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Tiny car that launched a business idea

By Jeckonia Otieno | October 18th 2016
Mutahi works on a car interior at his workshop in Donholm Estate (2).JPG PHOTO:STANDARD

Paul Mutahi stumbled across the business that he earns his living from when he bought an old second-hand vehicle.

The car, a Morris Mini, Mr Mutahi says, had worn out interiors he needed to re-upholster.

“I went to a certain company to get a quotation, but found it very expensive, so I decided to watch what they were doing to restore the interiors of other cars and decided to try it out myself,” he says.

Mutahi had learnt quite a bit of handwork from a casual job he held with an elevator company in Nairobi where his father worked. He bought the necessary materials and started making over his car. The Morris Mini had cost him Sh60,000; fixing its interior cost about Sh8,000.

“We used to have a Mini club where we would show off our cars. When my friends saw the interior of my car, they were impressed and asked for the contacts of the person who had done the job,” Mutahi says. That was back in 2005.

Two months later, he registered his company, Tiampati Upholstery and took on his first clients. He started out fixing door panels before moving to car seats. He upholstered his first 10 cars in just three months.

Merger plan

When he started getting more jobs, Mutahi gave casual jobs to some of his friends who would dismantle panels or seats so they could be worked on. His business kept growing as more people saw his displays and heard from past customers.

Mutahi soon realised he could not handle the volume of work he was getting without disappointing his customers.

“I decided to merge with an established company in Nairobi that handled jobs in bulk and professionally,” he says.

“After merging, I discovered that I had more time on my hands, so I went online to market my work even as I learnt from my partners how to handle bulk work.”

Two years later, Mutahi pulled out of the merger and set up a workshop at the Donholm Roundabout in Nairobi, which gets plenty of foot and vehicle traffic. Business was once more soon booming.

However, Tiampati Upholstery suffered a blow when the expansion of Outering Road began and businesses operating along the road were displaced. Mutahi moved his workshop to Donholm Estate. Today, he says he works on an average of 10 vehicles a month.

“Our job here is like assembling a new car because when a car arrives, we dismantle the interior and work on it such that when it leaves, the inside looks new.”

His workshop has created job opportunities, with the business hiring about seven people a day to strip, upholster and refit interiors. Mutahi’s biggest challenge is completing jobs on time.

“Some clients charge me for not completing their work on time, but I never charge them for not picking their cars on time,” he says with a wry smile.

His dream is to own a warehouse with underground workshops and a front office to ensure clients are comfortable when they come visiting.

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