Rwathia Distributors Ltd is a beer and spirits distributor for East African Breweries Ltd (EABL) and UDV Kenya Limited, manufacturers of high-quality alcohol products certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). Maina Gikonyo serves as the company’s Managing Director.
Rwathia Distributors started operations since its inception in 1964 but was incorporated in 1969 as a limited company with the principal activity of Beer Distribution.
It is one of Kenya’s oldest family business success stories. The company is owned by a group of families who hail from Rwathia location in Kangema, Murang’a County. The board is chaired by Maina’s father, 107-year-old Gerald Gikonyo Kanyuira.
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Rwathia Distributors is the oldest and one of the biggest alcohol beverage distributors in Kenya. It is KBL’s largest distributor, supplying in the region of 600 bars, hotels, and clubs and turning over a significant percentage of the beverage maker’s distributor business.
The company is based in a large compound on Quarry Road in Pumwani, a few metres from the Kariokor Muslim Cemetery. The warehouses have columns shaped like beer bottles with the cornices on the pillars shaped like bottle tops. They were built with beer in mind.
Maina has been at the helm of the distributor for over 15 years serving bars, restaurants and hotels within Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD) and the area around Pumwani, Kariokor and Ngara.
Mr. Gikonyo who is the chair of the board, operates from a hotel in the CBD, one of many properties owned by the Rwathia Group. The tycoon, unlike many others, prefers to live in the city rather than in the leafy surbubs.
The exceptional entrepreneurs from Rwathia village, moved to Nairobi in 1930 and set up a vegetable hawking business. Coming from humble beginnings, the Rwathia Group of entrepreneurs now own properties worth billions.
According Mr. Gikonyo Kanyuira, the only remaining patriarch of the capitalist boys, what they learned is that it is important to cooperate since one cannot achieve much alone.
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The Rwathia entrepreneurs built businesses in Eastlands and Pumwani from hawking vegetables. They later ventured into retail shops and then restaurants. When the Nairobi CBD opened up after independence, the businessmen built commercial buildings.
They now owns a number of notable properties at the heart of Nairobi: Magomano Hotel, New Kinangop Hotel, Timboroa Hotel, Alfa Hotel and Rwathia Distributors, and a string of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
To establish the group, a number of families from Rwathia village entrusted a few individuals with their money.
“You’d find that a business like Rwathia Distributors has around 400 shareholders but each group was brought by a certain person from their village who would be trusted to collect money, even from villagers, and as little as Ksh50 or Ksh100 to come and invest their money for them,” Maina told KCB Venture during a past interview.
The group has managed to successfully run their businesses without a single report or instance of a tussle spilling to the general public.
Maina revealed that as the founders grew old, they brought in their children and taught them how to run the businesses. Maina himself joined the business in 1995 soon after returning from the United States where he had gone to study.
“When I came to Rwathia, I was the youngest director at the time. Most of them were our parents and they were quite advanced in age. Some of them have since passed on and only
one is left, my father,” he stated.
Maina joined Rwathia in 1990 and is the only one in the family who is higher in the hierarchy of management alongside with his father who is the chairman of the board.
After returning to Kenya, he was encouraged to seize any opportunity that came before him since employment was hard to come by.
“Jobs were not easy to come by. It was easy for me to become convinced to come into the
existing businesses and try to help the older parents and directors as they aged,” says
With the founders being of little formal education, they brought their sons into the businesses which inturn made managing the empire easier.
“I can imagine that they saw something lacking in themselves, a void that we came and filled up. The younger generation has always felt appreciated when they came into the businesses and true to form, we have been able to instill a level of sophistication that was difficult for them,” says Maina.
Rwathia Distributors, has modern softwares that manage stocks better, among them a system developed with the help of East African Breweries Limited (EABL).
Maina notes that the main reason for the success of the distributor has been the use of systems and trained staff to run the business. Before the modernization of the business, the salesmen were the truck drivers, who would drive to the bars and offload the products. Today, they go in, collect data and keep tabs on how the bars are doing.
Under Maina’s leadership, the distributor’s territory has expanded from Kamukunji, Pumwani, Shauri Moyo and Eastleigh to the whole of the CBD and Upper and Lower Ngara. As of 2020, the number of trucks that moved the products was at 14 up from 5 in 1995.
Rwathia works in conjunction with the manufacturers to support the businesses they serve through promotions, campaigns, staff training and aiding them acquire loans from creditors.
Just like several other businesses across the world, the distributor was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. With the social distancing and isolation, staff were laid off during the pandemic.
Maina, however, notes that Rwathia Distributors’ future is dependent on a number of factors, majorly the ever-rising taxes in the industry. Currently, Excise Duty on alcoholic beverages increases every year.
He also notes that the import of high-end duty-free spirits is a concern for local manufacturers and distributors.
Maina hopes that just like those of his generation who joined the business, the third generation of the Rwathia group of companies will join them and bring in new ideas and ways of running the enterprise.
Maina revealed that the Rwathia group has also diversified its portfolio beyond the original investment.
“We have realized that in this business, we probably cannot depend on the alcohol trade for a very long time. We have started diversifying so that we don’t put all our eggs in one basket,” he stated.
Rwathia supplies to the Kenya Defence Forces, have contracts in six counties for the Last Mile electricity connection project, and a project to install smart meters for the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company.
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