Salesman turns to kitchen makeover for his first million

Fred Akuno left a sales job to start manufacturing commercial  kitchen equipment. PHOTO | Courtesy
Fred Akuno left a sales job to start manufacturing commercial kitchen equipment. PHOTO | Courtesy 

In 2014, Fred Akuno resigned from his job as freelance sales representative in the hospitality industry to start his company, Merican Limited, to manufacture commercial kitchen equipment.

“After working in the hospitality sector for three months, I realised most hotels and people import their equipment, such as kitchen sinks, and found out I could take advantage to make and supply them locally,” said Fred.

Mr Akuno, who holds a diploma in business management from the Kenya Institute of Management, invested Sh100,000 drawn from his savings to register his company on October 3, 2014.

He had saved for five years after graduating in 2009, initially working at Chloride Exide as a customer care representative, then as a direct sales representative at Barclays Bank, and finally as a market representative for Sheffield Steel Systems before choosing freelancing.

“My company designs and fabricates tailor-made commercial kitchen equipment as per client’s specific needs. Initially, I employed three staff members, but I have since expanded to 15 permanent and eight part-time employees,” said Mr Akuno.

“We specialise in custom-made stainless steel hospitality catering products, including work tables, kitchen sinks, combined cooking ranges, extraction hoods, racks, shelves, cupboards, ovens and chillers.”

The company has now supplied dozens of clients with customised kitchen equipment, across hotels, restaurants, cafeterias, coffee shops, hospitals, bars and supermarkets, as well as mobile kitchens and container kitchens.

In April 2017, it additionally won the distribution partnership for international brand Inoksan, from Turkey, which specialises in industrial kitchen fittings. This, he said, came as an impetus to aid business growth.

His company now serves an average of five clients a day, in contracts that often run concurrently. He is now working on a Sh30 million fit-out for a five-star hotel kitchen project in Naivasha.

He markets his products through FaceBook and says he has 20,851 ‘Likes’ and 20,925 Followers. It is this platform that has enabled him to reach most of his customers across East Africa, predominantly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, he said.

Merican charges between Sh30,000 and Sh50,000 for custom-made kitchen sinks and tables.

Within Nairobi, the business charges 30 per cent of the total cost of an item to install equipment, but provides free transport and delivery.

Outside Nairobi, clients cover their own transport charges, but Merican provides free installation.

His success is also tied to wholesale purchasing.

He buys at least 4,000 tonnes of stainless steel sheets a year from China and India as raw materials. The sheets are shipped in by sea with his orders taking about four months to arrive.

Once in Kenya, the materials are stored in his workshop in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.

“One advantage of sourcing from the two countries is that I save nearly half of the costs when compared to purchasing locally from Kenyan hardwares,” the proprietor said.

Merican also provides kitchen design consultancy for corporate entities. Mr Akuno says a well-designed kitchen is important for integral and efficient food preparation.

He aims for designs across equipment plans and service layouts that motivate chefs to achieve high productivity and create excellent food.

His company also designs outdoor kitchens, giving expert advice on how to bring the best out of clients’ outdoor areas.

His advice to young entrepreneurs is: “There’s only one way in shaping up your future, that is believing in yourself and working smart every day to realise your dreams and most importantly to change lives of those looking up to you.”

- African Laughter