On a quiet, reserved street in Nairobi’s Ngara area lies Three Cube Printing Ltd run by Benedicta Kimeu. Inside the building are a couple of printed banners, presumably some of her printing work. She seems to be doing quite well for herself now, but the beginnings were challenging.
“I got married right after Form Four in 1996 to my husband Boniface and we are blessed with one boy and twin daughters. I didn’t get kids immediately after marriage like most people. We waited 14 years.”
This may not be relevant to her as an entrepreneur but it may have been what gave her the chance to focus on growing her business. Benedicta didn’t go to college. She started working as a hairdresser, earning Sh1,500 monthly.
Though meagre, she was comfortable, seeing as she had no training and was fending for a small family. Her husband wasn’t working at the time.
In 1998, a friend of her husband noticed how aggressive she was with business. Then, she was 23 and envied ladies with beautiful shoes and bags going to work. With only a form four leaving certificate, she was offered a job as a receptionist.
There were very few phones then, but here she was, being asked to take a job which primarily involved answering calls all day at a big advertising company. She was ready for the challenge. Her starting salary was Sh5,000.
She was to come in at 8am everyday but chose to arrive daily at 7am to quickly learn skills that were new to her. It was a conducive workplace for a company that had 300 employees.
After a year she was promoted to be the secretary to her boss. Her work was to order goods from China and communicate with five other branches outside the company. She served in the company for six years all the while handling petty cash for all the five countries.
“I learnt so much on the job and was really trusted. Even the calculations I learnt on the go.“
She left after seven years to work at another printing company in Mombasa Road as a receptionist. Earning Sh15,000 was a step up from the Sh7,000 she had just began netting as a secretary. After only three months at the new job, her boss asked her to move to marketing on condition that she had to work on target basis.
Her first month’s target was Sh200,000. She had to take the directory and search for clients herself. Benedicta landed a big client as her first client, that gave her a lot of business that went as high as Sh1 million every month. Benedicta says she was born a marketer. She has sold all sorts of things, including a few cars. She believes having a sweet tongue can turn your trade into gold.
“I would to walk to industrial area, walking, to look for business. I would knock on potential clients’ doors with letters and business cards, telling them what I do. In everything I believe you have to be diligent.”
Every day, she would go home with new clients and Local Purchase Orders. She beat her target and got half a million which then rose to a million. Her salary was quickly bumped to Sh25,000.
In less than a year she was making up to Sh3 million a month for the company. Her boss was impressed and she started earning Sh50,000 including commission of around Sh30,000. It is then that she and her husband decided to buy land which cost Sh100,000 at the time. After five years she was ready to fly on her own.
Starting her own business
“When I gave my boss the resignation letter he refused to take it. He could not believe it. I gave him a month’s notice to allow him time to find a replacement. At that moment, I had already ordered my own machines from China. I just googled where to get the machines and found the price. I then went to a bank with my payslip and got an unsecured loan of Sh2 million. Then I was earning 100,000.”
When the machines came three months later, she was waiting at home. Prior to that, Benedicta had located an office space at Kijabe street and paid a deposit. The rent at the time was Sh95,000. She opened her doors on January 2009 and within two years had repaid the loan.
“I opened an account with a popular bank but later realised they had plucked some sheets from my check book. I was disappointed and promptly closed the account and started looking for an account where my money could be safe.”
She opened a business account with Family Bank. She adds that she declined to take an ATM card because she believes you cannot be disciplined with an ATM card. A year later, she needed to buy a tractor worth Sh2.5 million for her farm in Bomet.
The bank agreed to offer the loan and took the logbook as collateral. It did not take a year before she had finished paying for that tractor and applied for another loan for a second tractor. This was the start of a great relationship with her bank.
In 2013, she visited China with Family Bank’s Business Club on an exposure trip. Other than being more exciting to travel as a group, business clubs take away the stress of travelling, seeing as the bank takes the liberty to apply for the visas of about 100 people.
She went to HongKong and Guangzhou and met suppliers as well as bought materials for her printing business. This set her back another close to Sh3 million that was also a loan.
Not long after, she approached the bank again this time for Sh5 million to buy an excavator. She went to Shanghai on her own to look for the excavator.
“They asked me if I was sure I knew what I wanted. They had only seen men buy such machines. But I told them I had the money, in cash. All Sh4 million of it.” Benedicta had heard an excavator could make about Sh7 million an hour and was very motivated to get into the business. In retrospect, she wishes she had bought her excavator from Japan.
The quality was low and in about a year it broke down and cost her an extra Sh2 million to fix. However, it was a good business to get into because all she had to do was park it and pay one person to operate it and at the end of the month she could collect on average Sh1 million. Benedicta does agree she has taken quite a number of loans. She ruminates that no one can do business without a loan.
“I have never wanted to get a loan to go on holiday. But being part of the business club is a holiday cum business trip. This is where I met the gentleman who got me into excavators.
“I always say I want to be with people who help me grow and have great ideas. I can never be interested in just going for drinks. The truth is most of my business associates are men.
“It may be because my job is technical and male dominated or perhaps because of the patiarchy. However, I do not believe in naysayers. A negative mindset tells you that ‘Only men can do this or that job’. Don’t listen to that.”
Benedicta Kimeu has worked arduously to get to the top, and still plans on building apartments to give her a payday of around Sh300,000 monthly. She also wants to expand her printing business to Mombasa.