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We had to try something new when Covid-19 struck

By Paul Kariuki | November 17th 2021
By Paul Kariuki | November 17th 2021
Julie and Moses Chege at their grocery store in Nakuru - the couple ran a thriving events company but Covid-19 forced them to change tact to survive.

Julie and Moses Chege began events and planning business 16 years ago, and to them, this was to be their main business.

And for more than a decade and a half, it offered the Nakuru-based couple a livelihood as well as enabled them to provide employment to dozens of people directly and indirectly.

Then coronavirus pandemic hit and like many other businesses, they took a major beating.

The measures by the government to tame the spread of the disease came at a bad time for the couple, who had spent a huge amount of money in preparing a major gig and were counting down to recouping their money.

But their plans went up in smoke when measures such as the ban on public gatherings and curfew were put in place. They had to chart a new course for their business, which saw them turn part of their office in Nakuru’s CBD into a grocery market to diversify revenue streams.

While this was initially for survival, the duo says even with the economy reopening and events business starting to pick, they will push ahead with the grocery business.

Was the events and planning business sustainable?

We began Ashley’s Events way back in 2004 and we were among the first people to introduce events and planning management in a professional manner in Nakuru. 

We can say it had been a sustainable and profitable business, though the journey wasn’t without its fair share of challenges. Along the way competition came, tailoring their business models to our success. But having carved out our market niche is what put us ahead of the pack.

Then the pandemic came and changed everything. How devastating was this to your business?

When the president’s directive came, banning social gatherings as one of the ways of fighting the spread of Covid-19 early last year, we were well geared for an outdoor thanksgiving event at Kabarak University. Actually, we had more than 50 tents propped up and were finalising on the setting and the presidential directive came as a shocker and we were ordered to pull down the tents.

It was quite devastating not only to us but to the company as well. We did not know what to do next and no one knew how long the directive was to be in place. We were used to set functions for thousands of people at a go but during the public gathering restrictions we could only do functions for between 15 and 30 people and this affected the business greatly.

You have to change course in order to remain relevant in business

We stayed at home for three weeks after the declaration of the pandemic and that’s when reality hit us harder. You see we have a corporate office in the middle of town that was doing nothing and we had to pay rent for it, we had to think of ways to turn it for other business. 

We have a farm in Njoro where we grow pumpkins among other crops which we were giving out to friends. We started posting pictures of the same on social media as organic pumpkins with each selling at Sh500.

The responses were overwhelming and we sold ten pumpkins after our first posting. Most of the customers wanted to pick their orders at a point in town and the best of the places we had to direct them was at our office. We made a decision to divide the office and create a fresh market section in it.

And the grocery business idea worked?

It seemed the easiest thing to do as we had no other alternative and we had ready produce to begin us off. Before our events business, we had thought of starting a fresh market like seen in western countries. This was after we came back to the country from the US in 2004.

But since everything was informal in Kenya, with everything being sold on the street, we gave the idea a wide berth and went into events and planning business. The Covid-19 pandemic saw us giving the idea a try and we can say it has worked well.

How was the new experience like in comparison to the events and planning business?

It was a new experience but worth it. There is a lot of interaction with customers when convincing them to buy and this is good in creating a rapport and a customer base. Dealing with perishables had been a challenge but thank God we managed to create a clientele from offices along the town’s main Kenyatta Avenue. 

We went the extra mile by developing an app for home deliveries. We felt the venture could be profitable, and it had been since, as there is a daily cash flow compared to events business, though the latter brings in large amounts at a go and the fresh market can be said to be the opposite.

It is usually hard for a start-up to fit in a challenging business environment. How has the business weathered challenges?

Yes, it can be challenging to begin a new business that is completely different from what one was an experienced hand in. But again, when someone has been in business for long and understands the business environment, one can be able to adapt quite fast to a new one. There are a few ways we have weathered challenges by using the same principles from our events business in the new one. We are providing quality products at a convenient location. 

We have seen what competition is doing and we have gone a notch higher. We have embarked on serious marketing through social media channels and not forgetting our location is also strategic. Lastly, we have customer services, unlike open markets where a customer walks in and out and is not a regular to a particular seller.

What is the future of businesses beyond coronavirus?

Events and planning is still the backbone of our success and it is starting to pick up again. We will continue with our new venture.

This pandemic jolted us to think about diversification of income. The two ventures will be complementing each other.  

[email protected]  

Covid 19 Time Series


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