“My name is Grace Mello. I am in my early thirties. I am a hairdresser by profession. I am also a taxi driver in Nairobi. I have been running my taxi business for three years now. I started this business after selling my beauty salon, barber and spa business in 2015. This business was known as Beauty Spice and Barber Shop. It had two branches, one at the Cabanas area along Mombasa Road in Nairobi, and the other along the North Airport Road near the Kobil Fuel Station.
My journey in business started twelve years ago. After completing secondary school at Mutonguni High School in Kitui in 2006, I moved to Nairobi and started working as a shampoo girl at a beauty salon. My intention was to earn myself some money before joining college. I chose a beauty salon because I had some raw plaiting skills. After working as a shampoo girl for one year, I was promoted to a junior hairdresser. I started plaiting customers on commission. I was put on training to hone my skills and acquire different hairdressing styles and techniques.
However, working at someone’s beauty salon could only get me so far. I felt that I wanted to grow. I desired to open my own beauty salon. Every month, I started saving money to buy hairdressing equipment. At the time, I lived with my older brother Tonnie. This made it easy for me to save money since I did not have expenditures. By mid 2008, I had saved about Sh. 40,000. I was frustrated that it would take years before I could get a full budget to start my own hairdressing business. My estimates showed that I needed at least a capital startup of close to Sh. 2 million.
Fortunately, my brother had noticed my efforts. He offered to help me set up the business. One of his conditions was that I needed to develop a workable business plan that could return on investment. This included finding good business locations, identifying the right hairdressing equipment, and getting the right marketing strategy. I found my first space at Cabanas, which was near the junction of Mombasa Road and North Airport Road. After identifying the space, I paid rent using my savings. My brother then flew to China to purchase all the hairdressing equipment. These included sinks and tubs, machines and flat irons. They were much cheaper in China. In addition, it made business sense since he had some business interests that he was pursuing in the country. By the time I opened the business in the last quarter of 2008, my start up investment stood at Sh. 2 million. This was fully financed by my brother. We came up with a repayment plan, and within eighteen months, I had paid him off and opened a second branch on the other end of North Airport Road.
After ten years, in 2015, I decided to sell the business following revenue downturn and tenant-landlord disputes. At our North Airport branch, the landlady tripled the rent without notice. She argued that since we were attracting more customer traffic than other businesses in the premise, we deserved to pay more. The rent hike started depleting out revenues and put my plans to open a third branch in Parklands on hold. Amidst all this, the government started constructing the North Airport Road. Traffic jams along the road became heavy, dust was the order of the day, and to make matters worse, all parking areas were eaten up by the construction works. Customers could no longer access my business. Revenues started falling rapidly. With the two branches operating on each end of the same road, they virtually ended up sharing the same clients. I stayed put hoping that once the road construction was over, my numbers would rise again. But recovery took a lot of time. By 2015, the business had started to accrue debt. I sat down with my brother who doubled up as my business mentor and examined my recovery options. In the end, the most viable option was for me to cut my losses and try something else. I decided to sell the business. I got a buyer who took the business at Sh. 3 million.
After selling my business, I had the option of starting a new one. But I felt that I was not ready to make a fresh stab at entrepreneurship. I took a two-month break to rejuvenate and consider my next step. Since I already had a database of established customers, I began contemplating going back to employment. I shared my thoughts with my brother who advised that apart from returning to employment, I should create an extra source of income.
Getting a job as a hairdresser was not hard. I had already established my name as professional. In my second stint as an employee, though, I was determined to create a side hustle that could bring me additional income. I bought a car at Sh. 850,000 and applied for a license with the taxi hailing app, Bolt. This business complemented my employment very well. Since the number of beauty salons and spas has grown tremendously, the number of walk-in clients has reduced. This has not only narrowed profit margins, but has left hairdressers with too much time on their hands. However, I do not have much time on my hands since I am either attending to a hairdressing client or riding my taxi.
Over the past three years that I have been in the taxi business, I have learned that profits are made cumulatively. You will not make a lot of money in a single trip. But at the end of the day, you will find that you have made reasonable amount of money. The taxi business has also been more flexible to operate than the hairdressing, barber and spa business. In the salon industry, I had limits on opening and closing times. With taxi, though, I start as early as 5:00 am and close at 10:00 pm due to the ongoing coronavirus curfew. On a bad day, I take home at least Sh. 2,000 net profit from my taxi business.
I have learned firsthand that the only constant in life is change. You can be employed today and jobless tomorrow. You can have a business today and wake up to find it in ruins. To survive, you must learn fast how to adapt, especially now that Covid-19 has turned employment and entrepreneurship upside down. If your business is not working, there is no shame in selling it off and going back to employment. If you’ve lost your job, there is no shame in starting a small business from the scratch. If I had worried that people would label me as failure for shutting my business and returning to employment, I would not be where I am today. Think outside the box and find ways to offer relevant products and services in a manner that is convenient to the customer. Have faith in yourself, gain skills and sharpen your talents, and learn to look within yourself. You’ll find a base upon which you can build a career, business empire and life.”