Robert Mbok and his brother Evans are the proud owners of a car upholstery business located in Nairobi’s Garden Estate, off Thika Road. The business deals with anything car interior, from roof lining, steering wheels, seat fitting, floor carpeting, door panels, dashboard, etc.
The brothers began the business about four years ago with one other partner. Their interest in cars drawn from their childhood experiences morphed into a rather successful business. Speaking on an interview with Business Daily, Robert narrated how their interest for cars is deep-rooted.
“From childhood, we had a lot of interest in cars. It got to a point where we started experimenting with our cars. I had a Nissan (Tiida) and began playing around with its interior. We thought, how could we share our skills with other people? What do we need? So we started by getting a machine and experts,” Mr Mbok told Business Daily.
It is from this point that the company began to grow. They were optimistic that with the high market demand for their unique services, they would break bank sooner or later. When they started, they had only one branch and three workers. Four years later, the brothers now have over fifty employees and three branches located in Nairobi, Mombasa and Eldoret.
During the upholstery process, a client’s car interior is customized according to their needs, complemented by expert advice aligning with the make and model of the car.
“We do an assessment of the need then we talk about costs which is pegged on material options – genuine leather is usually more expensive than fabric. Through this, we can establish what the client wants and the cost implication. Once we agree, we do a checklist: How is the car at the point of reception? Is the steering wheel functioning well? Does it have airbag errors? What is the existing condition of the car so that the client can pick it up in the same condition, but better in terms of upholstery. Only then can we start working on the car,” Mbok told BD.
The car is then forwarded to the operations team which creates a job card of what is needed to be done and assigns to specific teams. “There is the team that does the fitting and another that does the stitching. We also have a quality assurance team that ensures everything is done to the client’s specifications. Finally, we have the clearance team which prepares the car in terms of cleaning, fitting back the seats, basically ensuring the car is ready for the client.”
After clearance, the quality assurance team takes over to do one final check before handing the vehicle over to the customer engagement team which contacts the client.
Car upholstery business is not a cheap venture. Robert explained how expensive materials for repair are; leather materials, stitching gear, foams, linings, etc. He sources most of its materials from the local industries. However, sometimes he imports materials upon a client’s request.
“We source most of our materials from the local markets. Foams, linings etc. We have specific types of leather such as microfiber leather and genuine processed leather that we have to import, which depends on the needs of a client.”
Like every business, car upholstery has its fair share of challenges. With the economy performing poorly in the past few years, many clients have had to postpone any interior works, to give priority to the purchase of fuel. This has in turn affected their business.
“The machinery is also a big problem. Getting raw materials is hard, such as microfiber which I have to import from Dubai or China. If a client needs fast customization, they are limited to either taking what we can offer or having to wait,” he added.
Another challenge is the issue of licensing. According to Robert, the government has no strategy to support the small industries that are cropping up, thus creating an harsh environment for businesses to thrive in.
Hope for the future
The entrepreneur went on state that the future looks bright with the “kind of investments such as time and resources and training we have put in will keep us improving. We are the market leaders and thus we are positive that through our desire for excellence, and because we have specialized in quality and expertise, we will remain ahead.”