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Want to start and run a debt-free business? Here’s how

By Ishaq Jumbe | Nov 3rd 2021 | 6 min read
By Ishaq Jumbe | November 3rd 2021

Polucon MD Dominic Mureithi [Courtesy]

Dominic Mureithi, a trained food chemist with about 50 years of experience, had always been passionate about business.

However, he wanted to do it debt-free.

This saw him devise a savings plan that took him seven years to raise Sh5 million.

He used the money to start Polucon Services, an enterprise that has since risen to become one of Kenya’s top indigenous laboratory testing and inspection firms.

Now, what started as a two-man operation consisting of the proprietor and a messenger in the late 1990s has grown into an outfit with nearly 100 employees and with offices across Africa and scores of global network partners.

Over the years, the Mombasa-headquartered firm has expanded its portfolio from verifying the standards of import and export goods to offering cargo inspection, consumer inspection, pre-procurement inspection, lab testing and analysis, environmental pollution control services and brand protection services.

One of Mureithi’s key principles was to never borrow but instead, he kept ploughing in the profits he made back into the business. 

Some decades later the firm hit a turnover of Sh100 million and by last year, the turnover stood at Sh170 million.

He shares his business journey. 

On establishing a business

Polucon is an acronym for control against intellectual, physical and environmental contamination. 

We took seven years to raise the Sh5 million we required to set up the firm. 

This is what I call a ‘virtual loan’ against myself - a concept involving determining how much I require for a particular venture and saving a specific amount every month to raise the capital.

It is a painstaking effort but the reward is enormous. I am not servicing any credit that was advanced to me and can therefore confirm that at Polucon we are wholly focused on our clients.

We established quality management systems which have become the foundation of our operations which we have been perfecting over the years.

Another very important aspect of establishing a successful business is ensuring that you hire qualified staff, conduct an effective orientation that arms them with the company vision and then hand them tools of their particular trade.

With a twenty-year experience in export trade standards requirements, the firm also has a brand protection and anti-counterfeit department and a fumigation and pest control unit.

Breaking into the market

This may be the trickiest part of establishing any business as you might have identified a niche in the market but you still have to attract business to your company.

When we set up back in the day, verification and testing was a preserve of white people who were offering the service in the region.

Unfortunately, it was very difficult, as an indigenous Kenyan to get companies to hire my services. I had to employ a white person whom I fronted to get business.

However, all that changed when the industry adopted certification and it was no longer a matter of who you are but what you can do which we embraced, changing the game.

After we got ISO certification, it was a true assessment of our competence and capability and we then started getting recognition and started growing revenue.

We soon began shooting up, never broke our principle of not borrowing and by 2016, we had a turnover of Sh100 million and Sh170 million by 2020.  

On business principles

Our open trade secret is zero tolerance on corruption with even the clients we serve privy to this confidential information.

And they are proud of the fact that we did not cut corners to get their contract and will subsequently serve them in a very honourable and ethical manner.

One important lesson that I have learnt over the years that I have been in business is that integrity as a virtue is very profitable if associated with your practice.

People value you because you treat them decently and you deliver on what you said you will.

We have an anti-corruption policy which all our staff abide by.

Our blue company certification - the country’s anti-corruption initiative to help foster an honest business environment in the region is displayed prominently in our headquarters to sensitize all who walk through our doors to uphold integrity.

Noble objectives

When I started this business, my drive was to help the youth attain their potential. I could have constructed apartment buildings for rent but that would only serve me and my family.

That’s when I came up with an idea that would employ not only my expertise but also young graduates of science especially whose absorption rate in Africa is way below par. We are not innovative and that leads to many young graduates getting employed in divergent fields for which they were not trained. They end up missing opportunities like career progression and that is what I wanted to offer them.

My workforce consists of people below the age of 35 taking up a third of all positions. I am the oldest person at Polucon.

There are many benefits to engaging the youth. They aren’t prejudiced and learn on the job pretty fast. You see them enhancing in their career and that offers satisfaction far above profit margins or any other achievements for that matter.

We create real job opportunities and serve as a training ground for the industry by raising their profiles high and making them marketable and competent enough to work in this sensitive industry.

Creating an authentic brand

A big part of our portfolio is promoting exports. Kenyan products miss out on the world market because of compromised quality. We invest in ensuring that products from Kenya conform to international quality standards because.

Industrialised country markets demand a high degree of standards to be met before they allow products into their market and we at Polucon are familiar with all these regulations.

They have to comply with market regulation, safety and environmental quality standards, packaging and all other requirements.

We advise exporters and guide them through the labyrinth of stipulations required overseas.

Exporters have come to appreciate the fact that it is better to have the necessary certifications than have your product rejected at the market or in some cases, destroyed after reaching the target country.

On business inspiration

I wanted to establish a company that is going to change the game and prove that Africans can come through for Africa and exceed foreign standards. Today we are an indigenous company operating in a familiar terrain unlike foreign companies in the past whose connection to the grassroots wasn’t quite natural.

I always suspected we could do a better job and I have proven that indeed is the case. By establishing a Kenyan outfit, we are serving the country as well as exporting our service to other nations which make staff at Polucon very proud. 

I, therefore, demonstrate to them that their dreams are valid and that they shouldn’t conform to the business as a usual attitude that gets them stuck in a rut. They can achieve dignity through their career.

Expansion strategy

It is important to use profits to develop business growth with the most performing departments fortified to perform their utmost best. Diversifying into other lines of work along your core business helps you establish channels that coordinate and improve the overall output of your service.

We have today intellectual protection and fumigation services in our portfolio all of which support other services offered and are essential in keeping the environment and brands pure.

Also, it is important to invest in cutting edge technology so that your business evolves with the times. I can tell you today, our lab 20 years ago was nothing compared to what it is today. Every time a new technology that our trade requires is unveiled, we begin sourcing for the funds required. And in the long run, you find the best systems support your service and post good returns for your business.

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