You can hear the company ”Steel Converters” long before you can actually see it, the angle grinders, the hammering, the sound of steel dumped on steel. Led by the sound I soon find my way through the gate to a business, where welding sparks are flying in all directions.
I am somewhere along Thika Road, one of the main roads in Nairobi, which is now being expanded and improved by the in Africa ever present Chinese, who always knew where to make a buck. A better road means access, and access means that prices for plots and houses already are on their way up. And that’s a problem for James Gathuni, the owner of “Steel Converters”.
- I had planned to buy a piece of land, but because of lack of funding, it was sold before I could do anything, he says.
James Gathuni has a good business, and he would be the last to complain about his life. But like everyone else he wants to make it bigger, and on the present location it’s not possible. Not only because of close neighbors on all sides, but the place is not safe at night, machines get stolen because of the open-air yard, where all production takes place come rain or shine. And James Gathuni desperately wants new machines, because he has a plan for his business.
- Look, you see those plates out there, he says, and points out into the yard. They are part of the scaffolding for building sites. Construction is going on everywhere in Kenya, and once I convince the owners to buy my scaffolding the next step is to convince them that I should also be their provider of steel frames for the windows. But for that I need new and expensive machines, says Gathuni, who would also like to begin manufacturing frames for trucks.
At the moment he has six employees, but he has a vision.
- If I get the machines I need, I would really like to create a vocational college where young men can be taught the trade. They would have to pay for it, but I think it would be a win-win situation, because I would be able to offer them work and education. There are so many unemployed young men with a lot of energy in this country, and I want them to help themselves, he says.
James Gathuni is on his second loan (EUR 7,656) from Growth Africa and MYC4, and the repayment is on track. His first loan (EUR 5,056) was paid back in April this year. He started out years ago with a loan from Smep, but eventually they could not meet his need for money, so he switched to Growth Africa in 2009.
Loan officer from Growth Africa John Mbugua says that James Gathunis business is a very fine one. But the challenge for him is that he doesn’t always have the money to buy the materials, when customers place their orders, which is a frustrating situation. Cash at hand is a must for a business like “Steel Converters”.
But first of all Mr. Gathuni needs to join the ranks of those who have a computer. How it is possible to run a business today without one can be hard to comprehend. A quick look around the tiny office reveals no PC.
- I know, I know, it has top priority now. It would make access to customers much easier, it would save me a lot of time, he says.
And it would save him from spending hours in traffic jam on Thika Road.