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Creative cashes in on wooden pallets, earns Sh20,000 a week

Brian Irungu and a sample of the wooden pallets.

Simple as they might look, wooden pallets play a key role in the global supply chain. They are used for shipping goods as they protect them from damage. Goods stacked on wooden pallets can also be moved easily by machines such as forklifts. 

They are easy to repurpose for a wide range of projects such as home furniture which has increased their popularity across the country. 

Brian Irungu is one of the many entrepreneurs working with wooden pallets to produce stylish carpentry designs.

Irungu buys the wooden pallets between Sh600 to Sh800 depending on the type and size from warehouses that no longer have use for them.

To Irungu, wooden pallets mostly serve an aesthetic purpose and this was the gap that he identified in the market.

“They are simply art and you can customize anything out of them depending on what a client wants.”

“People started asking for furniture made from wooden pallets. They wanted creative and decorative furniture, since I had started doing floating rope shelves, I figured I could do it as a business,” he said.

He began the venture in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic and now owns his own workshop in Nairobi’s Lucky Summer Estate. In a week he can make up to Sh20,000.

“Customers are responding well to furniture made from wooden pallets. I always have customers because I can technically make anything using them,” said Irungu.

Wooden pallets are flexible, portable and the trend nowadays. This has seen them accepted by start-ups and a majority of the youth use them as furniture.

Irungu has never stepped into any carpentry class. 

“I learned everything from the internet, especially YouTube and trying out designs I see on Pinterest,” he said. 

Irungu didn’t need that much capital to start his business. Things picked up when he posted a tweet of a wooden pallet bed that he’d made. Soon, clients started showing interest and he set up his business called Pallet Furniture Kenya.

He also adds that his first clients were his friends. “I mostly sell online because I have a good following on social media. Walk-ins are few. I keep myself relevant on social media because that is my immediate market. I keep my posts engaging and also advertise on Instagram and Facebook,” revealed Irungu. 

Despite having come this far, Irungu has had his own share of disappointments and challenges. 

A sample of the wooden pallets.

“Initially, wooden pallets were almost free. We would even get them for Sh50 and right now the demand is too high since people know that the pallets can be used to make furniture. The prices have since shot up. Sometimes we go for even a week without finding pallets,” he said.

This might be attributed to a slow down in warehousing activities owing to a shift into the direct transfer of cargo from the Mombasa Port. 

Also, Irungu adds that sometimes, clients do not pay on time, which frustrates his business.

He also likes working with wooden pallets as they are durable and not prone to pest infestation.

“From the source, pallets are heat treated and can stay outside without being exposed to pest infestation.”

Irungu, who now has two employees, advises prospective entrepreneurs that it’s important to start a business before selling the idea. “People work with what they can touch and see.”

Among other costs, Irungu also outsources handymen when the work is overwhelming. “Rent, raw material and maintenance of machines are some of my main costs.”

Aside from furniture making, Irungu also wears many hats including being a set designer, actor, painter, book illustrator and a member of a music band.

“All my arts marry each other so it is easy to juggle,” he said.

Irungu has designed sets for music videos, movies and weddings.

“It’s because I found a niche that allows me to cut across so many areas. I am able to explore my expertise using wood art. I make money from set designing also as theatre companies hire my services.”

Irungu says his perfection in wood artistry is bearing fruits and has been nominated at the Kenya Theatre awards as the best set designer.

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