A few years back a recovered a shop from a tenant who was unable to pay his rent. I then took it upon myself to add value (rent + goodwill) to the premises.
This particular shop was located in the informal areas of Nairobi (Ghetto).
To begin with I had to find out why this business had gone down and I discovered the following:
1. Competition: As you might know all informal areas have a shop or two in every building. Because of this, there tends to be a lot of duplication of goods and services offered.
2. Undercapitalization. He had no means of getting capital to improve his business
3. Lack of response to the client needs and low morale. The business owner never liked what he was doing, never had any vision of making it better.
5. Frequent interruptions by authorities: Kanjo and the Chief
6. Lack of Goods on credit from suppliers. Selling on credit and not getting paid.
7. Poor visibility for the premise
8. Low sales
9. Lack of a fridge
10. Large number of rodents
11. Lack of stock
12. The ‘Kadogoo’ economy
I proceeded to repainted the interior of the shop and opened the doors; with nothing inside.
As the curious buyers started to enquire, all I had was an excises book. “Unataka nini?” I would ask, “Nilikua nataka maziwa lakini naona hauna.”
I would jot down on my book, No.1 Maziwa No2 Mkate 3 Pencils …….Bilos….on and on and by the third day I was ready to bring in the first stock as per demand on my exercise book.
Of course there were those that laughed at my “foolishness” and some even volunteered to show me how to run a shop.
By the second month I had build the counters and stocked most basic items that are required by the general public.
I was recycling the shops profit back to buy stock. I can tell you here that the 2 or 3 shillings compounded and having a steady flow makes it a lot of money.
I was also able to buy two fridges; two karaes (wash basins) half filled with water, one for milk and the other for sodas. (Stop laughing….try it… it works, as long as you don’t expose it to direct sunlight.) This I had learnt from an old shopkeeper many years before.
Majority of the shops open between 7 and 8a.m and closed between 6 and 8p.m. I adjusted the opening and closing time to between 3:30 to 4:00a.m (opening) closing at 9:00a.m and opening again at 4:00p.m and closing at 1:00a.m.
So I was no-longer bothered by the Kanjo/Chief. It also meant most of the times I was the only open shop in the whole area. I should also put it here that I never closed during the holidays.
My highest grossing items were Milk, Bread, Airtime and Condoms. In fact these four products were able to sustain the business comfortably.….
One day a man came dressed only in a towel holding 20Bob, I handed him a condom even before he could ask🥰.
I later modified the interior of the shop to look like a mini supermarket during the day and a Kiosk during the night. I could close the shop without even stepping out. (Security reasons)
Because of my opening hours, I became the dropping point for all the Milk and Bread distributors in the area and so got preferential treatment from these suppliers.
When the supply of milk was low I got the leakage, thus ordering more and vice versa. There was time buyers would come from all over the area to the only shop still having milk in stock.
Many people do not understand the ‘Kadogoo’ economy. In the Ghetto people live for the day. There are a lot of uncertainties that lead to decisions on what to buy, how and why.
For example why leave maize floor for pest (Rats, Mice and Cockroaches among others) when you can buy what you can consume with no leftovers?
I had a customer who would buy items for the whole week divided and packed in bags marked as per day (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday……) Be it Sugar, Rice, Maize floor or cooking oil.
We would write on the packet using a permanent marker. He was one of my best customers, he loved shopping at my shop because I would not question his way of shopping. (Domestic issues ‘Bibi’🤪)
Coca-Cola did later come through with a fridge and many conditions like that I had to have 15 crates of their products (local not those imported sodas) and that I should not put any other items in their cooler etc…….But who am I, they were not paying the electricity bill to power the fridge.
I digressed; this post was in fact about the ‘Mandazi Man’
Those that were non early riser would find a hip of ash on the pavement outside my shop. Many assumed that the fire was light by the ‘Maasai’ night watchmen, but far from it. This was the business base of one ‘Mandazi Man’.
As I opened my shop daily, I would find him ready with his fire going and the roller on the dough as his first customers appeared.
Mama mbogas are the early risers of Nairobi. When the watchmen see them as they make their way to Gikomba and Marigiti, they know it is dawn.
He would prepare the mandazis until 7:00a.m and then close shop. The only time he would open in the evening is during the weekends, holidays and when schools where on recess.
This I later came to understand was to compensate for the poor sells in the mornings of these seasons.
For those that slept and woke at normal hours, if you asked them what ‘Mandazi Man’ did for a living, they would have confidently told you that he is probably a thief or gangster on the fact that he spend the day sleeping (when not going to the garage) and his children went to the best Ghetto Academies an indication that he was not a night watchman somewhere. (In the Ghetto everyone eats meat; it’s not a measure of wealth)
Apart from cooking mandazis, this man had 2 minibuses plying the route 46 Jonsaga to CBD and 2 ramshackle Nissans doing the same route at night. He drove one of the Nissans himself.
All this had come from the mandazi business. He revealed to me that his 5 story building was under construction on the other side of the ghetto and he had just completed his house upcountry.
His business plan was to leave the mandazi business once the real estate and transport business were able to take care of his family comfortably.
I was soo impressed by Mandazi Man that whenever I met or had a conversation with my one time colleague in the Insurance sector Luke Mulwa would enquire what it is I was up to, I would tell him, “I am cooking and selling mandazi in the ghetto.”
If you are here and you run a small business, let’s talk on how it can be improved.
(By Maina Kiruri)