Step of faith: From bank’s job to an established entrepreneur

In 2012, Kelvin Kyellenge grew tired of his bank job. For six years, he had led a miserable financial life living from pay cheque to pay cheque; hand to mouth; no savings; no assets acquired. It was a difficult job. A chance meeting one day with one of his bank customers opened his eyes to opportunities that lay in the container business.

He quit his bank job and fully took upon selling containers. Today, he is the proud owner of Container Works Africa Ltd, a company that sells containers for different purposes – containers that are used to put up shops, security booths, offices, homes, mobile medical clinics…among other premises. Kelvin shares his business journey with Hustle.

Having an 8pm to 5pm job offers one a sense of financial security, what promise did you see in the container business that made you resign from the bank? 

I worked as a banker for six years and barely saved anything. I was always broke. My work at the bank involved interacting with a lot of clients. During those interactions, I made a lot of acquaintances. One of those acquaintances was a man in the container business. With time, we built a close rapport.

Our relationship moved from exchanging occasional pleasantries to talking business. One day, he offered me a commission if I would sell his containers. I took up the challenge. I did the job as a side hustle while working at the bank.

Then an idea struck me: I could make more money selling containers than working at the bank. I quit and took full time employment selling the containers. Within two years, I had saved a staggering Sh4 million. I could branch out and start on my own. My mentor – the man who introduced me to the container business – put in a good word for me so I could pick stock from suppliers on credit and pay later. That’s how this business was born.

What lessons have you taken in your business journey?

Money management. I was not used to having that amount of money at my disposal. Having come from employment, my mindset had not completely adjusted to understanding the world of entrepreneurship. Money excites you easily. I had to learn that in business, every day is not Christmas.

When the seasons are good, they are really good and when they are low, anything can happen. I learnt that a business grows through ploughing back profits. I also learnt that one should invest wisely during peak seasons so that the low seasons are bearable and operations can continue. I learnt that having a higher level of liquidity does not mean one has to drive a high-end car. A simple car will still get the job done.

What are some of your best marketing avenues?

Digital marketing, word of mouth, and the networks I built over time. They come in handy when I want to put my message out there and they are affordable.

Do what you studied in college help you nowadays in running your enterprise?

I studied Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting option). I am a Kenyatta University alumnus. Honestly, my degree has not helped me run my business. We have a finance department that handles the money bit. That said, I still have to understand the financials of course. I think my greatest take away is the skill set I acquired from working at the bank. The customer service skills I got from there have worked well for me as an entrepreneur.

What notable brands have you traded with so far?

I have provided containers for the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Lewa Conservancy, University of Nairobi, Vivo energy, Farmers Choice, Kenya Nut Company, Mater Hospital among other renowned brands. I must also note that I do not only sell new containers. I do also refurbish old ones and a lot of other companies have contacted me to help them with the refurbishment of their containers.

What are the peak seasons for your business?

June to October. This is around the time when the government begins its financial year. There is a lot of liquidity. People spend more on investing and expanding their businesses and launching new ventures around this time.

What is the price for your cheapest container?

A plain 20-foot container goes for Sh200,000. Let me also add that most people buy containers to set up shops. So most of the containers we sell are designed in a way to accommodate shops.

How much would it cost to purchase a 1-bedroom, self-contained container unit?

At least Sh1 million. Complete with everything, electrical wiring, and all.

What other investments have you made from your container business proceeds?

I’ve managed to take good care of my wife, my two kids, my parents, and siblings because of this business. I have also made investments in different fields I cannot reveal for now. I would say this business has come with a lot of good things not just for me but for the people I care for.

What has been your greatest challenge while running this business?

One, convincing people that containers work; that you can comfortably live in a house made from refurbished containers. Years ago, people used to ask me: “Mimi! Niishi kwa nyumba ya mabati?” (Do you expect me to live in a container house?).

Nowadays many have come to appreciate containers houses after checking how beautiful they look inside. They have realised that they are cost-effective and that someone can relocate with his entire house when the need arises.

What would you say has been your highest moment as an entrepreneur?

The biggest satisfaction I’ve derived from entrepreneurship has been creating jobs for others. It has been very rewarding that God could use men to create an opportunity for others.

What do you think of the state of this business in Kenya?

Containers remain the future of many businesses. Instead of renting an office space, why not have a container and have it partitioned to suit your needs? You can do something different in future with that piece of land without having to demolish buildings.

Your word of advice to would-be entrepreneurs?

Be open-minded enough and be creative. Don’t always focus on what’s been done. You might be the trailblazer we need to follow in a couple of years. For example, the people who started refurbishing containers made a way for the rest of us to have an easier time marketing the product.

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