Mary Gatabaki and Teresa Gachie are sisters and they run Little cribs
My sister and I are all University graduates, and while my background is in Design Advertising, my older sister Teresa worked in the hospitality industry. Also our other partner has a wealth of experience in strategy and finance.
Our business Little Cribs actually means Little Spaces. The 'cribs' was borrowed from the slang word for 'house'- crib. So we are all about sprucing up spaces for little people (children). My sister and I have always had a passion for design and kids' stuff. It started out as a hobby more than 10 years ago doing knick knacks for our kids and for friends. There was a huge gap in the industry already as we could not find items we needed- items that suited kids. We all slept on the usual wooden beds, studied from dining tables etc. we wanted to have something fun and still functional. I left my job and began Little Cribs in November 2012.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT:
My sister Teresa joined me in 2013. When we started, we did not have enough capital to open a workshop. We partnered with a woodwork contractor that we had previously worked with and he made the furniture for us. He was all the way in Ruaka so we had to transport the raw pieces back to our office.
We had a garage then that we had converted into a finishing 'factory'. With the distance, costs were high and managing quality was so hectic but we managed. Eventually we got our own small workshop and started with two fundis.
It was OK at the time as we were not busy so the two could manage the orders that we got. With time, we grew into a bigger team and moved into a much bigger workshop and the rest is playing it out as we go.
RUNNING A START-UP:
It comes with its share of ups and down, the challenges include; cash flow which hampers speed of growth. In fact my husband provided the capital for us to start. Aside from that, he paid the bills for the business for the first two years.
Additionally, since all our furniture is locally made, we have faced everything from high operation costs; to local manufacturing is pretty expensive, to 'copy cats' and the branding of 'fundi' mentality.
Being a local manufacturer means you are classified as a 'jua kali' industry. There is also the general lack of trust for fundis and we are sometimes caught up in that wave despite being in the industry for over four years and delivering as promised; it is not easy sourcing of quality technicians with the right attitude.
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However, running our own business also comes with its rewards; it is amazing watching an idea on paper come to life. And the feedback from customers is an affirmation that we are on the right path. This is our passion turned business, so it is very personal for us. We also love that we represent kids' needs and ideas. The excitement we see from our 'little' customers makes it worth it.
WHERE WE ARE NOW:
We just broke even two months ago, and yes at one point we almost gave up, bills need to be paid even as you chase your passion and this business requires lots of patience, but we are glad we held on.
The business has grown with our clientele which is made up of lower and upper middleclass Kenyans. Majority lie from 18-35 years of age. This constitutes 57 per cent of the age demographic. We also have a growing number of grandparents (14 per cent) buying for their grandkids.
Our customers are spread out across the country with most living in Nairobi and we also get a lot of expatriate clients. I would also say our clients are discerning people; people who appreciate value for money and changing trends.
Also in the last few years our skill sets have improved and our product offering increased. Our product quality has also improved with time. Customer portfolio has also grown and most importantly, we have grown a brand name; something we are very proud of.
Further, we are currently trying to resolve some distribution issues that will see our market share grow. Our organisation structure has also changed to accommodate roles that have helped in streamlining our processes and increasing efficiencies.
We started with a business model of 'made to order' but we are now introducing stocking. This is a huge challenge due to cash flow and managing production growth and efficiencies but it will definitely push us to the next level and allow us to enter other markets especially geographically.
If there is anything you want to do, start first. The answers will never come until you start. You will not be perfect or great at the beginning but you will improve as you go. You must love what you do because there will be days whereby that love is the only motivation that keeps you going. And you must be patient.
Surround yourself with positive people however small the circle because the world is full of naysayers. Celebrate the milestones no matter how small. Only by looking back will you appreciate how far you have gone. It is also about the journey, not the destination, and in everything you do, thank God.
LAUNCHED: November 2012
START-UP COSTS: Sh500,000
TARGETED TURNOVER: Sh20 million