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Home / Achieving Woman

Taking off: How the lockdown helped my business grow new wings

 Michelle Langi left the USA to settle back in Kenya and do business (Photo: Courtesy)

The proprietor of Dassa by Design and Dassa Interiors Michelle Langi left the USA to settle back in Kenya and do business. She talks about how she went about it, the challenges and the successes she experienced

My background

I was born and raised in Kenya. I studied Actuarial Science and Applied Statistics at Maseno University.

In 2009, I left for Washington DC in the United States. I lived there until 2013 when I decided to come back home. In the United States I had worked at a fashion business as a store merchandiser.

As we were putting together plans to relocate back to Kenya I also decided that I would start a business once here. But I had not figured out the type of business to go into.

The idea

After finding a place to live back in Kenya, it was time to fill up the house with furniture and everyday necessities. Having worked in fashion, I would say I am a little picky and particular about furniture and the interior décor of my house.

On the other hand, I was still settling in and I had not decided yet which business I would start.

On and on the search for the furniture of my dreams went on. I wasn’t making much headway.

But I needed furniture. Three times, within a span of like two months, I bought furniture and got rid of it.

I realised that I was not going to get what I was looking for. So, on my fourth try, I was present on site to direct the seat maker to deliver exactly what I wanted.

Finally, I had furniture to my taste. When friends visited, some began enquiring where I got my furniture and if they could get some like mine.

I went through the same process to get a few of my friends the furniture. Then I realised that I could actually turn it into a business – the business I had wanted to start all along.

We would assemble furniture for clients and do interior décor for homes and offices.

What happened next

I started my own workshop. I had found and rented space outside Nyayo Estate off Eastern bypass in Nairobi.

The capital to start Dassa by Design and Dassa Interiors came from my savings. Initially, it gobbled up approximately Sh500,000. We bought two machines critical to our business – wood sawing machine and a band saw machine.

The business, however, relocated to new premises – along enterprise road – not long after. We moved because our clients found our location inaccessible and we also needed bigger space.

 She is the proprietor of Dassa by Design and Dassa Interiors (Photo: Courtesy)

Running a startup

A startup is like a child: you have to keep feeding and taking care of it until it is able to take care of itself.

In the first one year of the business, I wasn’t making much to meet its running costs. I had to dig even deeper into my savings to invest in other complementary machines.

I also had to pay rent from my pocket. So, in total, the capital to start the business is a lot more than the Sh500,000 we started with.

Slowly, we began growing our client base. But the business did not grow as fast as I would have hoped. In fact, I think it took us about five years for the business to start giving worthwhile returns.

It was not until 2018 that the business became fully solvent. Business is not for the faint hearted. For me, I did not give up because I had grown passionate about the services we provided to our clients.

Where I am now

In 2019 the business became a limited company. We have seven regular carpenters and five outsourced ones that we work with.

The business has an administrator and myself. I am the lead designer and consultant. My main roles involve guiding clients on what they want. But I have other roles – the overall management of the business.

Believe it or not, 2020 has been our best year so far in business. We have had order after order. The months from January to July were our busiest.

After the lockdown, I think, with many folks forced to work from home, people were confronted with the reality that they had neglected their living spaces and needed new furniture and overhauling of interiors. 

On average we receive about 20 furniture and four interior clients every month. We primarily market through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

My tips

In this type of business you need higher standards of professionalism. You will be tempted to but do not ‘eat’ your client’s deposit.

Deliver to clients what you promised. Clients want quality. If you give them quality they will come back and bring you new customers.

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