Maggie Mukei lost her parents at a young age. For a moment. Her life seemed to come to a sudden halt. Without the guidance of her parents, she felt lost in the world.
“It was not easy to accept the loss but family and friends were there to offer me encouragement during that difficult time.”
Her parents were successful business people and her dad a famous politician in Gatundu. Friends and family raised money to assist Maggie continue schooling and she pursued a diploma in Professional Computing and Information Technology (PCIT).
Upon completion, she secured a job as a receptionist where she first learnt the art of engaging customers in a friendly and persuasive manner. Three years later, she met the love of her life and got married.
“I left my job and we ventured into business with my husband, Sidney Mukei. We have explored so many things from selling fresh fruit to cereals, confectionery and toiletries, anything that would help us make ends meet.”
The couple got its first big break in 2017 when Mr Mukei landed a job in China. This turned out to be the first step towards a glorious journey of establishing a thriving enterprise.
"My husband loves shoes. Whenever he came back home, he would bring us very nice rubber shoes. They were unique and of good quality. These gifts sparked my interest in shoes. I bought some from a wholesaler and hawked them through referrals. They sold quickly. My husband sent me a few pairs from China to expand the stock. My starting capital was about Sh5,000.”
The business picked and in 2018, their shoe company called Sidmar Premium Rubbers. By this time, Maggie had bought a car and would sell the shoes from the boot.
Later that year, the couple had accrued enough savings to acquire a large store along Accra Road in Nairobi’s CBD.
“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 with a beaming smile.
Their humble business which began as hawking is now worth slightly over Sh2 million.
"We specialise in quality rubber shoes and sandals for all ages. From pre-walkers to the biggest size in both wholesale and retail, the cheapest shoes for Sh300, most expensive Sh 1,500 in wholesale price and retail prices from Sh500 to Sh2,000" she says.
However, running the business has not been a smooth sail. There were teething problems that took great 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.”
Like most SMEs, this entrepreneurial couple have suffered the harsh effects of corona virus pandemic.
"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 lockdown also affected us in terms of sales since our customers, especially wholesalers from other counties, could not come to Nairobi," she says.
In addition paying rent and salaries became an enormous challenge to them as business is slowly going back to normalcy.
"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.”
With the digital market, they are able to reach a wider clientele.
"Social media has been a great business tool for us during this period of the pandemic and I would encourage anyone who has or wants to start a business to make good use of social media platforms," she advises.
The couple's dream is to set up a shoe manufacturing company with their brands in the country. They pride themselves in offering the best quality to the customers.
They are also keen on giving back to society. Each month, they donate shoes to an initiative called Hope in the Streets.
Maggie offers wise counsel to aspiring entrepreneurs:
"Discover your passion because that is where most people go wrong. We all have potential and ability to make money but most of us are in the wrong business. In addition, position yourself strategically to maximise on your market.”
She adds: "Maintain high quality standards of your product and invest more on customer service. Learn from your competitors and be in the habits of doing research especially on market trends. Above all, be patient and honest with yourself and to your customers.”