From the ground up

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By Lisbeth Overheu, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer

The day I visit Alex Kephar’s shop his wife, Faith, is unfortunately unwell at home so he is manning the store by himself and is constantly busy for the few hours of my visit. And while I do manage to find items for some customers (but have to ask Alex the prices) I’m not really much help apart from providing novelty value for his younger customers.

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The all-important candy selection

Alex and Grace run a general store in the east Nairobi suburb of Utawala and while I’ve visited many Zidisha borrowers with similar, although generally smaller, stores in different parts of Kenya, this store is the busiest I’ve seen, with customers constantly coming and going which is obviously a great sign. And Alex says he loves the personal interaction with his customers, which is why he hasn’t been keen to hire other employees to date.

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Outside Alex’s shop

The store stocks a very wide variety of goods, from basic food and household items to other items such as chicken feeders, umbrellas, rolling pins, water pistols and socks. But it’s the green grocer section of the shop selling fruit and vegetables that seems to be the busiest, and while I’m there Alex and a customer are busy counting out around two hundred bananas for a large order.

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Alex grew up on a small farm in western Kenya, and with a Ugandan-born mother and living so close to the Ugandan border, he speaks Luganda, one of the main Ugandan languages, as well as his local language of Luhya and the Kenyan national languages of Kiswahili and English. As one of eight children and raised by extended family after his parents passed away, Alex was unable to continue his education beyond high school. He says “life was so hard” at this time, when he moved to Nairobi in search of employment opportunities.

Alex managed to find casual employment on construction sites and save some money before opening a small shop in the same area as his current shop. He was subsequently able to purchase a small plot of land and built the first half of his current shop himself, utilising skills he learnt as a construction worker.

Alex has used his four Zidisha loans for various different purposes to help grow his businesses, including buying a fridge for his shop, paying for part of a new plot of land, building the second half of his current shop and buying a vehicle to transport stock from his suppliers. Alex also has other business interests, including three motorbikes which he rents to motorcycle taxi riders for a daily fee and a donkey which is used to pull a cart to deliver water door to door for homes that lack running water.

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In the two years since he joined Zidisha, Alex says his profits from the store have more than doubled, and he is now able to send his six year old daughter, Joyce, to a better and more well equipped school where her results have improved. His other daughter, two and a half year old Grace, spends most of her time in the shop with her parents. Alex and Faith would possibly like to have one more child and hope to be able to afford a full primary and secondary education for their children as well as college or university.

Despite the great success Alex has had in growing his business from the ground up in a short space of time, he still has plenty more plans, such as building another shop and apartment block on some other land he owns, and building a second story on top of his current shop to either expand the shop or rent out. With so many construction plans, Alex also hopes to start his own construction company and intends to start studying for a Diploma and then Bachelors of Structural Engineering from September next year.

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Unlike many Kenyans, Alex isn’t a football fan, preferring rugby instead. But most of his non-working time is taken with church activities, as he’s a leader at his local church.  Alex kindly sends me home with a big bunch of delicious bananas, which form my breakfast and snacks for the next week.

The Hair Haven

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By Lisbeth Overheu, Kenya Client Relationship Volunteer

Francis Kamau owns and runs the busy Hair Haven salon in the suburb of Githurai in northeastern Nairobi. The salon offers a variety of mens’ and womens’ hair and beauty services and while the salon is open all week, up to six staff are employed on the busiest day, Saturday. Francis also recently opened another small mens’ barbershop nearby where two more staff work.

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Francis’ three Zidisha loans have allowed him to significantly expand his business. He has used loan funds to enlarge and upgrade the main salon, open the second barbershop and buy a variety of new equipment including chairs, clippers, hair dryers and a foot massager. He decided against buying the coffee machine and instead bought a TV which has been very popular with customers.

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Francis’ latest expansion has been the renting of a small room behind his salon where he intends to open a small beauty training school to further increase his profits, train more potential staff for his own salons (most of Francis’ current staff were trained by him) and help others gain useful employment skills. His ultimate aim is to operate a large beauty training school and several different salons.

With the increased profits generated from his loans Francis has been able to invest in his business. He has also paid for his younger sister’s secondary education and hopes to fund her college studies later this year. He would also like to commence his own diploma in Hair and Beauty this year if he can save enough money.

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Approaching 30, Francis hopes to get married one day and would like two children. He hopes having a successful business will allow him to support his family and give his children the educational opportunities that he himself didn’t have. While he completed his KCSE (Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education), Francis was unable to attend college or university due to a lack of funds.

When Francis isn’t working at least six days a week he plays the guitar (which he taught himself how to play) and sings in his local church most weeks. He is also a member of an informal local businessperson’s group where he meets weekly with other local entrepreneurs to share ideas and assist each other with challenges. Francis also enjoys watching Manchester United play in the European football leagues and is supporting The Netherlands in the current football World Cup.

Francis is very polite, friendly and focused on customer service. So, coupled with his fierce determination to succeed with his business plans, he has a great chance of success.  As I watch Francis deftly wax, twirl and comb a customer’s dreadlocks into submission I know exactly where to come next time I need a haircut in Nairobi.

Mr. Kamau has successfully repaid three Zidisha loans and has recently raised a fourth, which he used to purchase more hair-cutting equipment for new employees in his barber shop.  You may read Francis’ story in his own words at his Zidisha profile page.