Despite costly false starts, he found a home in embroidery

Nicholas Mutwiri the CEO of Nexpress Embroidery and Screen-printing in Meru operating his embroidery machine on June 4, 2019. He uses the machine to adorn clothing with logos as well as to print on textiles. [Olivia Murithi, Standard]

Nicholas Mutwiri got into odd jobs out of desperation after three years of unemployment.

He had completed a Diploma in Cooperative Management at Kabete Technical Training Institute in 2008, but he could only land menial jobs such as domestic work and at construction sites.

Mutwiri, whose dream as a child was to be a soldier, now had to scrap and save every cent that he could spare to get him out of the rut. In three years, he had saved around Sh50,000. 

It is at this point that he met a friend who was knowledgeable in the art of screen printing but was also jobless.

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A partnership was forged and a business, Nexpress Embroidery and Screenprinting was born.

The duo used Mutwiri’s savings to buy a computer for graphic design and pay for a business permit as well as printing materials. Since they did not have enough money to rent a stall, they got a small space at a corridor in Meru town and opened for business.

Getting customers

Their biggest challenge at the time was getting customers even though there were only two other businesses doing the same trade in the town.

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“We marketed ourselves vigorously but it would be two years before our fortunes changed and our customer base began to grow steadily,” says Mutwiri.

But with the new cash, the partnership hit rocky ground and split. However, Mutwiri had learned all that he needed to keep the business going.

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He kept saving diligently and started trading in shares at the Nairobi Securities Exchange between 2014 and 2015. He bought his first shares using Sh50,000 and his return was around Sh56,000. 

Eventually, he realised the returns were minimal and the risk high. It also took long to make profits, so he pulled out.

He used the proceeds and some savings to start an auto spare parts shop in 2016 at Kibirichia market.

“I’d heard from some friends that selling spare parts had good returns and ensured that money got into my pocket daily so I decided to invest in my hometown Kibirichia, which was a virgin market for this kind of business,” says Mutwiri. 

He left his wife to manage the business so that she could also have a steady source of income without relying on him. This business took one year to pick but before it did, the couple faced numerous challenges.

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Mutwiri was strapped for time because he was focusing on two businesses simultaneously. They also faced cash flow problems.

“A customer would sometimes order a spare part but we would not have the money to buy it, leading to loss of business,” Mutwiri says.

By 2017, his screen printing business was bringing in a profit of Sh30,000 per month. However, it was launched into the big league by the 2017 political campaigns because of high demand for branded campaign materials.

By the time the election period was over, Mutwiri had amassed a fortune which he used to import an embroidery machine worth Sh2.5 million from Japan in October 2018. 

New premises

The machine could not fit in the corridor he had been using for seven years, so he rented new premises.

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“The machine also brought in more work so I employed three more assistants, making a total of six full-time employees, excluding the many part timers I engage during busy periods,” he says.

His spare parts business on the other hand employs three mechanics; so in total, Mutwiri has created employment for over 11 people.

Nexpress has become the go-to business for screen printing and embroidery services with a portfolio that includes major uniform and textile suppliers in Meru. 

His clients include schools, churches, NGOs, sports teams and private security companies. 

This has doubled his profits during off-seasons and more than quadrupled them during peak seasons, like back to school periods.

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Nairobi Securities ExchangeKabete Technical Training Institute