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Traditional vegetables gave me a fresh start in business

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Kienyeji’s founder Miriam Nabakwe (standing) [Courtesy]

Many people turned to healthy eating habits when the coronavirus hit, with traditional vegetables being one of the favourite choices.

But for Miriam Nabakwe, she has always supported healthy eating. Her passion for healthy foods saw her set up an outlet for selling traditional vegetables about seven years ago. She is the owner of Kienyeji’s, a store that sells pre-cooked leafy traditional vegetables. Ms Nabakwe shared her business journey with Enterprise and how the pandemic made her business relevant. 

How did the idea for Kienyeji’s Store come about?

The idea came around 2014. I started small by working from home to supplement my income. The idea was born after a lot of soul searching. I was looking for a way of fitting in the business space. I wanted something that could work, something practical and unique. I was working as a consultant in the hospitality industry and it wasn’t really paying off as it would take a long time for me to get a job.

What happened next?

After starting small, I got a job in the US and I abandoned the business and left Kenya. However, things did not go as planned because at some point I was fired and this was when reality hit. I had to move back home and figure things out. I went through a tough time and dealt with depression as all my properties were auctioned at some point. It took the intervention of my family and friends to get back on my feet. My mother sent me a sack of vegetables from home and my friends came together and bought me a freezer. This was the rebirth of Kienyeji’s store. From that point onwards, I just focused on building the business. I went back to social media and started marketing again. I stayed focused and consistent and made it to where I am now.

How much was your starting capital?

I really can’t pin it down to a specific figure because I started small, selling vegetables that my mother had sent me and a freezer my friends had bought for me. For a long time, I ploughed back the money I made into the business. This took care of the overhead costs such as paying the delivery guys, paying for packaging and such things.

How would you say your experience running a business has been?

It has not been easy but one thing that paid off for me is the focus and consistency. I made it so deliberate that no matter what, I will focus and be consistent and I will keep learning on a daily basis. I tried several things until I found something that worked for me and something I have a passion for.

How many employees do you currently have?

I have 20 employees at the moment. This is from the kitchen staff to the ones at the restaurant and the women who help prepare the vegetables as well.

What is the pricing for your food?

Our food prices range between Sh200 and Sh700.

2020 was a difficult year for many businesses because of the pandemic. How did your business perform during that time?

The pandemic was a blessing for Kienyeji’s because when Covid-19 hit a lot of people embraced healthy eating. This made traditional vegetables more appealing. This is when I became relevant. The restrictions on movement also made me a solution provider because people couldn’t leave their houses to go to the market, people started discovering that it’s easy to just order the pre-cooked vegetables that will be delivered to them at their doorstep.

What challenges would you say you face in your day-to-day work?

One of the challenges I faced at the onset was getting people to understand my business model because this was a new concept and people have different expectations of how things should work. Getting a working capital to stabilise was also a big challenge. Another challenge was ensuring that I had set proper operating procedures. However, the biggest challenge has been getting the right traditional vegetables. You have to ensure that the vegetables have an authentic taste. That customers will get the same taste they would if they had leafy vegetables in the village.

Do you have plans to start exporting your products to the US under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa)?

I do. I am already working on a plan to export the vegetables, but first I’m focusing on getting the right packaging and the necessary licences and permits.

Where do you see your business in the next five years?

My dream is to be able to employ more women to work with. During the pandemic, I hired the women who prepare vegetables for us after I found them looking for jobs in the streets. I see many women out here every day looking for something to do, my dream is that one day I will be able to hire them all.

What advice would you give other people who are looking to start their own business?

Don’t procrastinate. I procrastinated for a long time and I was in between many things trying to find what would work and what wouldn’t. Sometimes when you do that it takes a long time and you might find yourself on the bad side of life. You need to focus on one thing and run with it no matter what. There are days I never used to make a sale but I never gave up. Focus on the vision and not on other things that will distract you.

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