Maggie Wakori Mukei started her career as a receptionist after completing a diploma in Professional Computing and Information Technology (PCIT). Three years later, she quit her job, got married, and started a business in Nairobi with her husband.
Since then, “we have explored so many things from selling fresh fruit to cereals, confectionery, and toiletries, anything that would help us make ends meet,” Maggie told the Nation, a newspaper in her native Kenya.
This was before she lost her parents and had to depend on family and friends to raise money to finance her education. Her late dad was not only a businessman but a politician in Gatundu, a small town in the Kiambu County of Kenya.
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The idea to go into the sale of shoes came after her husband got a job in China. On his return visits, Maggie’s husband would bring nice shoes for the family. It was these gifts that sparked Maggie’s interest in trading shoes. “I bought some from a wholesaler and hawked them through referrals,” he said.
The shoes sold quickly and she had to request a few pairs from her husband in China to expand her stock. With a starting capital of just $45, she started the shoe enterprise that is now one of the most vibrant in her city.
As her business started growing, Maggie changed her business model. Instead of hawking through referrals, she bought a car and sold her shoes from the trunk of the car. Later in 2018, she had made enough money to acquire a shop at Nairobi’s Central Business District.
“What kept us focused all this time was our passion to make the business work. Remember we had tried several things before to no avail. My husband loves shoes, and I have a knack for sales and marketing. Together we make a winning team,” says Maggie.
Her enterprise now specializes in quality rubber shoes and sandals for all ages. That is, from pre-walkers to the biggest size in both wholesale and retail.
Her business is now worth over $18,000 after about a decade. That is 400 times more than what she had begun with. Maggie and her husband hope to set up a shoe manufacturing company with their brands in the country.
Just like any other small enterprise, Maggie has encountered a number of challenges which took courage and faith to overcome.
“Sometimes the suppliers would get the order all mixed up and sent us the wrong sizes or designs. Once in a while the shoes would arrive damaged. We also faced a challenge in getting reliable employees, this is actually a recurring problem,” she said.
Last year when the coronavirus pandemic struck, it affected sales and her ability to import shoes from China due to the restriction on the movement of people both in China and Kenya.
“When the Covid-19 pandemic struck and started in China where we source most of our shoes, we could not travel or make orders. The country’s lockdown also affected us in terms of sales since our customers, especially wholesalers from other counties, could not come to Nairobi,” she says.
Although the pandemic has been devastating to her, Maggie says she capitalized on social media to rake in some revenue to keep the business afloat.
Another teething problem for Maggie has to do with salaries and rent charges. “We are now able to get different designs and lots of pairs, leading us to upgrade to affordable wholesale prices for everyone who wants to start a business.”
In a word of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, Maggie wants them to be passionate about what they do, position them well and strategically in the market. She also want them to maintain high quality standards of their products.