he says.
Fast forward. Today, Alesha Brands Limited is one of the major suppliers of alcohol-based hand sanitiser sprays and sachets. The market has tremendously grown thanks to Covid-19 pandemic.
“The sanitiser spray for surfaces is a hot cake. You can use it to sanitise any surface as well as documents and money,” he says.
The entrepreneur also manufactures and brands hotel guest room amenities such as round soaps, shampoo, Lotion and general disposable catering products.
Some of his clients include Kempinski Hotel, Sankara Hotel, Getrudes children hospital, Carnivore (Tamarind Group), Aberdares Safari hotels, Chaka Ranch, Sirikwa Eldoret Hotel, Kasarani Sportsview Hotel, The Gastronome Caterers, wholesalers, supermarkets, among others.
He has also provided employment opportunities to about 12 young workers.
The 30-year-old kicked off his career about eight years ago as a project manager at AfroLingo- a multinational translation firm that operates in several African states including Kenya, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Information System Technology (Forensic and Cybercrime) from the United States International University-Africa.
He also worked very briefly at the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC).
His biggest hurdle in business is dealing with clients who intentionally delay or refuse to pay.
He plans to open more branches and expand his business across East Africa.
He is also looking at developing products for the low-income segment of the society.
“We have a machine that packs sachets. It can pack 50 grams of sugar, equivalent to ten teaspoons. There is a mama mboga somewhere who cannot afford to buy a quarter kilo of sugar,” he says.
“These are the people we want to satisfy their needs and our machine can do that. The sugar will be retailing at Sh10.”