E-commerce in Kenya is a fast-growing sector, with reports indicating that about 39% of private enterprises in the country have taken that direction. Many Kenyan entrepreneurs have also tried their hand in e-commerce, coming up with different products for an ever eager market with mixed results.
John Grant is one of them, identifying an opportunity on the onset of COVID-19 and running with it. Mr. Grant founded his company E-Plug Kenya, delivering liquor to customers across Nairobi. WoK sat down with him to understand the perks of the business, his biggest hurdles and plans for expansion.
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Tell us your name and what you do
My name is John Grant Okello. I am a businessman in the commerce and logistics sector. I am also the CEO of my company E-Plug Kenya.
Tell us a bit about the company
I came up with the idea for the company in 2020, but I officially registered it as a company in November 2021. The company specializes in commerce and logistics, currently operation in Nairobi only.
When the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Kenya and lockdown happened, I knew I had to think ahead and come up with a sustainable business. That is when I realized that people needed access to basic commodities, but could hardly move because of the then imposed lockdown and restrictions on movement. It was clear that online was the way to go, and my first thought was to decentralize ecommerce. That is when I began working on developing the concept and starting the company. We are currently registering liquor stores all over Nairobi.
When I was doing market research, I realized that a lot of ecommerce businesses are based on warehouse models. We opted to decentralize ecommerce, based on where you are. For example if you are in Ruiru, you will only be able to access shops and stores within a radius of 10 km from your location. This cuts down the time for delivery, making it very time efficient for riders and our customers.
How was the reception of the product in local market?
From the beginning, customers were very interested in the business. They were mainly enticed by our decentralized system and the reception so far has been very promising. The good thing about our service is that it is dynamic. We have riders who do deliveries in different towns in Nairobi.
You mentioned that you are recruiting liquor stores. What other products are available on the platform?
We currently are in talks with supermarkets to come up with a model to ease the process of purchasing goods for customers. We hope to work well with them to help in delivery of products to customers. We are trying to make the supermarkets model work, then we can work on expanding to other countries. Good thing about our platform is that we do not influence the prices. Shops and stores are able to list their own prices for customers to choose from.
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What are some of the challenges you face in this business?
The main challenge in this sector is mainly finances, because the business is capital intensive. Getting grants or funding for the business is very difficult. Those that offer funding ask for a very high stake in the business, so you either end up losing ownership or losing a lot of stake in your business.
What do you see as the future of the business?
I think that Eplug is going to be the first very successful local ecommerce platform with a decentralized system. Our B2b2C business model impacts a lot of lives, from riders, to stores. We hope to growing our portfolio by expanding to other towns and cities in Kenya.
How can individuals or shops reach you to purchase or register as vendors?
Interested persons can reach us through our social media platforms including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We assure our clients that they will get a response at the shortest time possible after posting an enquiry. They can also make purchases on the Eplug website.
How do you source riders to do deliveries?
We source riders according to location since ours is a decentralized system. Other that motorcycle riders, we also recruit skateboarders and bicycle riders to our delivery team. So we recruit them through applications we receive when we advertise vacancies. We then go ahead and do due diligence first to ensure that we recruit honest people.
How do you ensure that your service is seamless?
First of all, customers are able to track us, because all payments made go directly to the company payment accounts. We also give receipts to act as proof of purchase. For stores, we register them physically. We visit the physical store to confirm existence and always update location in case of any changes. We also have a formal contract to ensure that the quality of products is par the KEBS requirement. This enables us to have a very professional and efficient working ecosystem.
How long do your deliveries take?
The average turnaround time on our platform is usually less than an hour thanks to our decentralized system.
What would you say are the biggest perks of the business?
The fact that we are creating a community is a big plus for me. When we advertise for registration for stores and vendors, we create a community around a certain area. Our vendors have also appreciated the system, noted that it is easy to navigate.
Another interesting thing is that our system can be remodeled at any time to fit into the need and expectations of both vendors and buyers.
What is your advice for people who want to start a similar business?
My advice for them is have a motive for starting the business. Do not get into the business expecting to make profits right away. Being patient and keenly studying your growth model will help you to steer the business upwards.
Also do frequent analyses of your business models to ensure sustainability in the long run. A good example is the US retail chain Walmart. When they began their services, they stuck on their business model that had not been tried before. This paid off much later on, as customers adjusted to that.
I would urge Kenyans to embrace local business ventures. Kenyans should understand that there are young people who have come up with innovations that have an edge over international brands. If we support our own, we will be able to build a sustainable local economy.