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Taking off: My business idea almost flopped



Evalyn founded Tulia Wellness whose services are all about relaxation (Photo: Elvis Ogina/Standard)

When Evalyn Oloo used her savings to import equipment from China, she imagined her concept of office chair massages would be an easy sell. The proprietor of Tulia Wellness explains why she was determined to change the workplace narrative.

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My background:

I studied psychology at the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK. Before I left for the UK, I had worked in customer service and human resources. My last employer was The Edmund Trust in the UK. When I came home to visit in 2015, I decided to settle in Kenya the next year.

The idea:

In the UK, various companies had wellness programmes and they would offer customised chair massages in offices. While visiting Kenya, I carried out my market research and I noticed these services weren’t available. I decided to fill this gap by starting a wellness business once I settled back home.

When I went back to the UK, I hung out with a team from a wellness company during my free time. With my savings, I started buying some of the vital equipment that I would need for my business. This included massage seats that I purchased in bulk from China.

I am a hands-on person so I also enrolled in some valuable courses that would add to my knowledge in wellness. They included fitness sessions in Zumba, yoga, seat massage, nutrition, acupressure and personal training. I shipped the massage seats to Kenya before my move and, in 2016, I started my business on Ngong Road, Nairobi.

What happened next?

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The first company I approached was a reputable multi-national with numerous prominent clients in Kenya. I believed their expatriate clients were bound to understand my concept since they had experienced wellness services in their countries. I was optimistic that the companies would take up the idea.

However, I was in for a rude shock because, although they recognised my initiative, they were not open to practising it here. Their rationale was that Kenyans were still conservative and they would not embrace the idea of seat massages in their offices.

I approached several other global companies and they also didn’t warm up to the idea. While I would get some walk-in clients at my premises, it was still not what I had envisioned. I regretted purchasing the massage chairs before I started the business.

Fortunately, one of the managers in the international company came across my concept and he appreciated it. I was called to their office and we discussed the whole concept again and they decided that before they pitched it to their clients, I would have to demonstrate it for them.

That is how we came up with a wellness week. It included chair massages and wellness challenges throughout the week that included climbing stairs, taking sufficient water, eating nutritious food, getting adequate sleep, among other beneficial practices.

By the end of the week, the management was ready to recommend the wellness concept to their clients. This multinational firm referred my company to several of its clients. That’s how I landed some of my first stable clients.

Tulia Wellness team at work. They target corporate clients (Photo: Instagram @tuliawellness)

Running a startup:

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Initially, I had branded my business as Evalyn Oloo and all my massage chairs had this logo. However, eventually, I had to change the name of the business so that it embodied what it portrayed. That is how I came up with Tulia Wellness, because our services are all about relaxation. 

From remote seat massages, the business now includes other wellness services such as retreats and team building for corporate clients. During the retreats, we have water aerobics and meditation sessions. My corporate team building services are geared to empower and stimulate all facets of the employee.

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With this in mind, we focus on nutrition, mental, and physical exercises. We also have the Tulia Online shop that stocks various products focused on providing healthy supplements to the whole family.

Introducing Tulia Wellness to Kenya wasn’t easy. Most companies hesitate in implementing wellness services since they can’t directly measure the return on investment. However, benefits of wellness programmes are numerous. Employees become happier, sleep adequately and they reduce their anxiety levels. As a result, they become healthier and more energetic, productive and creative.

Where I am now:

The world is changing fast and employees are becoming younger. We are in the digital age, and most energetic young people think outside the box. For employers to retain them, they must make sure they maintain a conducive work environment. Tulia Wellness contains some of the perks that will ensure employees are motivated to work for leading companies.

The company also has a strong CSR programme that has made a significant impact on Kenyans. We have partnered with the main distributors of nutritional supplements. Consequently, every dollar that a client spends in Tulia, is given back to underprivileged children in slums and children’s homes.

Tulia is planning to start a membership programme soon. Our members will be able to access massage services, onsite fitness, meal plans and other wellness packages as an affordable unit. We also hope to launch a wellness app to enable our clients to access information on our classes from their cell phones.

My tip:

Never be afraid to start a business that you have set your mind to. The opportunity to begin a significant project may only come once in your lifetime. Don’t be scared to give it a shot, you might regret it in the future when you see someone else practice it.

Carry out a lot of research before you start any business. Even if you don’t have experience or the knowledge in the business you want to engage in, ensure that you acquire them. This will assist you in identifying quacks and illegitimate employees in the industry.

When I started Tulia Wellness, I would employ people already in the industry. Gradually, I learned that they were not skilled in chair massages. This prompted me to start recruiting and training my staff regardless of their professional background. The knowledge that I had acquired in the wellness industry in the UK came in handy.

By the time I launched the business, I had anticipated that it might take some time to acquire reliable customers. I made preparations for cushioning myself, considering that I was also moving back home concurrently. Patience is a virtue when running any business, particularly when you are starting.

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