When coronavirus hit these shores, everything appeared to go south for Bucon Furnitures Ltd, a local firm specialising in the manufacture of office furniture.
Orders worth millions of shillings were either cancelled or put on hold. This could not have happened at a worse time since the company had just expanded its operations through the acquisition of more factory space and purchase of a Sh30 million new state-of-the-art machinery. There were loans to service and rents and salaries to pay.
According to DK Munene, the proprietor of the firm, a lot more cash was tied up in the purchase of raw materials to service the now cancelled orders.
“By end of March, our machines had literally gone silent which is a worrying scenario for a factory that is ever in production,” said Munene during the interview at the factory located in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.
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He pleaded, but in vain, with those whose orders were put on hold.
“I persuaded them to allow the production of their orders to continue but none wanted to commit citing the unpredictable business environment in view of the pandemic.”
One of the clients even told him they had opted to close down some branches meaning there were no employees to use the furniture. The few employees who were lucky to remain would work from home, he was informed.
Just about to work out lay-off terms
One evening Munene knew it was time to bite the bullet. The following morning, he drove to the factory earlier than usual. He, too, wanted to send his workers home until things changed. He was here to work out their send-off terms.
But as he went round the factory alone shortly before six o’clock, he felt disturbed at the thought of sending his workers home.
“To be honest I felt tears swell up in my eyes as I imagined what would happen to my workers who I knew had no other source of income outside this factory,” said Munene adding some workers have been in the firm for over 25 years.
As he took his packed breakfast, he came up with the idea of turning to home office furniture targeting the obvious high number of people working away from their offices due to Covid-19. This provided the much-needed turning point.
“I still held the staff meeting scheduled for 9am only that the agenda had changed. It was now a strategy meeting on how we were going to make furniture to meet the needs and expectations of those working from their houses,” said Munene in.
Factory coming back to life again
The client who had disappointed Munene when he talked about the closure of branches referred him to a few senior managers who would be working from home. This is how the initial orders were realised. The machines were switched on and the factory came back to life, again!
To date, the company has supplied furniture, either directly or through its listed suppliers, to more than six hundred homes in Nairobi and other counties.
“We encourage people working from home to always use recommended office chair and table so that they do not compromise their health due to poor posture,” said Munene.
The firm is also custom-making office furniture for individual customers depending on the available space in their houses. This entails sending its representative to take measurements and advise on the size of the needed furniture.
It is time employers became more creative
Munene is of the view that during this crisis triggered by Coronavirus pandemic, employers should become more creative to keep businesses afloat if only for the plight of their workers and their families.
“The Government should continue encouraging its agencies to always buy locally manufactured furniture because this way we create and sustain jobs for our ever hardworking workforce,” he said.
Munene, who founded Bucon Furnitures more than 30 years ago, censures what he calls unscrupulous government procurement officers who prefer imported furniture to locally manufactured products. He opined that the latter is not durable meaning the State officers keep procuring new furniture often thereby increasing opportunities to make money through corrupt deals.
Imported furniture killing local industry
“If only procurement departments in the public and private sectors embraced locally manufactured furniture the industry can create and sustain millions of jobs and boost cash circulation within the country,” said Munene.
The 62-year-old businessman says he occasionally travels to China, Malaysia, Italy and other countries to benchmark, adding the machinery he has invested in is the same one used in those countries.
“We are committed to our motto ‘Jenga Kenya tupate ajira (build Kenya to create jobs)’ which is basically a plea to consumers to always support us through buying locally manufactured furniture,” said Mr Munene.