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I run thriving import business after failing to get formal job

Adelide Mwanzani (pictured) runs an import and shelf rental business in Nairobi.

The 29-year-old, who hails from a family of entrepreneurs, has been in business for the last nine years.

“I started doing business immediately after school. I studied Business Management at the University of Nairobi but I never got employed after graduation,” she says.

She started off her business journey selling human hair for ladies’ weaves. The business did well and she was in it for four years.

“I started with little savings buying a few sets of human hair but the business growth was a process that is why it took that long.”

“I had the idea of starting big by taking a loan but I never went down that path. It is essential to begin small with what you’ve because you don’t know what the market is like,” she says.

Ms Mwanzani advises budding entrepreneurs to avoid taking a loan in case of a business failure or an unseen business misfortune and one lacks the wherewithal means to repay the loan.

“Success and a strong foundation take time and patience. I’m very good at saving and so when I started, I grew with what I had,” she says.

Always with a keen eye for business opportunities and trying them, she’d identified an opportunity in a different area and decided to give it a try.

She tapped on experience from importing human hair and she realised that she could import for other sellers quality products removing the sourcing hassle from them.

“From human hair, I started doing the importation business. I import all kinds of merchandise for local traders depending on their orders. I import from diverse markets such as Turkey, China, Dubai, Thailand, among others, depending on the product the clients are looking for.”

Ms Mwanzani adds that each country has its own strength or different resources and this determines from which country she would import a client’s order.

For example, she imports matching sets of bags, valets and shoes from Turkey, electronics from China where prices are favourable for retail, human hair from India and Thailand and fridges and washing machines from Dubai.

Quality, she says, is top-notch when it comes to importing.

Traders, like the regular clients ordering in bulk, make import orders through her and pay upfront.

This is what she pays the suppliers with.  For those looking for personal use or a few items, she imports at her own cost, stocks them and they can come to buy their choices.

“That’s the first rule of importation business. You have to pay suppliers first, so I would add an additional fee which would be recouped when traders pick their orders,” she says.

According to her, one can venture into the importation business without capital.

“If you have good connections like with manufacturers or suppliers out there and you’re that go-to person the local traders look up to or source their goods from, they can pay you to import on their behalf. You may top the difference when it comes to that.”

Ms Mwanzani has been in the importation business for five years now.

Even with the business growth, she was not about to lie down on her laurels and take it easy but had to keep coming up with business ideas or concepts and trying to see how they would work out in the market.

One such gap she saw is the growth of online businesses but many traders behind did not have physical locations for the ease of their buyers to pick up their orders depending on where they were located. This gave the idea of the rented shelves business.

“I make money by identifying a challenge in the society then come up with a solution that’s how the rented shelves business was born. I decided to start it for online entrepreneurs to have a physical location to do their business at an affordable rate. Some can’t afford the rent plus the goodwill and the four-month deposit, among others, that’s where I come in,” she says.

Ms Mwanzani has clients across the country relying on her rented shelves business. The concept works like this - an online entrepreneur rents a shelf and she supplies that entrepreneur with an attendant to attend to the entrepreneur’s clients.

It doesn’t matter where the entrepreneur is based but the business model works.

The clients relying on her rented shelves are those she had been importing goods on their behalf.

Her experience with importation has made her build a good rapport with her suppliers from diverse countries that she almost speaks their languages.

“We’ve become family and friends. Some such as Turkish and Chinese suppliers have even opened wholesale stores here in Kenya. So I connect my rented shelves clients to those suppliers I trust and are in the country,” she says.

With the shilling weakening to the dollar, many are not importing like before and that’s the reason she has connected the clients with the suppliers who had pitched shop locally to save them the loss of currency exchange fluctuations.

For business success, she says that discipline is key and one should have the art of saving their returns and accounting for every cent.

“That’s how I grew and made even bigger connections. Also, a good business rapport with customers and suppliers matters. The latter can even sell you goods on debt based on the trust level you have built with them over years,” she says.

It is not without challenges though to be where she is. When the pandemic struck and lockdown measures were enforced, the business went down just like the many that were affected.

“Then there are conmen who are all over the internet duping clients and that has destroyed businesses for online ventures, especially where mirror pages mimic genuine ones. Then there are those who will never buy what they have not seen even from genuine online entrepreneurs,” she adds.

Ms Mwanzani reinvests income back in the business for a stronger foundation.

Having never been employed, she never envisions being in a world of employment even if the pay is eye-watering.

“I wouldn’t leave the business for employment. Employment is not for me and I tried a few times without being absorbed in the job market. I love being my own boss. Nothing satisfies an entrepreneur than seeing the business growth and reaping from the values of resilience and hard work,” she says.

 “My advice to other entrepreneurs is to make use of social media. It is our future in a globally interconnected world,” says Ms Mwanzani.