The Wood and Plunks workshop in Nyeri town is on the edge of Majengo slums but it stands out for more than just the pieces of furniture,
As I approach the shop I immediately notice the carpenters wear uniform overalls as they noisily work away at different pieces of furniture.
Joel Mwangi is also hard at work and it is difficult to distinguish him from his workers until he calls out my name with a smile, extending his hand for a firm handshake.
“I am glad you let me postpone this meeting from morning hours because I had to assemble a custom made bed at a client’s home and he specifically asked for me, so I could not delegate,” he beams.
In a pair of red overalls covered in sawdust, its easy to dismiss him as an ordinary carpenter until you look through the workshop and notice antique seats and colourful drawers as well as rocking horse in the corner.
His office is simple with a large TV screen that displays several angles of CCTV cameras installed in the shop, keeping a close watch over his employees and stores.
Woods and Plunks is more than just a carpenter shop, we are an interior décor company that specialises in high end pieces of furniture made of Mahogany and Cypress with an artistic style focus on the unfinished wood look.
We offer unique decor for hotels, bars and restaurants, lounges and even homes according to our clients’ needs and vision for the room we are furnishing.
I ventured into carpentry in 1997, my grandfather was a carpenter and after my secondary school education I took a two year unpaid internship with my uncle in his workshop and learned the basics of the industry.
It is unfortunate today young entrepreneurs no longer value the power of internship, the only want to be interns to be paid without understanding the invaluable experience they can acquire by having hands on experience from those already in the industry.
That’s something that should be re evaluated as entrepreneurs, before you start, you own business understand it practically and you can only do that by looking at the intrinsic value of internship instead of the financial gain you expect.
I left my uncle’s workshop and started my own, business with only Sh 1500, as my capital, it might seem like too little, but I had a plan, both long and short term for what I had in mind.
Also I was sure that I could not make a profit until about three years into my business so I managed my expenses and projects based on this plan.
Once I was in business I noticed that I could not make a higher profit margin if I did not create a niche for myself, I had to be different, so I went online and started taking interior design and public relations classes.
It is always important to expand your worldview, research, and acquire as much knowledge as possible towards improving your business.
The online classes helped me change my perspective on what I was doing and realise that I could use my artistic skills in carpentry and design.
One of the key challenges with my business is that client often have a negative perception about the carpenters, and artisans in general.
Many have been disappointed by poor workmanship, delays in completion of a job, or even failure to deliver on agreed items therefore by the time they approach me they have a preconceived bias towards my skills.
Therefore when you walk in I always listen to what you want with an open mind, I offer you various ideas on how it can be executed and usually we reach a compromise.
Its always important to manage the expectations of your clients long before you engage them otherwise, you will disappoint your client and end up with an unsatisfied customers which is bad for you business.
I always get to know my customers by engaging with them and asking who referred them to me, this gives me an idea of who I am dealing with and what kind of information they are working with about my work.
As I continued to grow my business I soon realised that I had to create a network of suppliers who I could rely on, so inorder to solidify my relationship with my suppliers, I started to invest in their businesses by buying shares.
How I go about it is that when a supplier wants to boost his or her business they can rely on me to assist them with a small financial investment, this builds trust and also solidifies the relationship.
It also gives me flexibility when I need supplies and a steady source of income that is also adding value to my business.
Find ways to make partnerships with the businesses you engage with this is one of the keys to creating lasting commitments to each other professionally.
Because my work involves me travelling for several weeks at a time, I had to employ six people to keep the work going while I am away.
However because the type of wood (Mahogany and Cypress) I use is very expensive I needed to put in a security measure to protect the business.
Also the CCTV feed is sent directly to my home devices so even while I am away and if an employee needs guidance on a certain piece of furniture I can give them real time instructions on how to go about it.
For clients who want to see how their furniture was produced I keep a copy for review so they too can feel part of the creative process.
One of the key characteristics of my business is I never handle money in cash.
This is for security purposes but more importantly I believe that I am just a bridge between the client and the object they desires and as a custodian, the money does not belong to me.
On a personal level I find it frees me to know that the money is not mine but belongs to the client and should only be used to serve the client by buying materials and paying for labour.
This ensures that there is no temptations to divert funds to other needs that may arise in the course of me working that could interfere with my delivery of the client’s item.
As a carpenter time management is key, I never waste time because it directly impacts my chances of finishing a piece of furniture on time.
Not many people realise that wood is affected by extreme changes in weather, when it is too hot, it expands and therefore cannot be worked on efficiently and when it is cold or rains it also does not produce the desired results.
So time is a factor in my business and I do my best to work around the weather to protect the quality of my work.
When you are an artisan, customers who do not pay on time are a key setback, so I learned by lesson long ago that verbal agreements are not security for your business.
I always ensure there are written and official agreement contracts for each client so that they understand the seriousness of my craft.
Also find a way to give back to society around you and other business, it usually has a positive impact on your finances and well being, I choose to give back to children living with cerebral palsy, I design and put together furniture that allows these children to live fuller lives.