BY CHRISPINE JUMA
Elisha Otung’ and Toney Ndalo who are the co-founders of Ellis Merchandise and Graphics Company, are getting ahead in a field that is seen as saturated. It was a great time for them to follow the enterprise path proving that possible is everything when you have the right attitude.
While many young people are grappling under the yoke of joblessness because they stopped thinking about venturing into businesses, the two fighter entrepreneurs are doing well, currently making money from branding and printing items. The duo started off with only one machine, growing to three a year on as jobs began coming through. That was in 2013.
“Working in partnership makes the company stronger,” Ndalo says amid frequent calls and text messages on inquiries and new orders. “We are able to interact with our clients at different levels and we take keen study in their interest to ensure that they are well satisfied with our products and services. It is from this that we get our daily bread.”
Some experts say that in East Africa region, Kenya has the highest number of jobless youths. At the same time, figures from the World Bank show that 17% of young people eligible for work are jobless, a time when Tanzania’s percentage stands at 5.5, and Uganda at 6.8%. The future is dimmer more so going by the fact that out of 10 start-ups, 8 fail to go beyond two years, an indication that entrepreneurs must be creative to stay in the race.
Despite the challenges, the young Otung’, 27 and Ndalo, 28 are always awake by 5:00am everyday in order to start their work at 7am. The thrills of being their own bosses gives them the much needed morale, joining a growing list of young population trying their hands on businesses.
Business is clicking for them so much that they can print more than 1000 t-shirts, balls, bags, shirts, reflectors, umbrellas and wristbands in a month. Printing costs, for example, depend on what one wants done and preferred “quality of material” used. Customers are falling for their services paying from as low as Sh300 to Sh3, 000.
Printing is a significant business in the sense that the market is pretty big. With the potential of a boom, being a year of elections, the business of branding, printing and design is proving lucrative. “We are going strong day by day,” says Otung’. “Being a year of politics and campaigns where branding is done to publicize candidates and political parties, we expect more customers. The Company has all the materials needed to do the printing work on shirts and t-shirts as well as balls, pens, and caps.”
The businessmen are living their entrepreneurship dream serving not only local customers but also attracting clients from other East African countries like Tanzania and Uganda.
Whenever there is a lot of work they would burn the midnight oil to ensure that they meet their customer demands. At times they are forced to hire more people to work as casuals when they have excess work.
Apart from digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it is the quality of their work and the good will of their clients who refer others that market them. Increasing clientele has meant that they widen their scope, and delve into special tasks like sports branding where they print jerseys – Gor Mahia Footbal Club fans jersey is one of the best of their work.
Although there are those who believe that it is bad business practice to part ways with an employer then later become a direct competitor, these two young men argue that that is not the case. It is more about efficiency of your business, they say. “In the very beginning I was employed in the same field and I used to do sales. It is from this point that I got my inspiration. I aimed at starting my own business and becoming my own boss. Today I am meant to meet the deadline of my clients. No one stopped me from being the boss,” says Otung’.
Many Kenyans want to venture into business, but cannot really decide which one. It is as such that for many individuals who are looking for creative ways of generating income, the driving force is usually high unemployment. Or, cure of a lean purse. Ellis merchandise and Graphics is one of those visions that was birthed as jobs became scarce and cost of living rose. Actually, a creative mind is what is needed to develop the society, which is evident in this company run by youths – it is a great move when a young mind can create employment and a product. That is development of an individual and the economy as a whole. And it is not always a case of “what you earn is yours to keep” thus challenges abound.
The company faces high costs of acquiring raw materials. In addition, when the shilling is weaker against the dollar they tend to spend more especially when they have to import materials and pay for them in dollars. When such costs are pushed to the customers, the clients sometimes fail to understand, thus they try and maintain their price, which lowers the profit margin. “What keeps us going is the belief that we are different and we believe in delivery of the different good quality work,” says Otung’.