Former salesman cements a fortune in hardware business

Mr Samwel Maingi, the proprietor of Saris Hardware, in his office in Kitengela during the interview. Photo/Ponciano Odongo

When Samwel Maingi completed his diploma in civil engineering in 1995, he seemed to have paved his career path in formal employment. He landed a job shortly after at the leading cement manufacturing company, Bamburi Cement as a salesperson.

But matters took an unfortunate turn for Mr Maingi in 2001. At only 27, he suddenly found himself a retrenchee as the company was undergoing realignment. He had to think on his feet.

Together with his wife, Mr Maingi decided to start a cement retail business in Kitengela with capital from personal savings of Sh70,000.

“You can’t do what you don’t know, I chose the hardware business because I knew the ropes after interacting with many hardware owners around the country,” says Mr Maingi, the proprietor of Saris Hardware, which deals in supplying cement and other building materials.

“Because I had little savings I started with the product that I knew best, which I had marketed before and believed that I could sell easily.”

The business name is from letters in the proprietors’ first names, Samwel and Rispa.

As a salesperson at Bamburi, Mr Maingi earned between Sh20,000 and Sh40,000 a month depending on the commission paid. Today Mr Maingi the entrepreneur talks of business assets worth hundreds of millions of shillings for a monthly income.

He also trades in stocks valued between Sh20million and Sh30million. The venture has grown from retail to wholesale and distribution.

The business presently employs 35 people directly and has branches in Matuu and Machakos. The main branch is in Kitengela town is on land they acquired a few years ago.

It represents a remarkable growth from the hardware shop run by a skeletal staff made up of man and wife 12 years ago. Mr Maingi recalls how then the wife serve as the cashier as he took charge of deliveries. They later employed a loader because they had to hire pick-up vans to deliver cement and other building materials.

After three years they bought an old second-hand pick-up van. Mr Maingi says the struggled break even in the first two years.

“We had to create awareness among the locals in Kitengela, but beginning the third year, the business broke even and started to stabilise.

“Our hope is to be full solution provider to ensure quality and create comfort for our clients as they get value for their hard-earned money. We are getting there soon. We are targeting middle class and upper class housing sectors. We have already captured a niche in the low-cost housing sector,” says Mr Maingi.

On competition, the businessman says he leverages on pricing and quality of the products.

“We also engage partners who understand what we are,” says Maingi.

The company, he says, has adopted a human resource policy that emphasises on strong family-like relationships to retain employees.

“For the last 10 years we have never lost a permanent employee because our staff are mostly satisfied with the treatment and the motivation. We value our workers and give them the respect they deserve,” he says.

Saris supplies cement to retailers in different parts of the country. It owns a number of trucks. In addition to cement, it deals in metallic products, tanks, twisted bars, paints iron sheets, tinting machines among others.

“We are determined to change the industry; we intend to put up an information centre to educate our clients on the best and economical ways of putting up constructions and ensure that our products suit the masses,” says Mr Maingi.

He says challenges for the business include high interest rates.

“Most people take loans to build since it needs large amounts of money. When the interest rates soar higher the building industry slows down,” he says.

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