Engineer turns second-hand shoes business into dream career


James Waithaka at his shop in Nyeri. Photo/Joseph Kanyi

James Waithaka has become one of the most sought after women’s shoes merchants in Nyeri town. But the energetic man did not always dream of running a successful second-hand shoe business.

After taking a mechanical engineering course at the Mombasa Industrial Training Centre Mr Waithaka thought he would secure a job to achieve his childhood dream of being an engineer.

But as no job was forthcoming, he decided he was not going to become redundant.

“I reared pigs, goats and cultivated cabbages back at home in Othaya for some income,” says the young father-of-two while arranging shoes at his parlour.

But frustration by his peers saw him head out to Nyeri town to seek greener pastures.

“The people around me back in the village were on my case complaining about how much money was wasted for my college fees,” he says.

He started the shoe business as a hawker, in 2002 with Sh20,000 capital from sales from his farm. However, he could not make big sales as it was limiting carrying many pairs of shoes.

“It was hard starting out on my own, selling two or three pairs, making something like Sh5,000 a whole laborious day,” he says.

Although the work was strenuous, Mr Waithaka did not relent on his venture. He was inspired by the young men who were running stalls of their own in town and he wanted a fixed location for his business.

He eventually got an establishment within Nyeri town’s central business district from where he operates. He says he has wooed customers from all walks of life and even some from nearby towns like Karatina and Nanyuki.

He says the shoes are reasonably priced and more preferable by most of his customers as they last long.

“Most women do not just go for fashion but unique fashion, and this is unique fashion,” he says.

Mr Waithaka is now the sole bread winner of his family.

“I did not study business in college but that is what provides for me and my family,” he says.

In a good season, he sells five to six pairs of shoes daily, taking home around Sh12,000 in a day. Besides his shoe dealing, Mr Waithaka has established a shoe shining parlour in the town.

“From this, I can still put bread on the table for my little ones because I can never fail to get like Sh300 each day from cleaning my customers’ shoes,” he says.

He adds that he always strives to offer his customers the best service.

He envisions to one day become a distributor, getting shipments from abroad and supplying his goods not only to Nyeri town but to business people in Kenya as a whole.

He does not have easy words for the jobless graduates sitting waiting for manna to fall from heaven.

“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. The unemployed should not just sit there staring at people anticipating for miracles. Instead, one should indulge in whatever business that could generate income as he/she waits,” says Mr Waithaka.

He says that self-motivation and respect for what he does is what is taking him to the next level.