Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Kenneth Ambet: How I started my eye glasses business with Sh. 500,000

Kenneth Ambet is an entrepreneur who runs an eyewear business called Quintus Eyewear.

My business is all about eyewear. I work with third-party manufacturers who make my proposed designs and brand them specifically for my business. This has enabled me to brand every product in my store. By working with manufacturers directly, I can be able to control quality specifications. This is different from just going to a wholesaler and purchasing inventory.

This is my third business and so far, it is the longest. I started the first one a few months after finishing my undergraduate program. It was a retail marketing business. It failed a few months later. I was encouraged though as I had made some money from it. The second business was in research. It worked to some extent, but I got discouraged after some time. I went back to school and it is during this time that I started my eyewear business.

As someone with myopia, I used to purchase my glasses from some of the biggest stores in town. While they had a lot of variety, I felt that the glasses were somewhat overpriced. I could not understand why I had to spend so much money on something as small as a pair of glasses.

I also heard some other friends of mine make the same complaint. Then while doing a class assignment that was a case study on Warby Parker, an American prescription glasses retailer, I found their business model interesting, especially by how they managed to keep their eyewear prices low. I thought that such a model would work so well in our local setting. I used between Sh. 450,000 shilling and Sh. 500,000 shillings to get my first stock, and the related accessories made. This was in early 2018.

I was not starting my business to run it full time. I had started it as a side hustle since I was still studying for my Masters. However, I received a very positive response from my target audience. By this time the business was fully online with marketing done through social media. Within 8 months, I had gotten back my initial capital and chose to reinvest it back to the business.

While the business has so far shown signs of being successful, it has come with its fair share of challenges. I remember the initial designs that I sent for manufacturing were a complete mistake. I ordered what I thought customers would like. I made this order without doing any market research and it ended up backfiring. This stock did not do so well, and four years down the line, I still have some products from that batch. I later learned to order new stock based on the current trends and market preferences. This is what made the business take off.

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My greatest business moment came when I shifted from being an online store to opening a brick and mortar store. I felt scared and proud at the same time. I was not sure if the business would be able to sustain the fixed recurrent expenditure such as rent. I however felt like I needed to grow.

Lack of information by the clients on what materials qualify as quality is another challenge. Eyeglasses are made from different materials, and some materials are more durable compared to others. Unfortunately, most clients do not know this difference, and they opt to make their purchase decisions based on price. At some point, it became difficult as clients would go for the much cheaper options which are made of less durable materials while overlooking those they considered ‘more expensive.’ Since then, whenever the issue of price comes up, I ensure that I share the knowledge on quality and material with the clients. This has somehow helped normalize things stock uptake. I have also learned over the years to never sell what I cannot buy.

I am good at saving money. From all the money that comes in, I usually cover the costs of my utilities, both for the business and personal. I then take a small salary from it and the rest goes to savings. Previously, I would cover my utilities and bills, then save a fixed amount, then if anything remained, I would take it as a salary. This left me struggling in the months when nothing was left after saving the fixed amount.

A version of this profile on Kenneth Ambet was also featured on the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.

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