Emily Ogolla, 41, is the owner of Little Wonders baby shop situated on the 1st floor of T-Mall, along the Langata road/Mbagathi Way junction. She is mother to three boys aged 13, 15 and 18. I had a chat with her about her entrepreneurial journey.
MT: Tell us about your business
EO: I sell children’s clothing and accessories. My products are fashionable, trendy and unique –I try my level best not to stock what everyone else is selling. I source them from Turkey, Thailand, China and Dubai. I travel every 6-8 weeks to buy new stock.
MT: When did you start this business?
EO: I opened this Little Wonders store last year in June. But before that, I was still in the children’s clothing business. I supply children’s clothing at three Uchumi stores, and I also have a baby shop at Langata Shopping Center called Emmy Collections.
EO: Not always. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I was employed as a teacher. I taught English and Literature at a secondary school. I then went on to do my Post-Graduate Diploma, afterwhich I was promoted to the position of Inspector of Schools. But one year later, I quit as I did not find what I was doing challenging enough.
I then got employed by Safaricom as a Customer Care rep. I worked there for 10 years, rising through the ranks to become a Call Center Manager. All the while, I was doing the children’s clothes business as a side hustle.
MT: How did you arrive at your decision to leave formal employment for full time business?
EO: I must admit that it was always a very delicate act balancing between my job and my business. While things were quite lax working as a teacher in the government, the same could not be said for Safaricom, as the job was very demanding. I had to plan and organize myself to ensure both my job and my business did not suffer. But eventually, a time came when I had to make a decision as balancing both was not easy.
I started thinking about my exit strategy slowly, as I started focusing on my business. One time, I decided to take time away from the office and spend time at my business. In that week where I was at the business from morning till 9pm, the business brought in about 1 million shillings –up from the approx Ksh 500,000 it previously used to bring in. I knew that I had to go into it full time to maximize on the profits from the business. And that is when I tendered my resignation to go into business full time. At that time, I had not opened the Little Wonders shop – it was just Emmy Collections and the supplies at the Uchumi stores.
EO: When I decided to open this shop (Little Wonders), the capital was a great challenge. When I got the space, it was just a bare empty room as the mall was new. I had to build the shop from scratch –fixing the walls, painting them, doing the partitions, working on the ceiling, the floors… everything. This cost me an arm and a leg!! I got a good send off pay from Safaricom –which I had thought would be more than enough to set up the shop, but I was in for a rude shock for the money ran out before I had even completed ‘making’ the shop. I had not even bought the stock yet! I could not believe it and actually had to put everything on hold for a few months as I pondered my next move.
After a while, I decided to borrow money from my other businesses. Eventually, I got it up and running in June 2012.
MT: Any other challenges?
EO: Aside from the capital? Well, financial management –keeping proper records and being strict about not taking money out of the business for personal use. Another challenge is stock control –nowadays I ensure that I have no dead stock. I learnt that sometimes you can buy things that you think will sell like hotcake, only for the market to dictate otherwise when no one buys the product. So I have learnt to study the market and only buy stuff which I know will sell. I get to learn new things everyday about running a business.
MT: What are the good parts about running your own business?
EO: I get happy when I receive positive feedback from my clients about the stuff they bought from me. I am also happy that the business is growing.
EO: I am grateful to God for motherhood despite the challenges it sometimes brings along. My eldest son has Sickle Cell Anaemia, and having a child with a long term ailment is one of the toughest things for any mother. He and I have been in and out of hospitals countless times since he was a little child –for both in and outpatient visits/stays. It was especially difficult when I was employed, because there are days when I would go to work during the day, then go to hospital and spend the night with him there when he was admitted, then have to be at work punctually the following day.
Other days I would work, then travel during my off days to go get stock. Many are the times when I would go straight from the office to the airport without even stopping by home, and other days I would land then go straight to the office. It was very taxing, and at some point I must confess that I lost my children. It was crazy I tell you – working in the corporate world and running a business at the same time. But I thank God for my mom who stood in for me during these times. I also had good housegirls who helped take care of the boys. Right now is when I am rebonding with my children as I have enough time for them.
MT: Your advice to fellow moms who want to start a business?
EO: Don’t do something because someone else is succeeding at it. The returns might not be the same for you. Instead, do something you know you’re good at, do something that your heart is telling you to do. Be creative and original and don’t copy other people.
Also know that in business, there are times that the going will be tough. But you have to remain focused and don’t give up.
You may also like to see Irene’s story below: