When you step into his office that doubles up as a store in Upper Hill, Nairobi, the book Imitation is Limitation by John Mason, greets you. On the side is a pile of papers, a cheque book, and government local service orders (LSO).
In the pile is a document from the Ministry of Roads that gives the garage approval to handle, maintain, or repair government vehicles.
In the garage compound government and private vehicles are being serviced while others are under repair. Welcome to Patrick Wambua and Maxwell Maithya’s garage.
Mr Wambua is a mechanic with engine and suspension specialisation. He entered the profession after failing to secure fees for secondary school education almost 18 years ago.
However, as the saying goes, life belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Today, Mr Wambua, a father-of-three, has risen to co-own a Sh6 million ($71,000) auto repair shop. He has also authored the book, How to Create and Enjoy Wealth.
Fourteen years ago, with only $6 as seed capital, he started a garage that has now grown to the fully-fledged car repair centre.
Mr Wambua would buy and fit car exhaust silencers. And what was once a roadside business has been transformed into today’s venture along Matumbatu Road opposite the Don Bosco Catholic Church that employs more than 10 mechanics who are socialised in different fields.
Couldn’t get loan
Mavuno Auto Masters was first set up on the roadside in Hurlingham estate, Nairobi, in January 1999.
“I worked near the Hurlingham KenolKobil petrol station, where I would handle engine and suspension system problems of motorists plying Argwings Kodhek Road,” says Mr Wambua, who has a diploma in mechanical engineering from Machakos Technical Training Institute.
“I knew that going it alone would not be easy, especially given that I would not easily secure a loan,” he says.
From the start, he embraced a strong culture of savings. He also resolved to work on his personality to become a trusted mechanic.
“I realised that my customers had to have confidence in me because the success of the business greatly depended on their goodwill and the referrals they gave their friends to seek our services,” he told Money.
The mechanic also needed to go back to school and acquire knowledge on how to run a big business.
“I realised that the business was growing, yet I was not giving it my all since I was everything: the manager, the entrepreneur, the treasurer, and the secretary. In 2002, I took a diploma in business management at the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM).”
Two years later, he went back to KIM for a certificate course in entrepreneurship.
Things worked out so well that in 2007, Mr Wambua rented a small office in Upper Hill and operated from the parking lot. He bought equipment, including an engine diagnostic machine that cost him $2,300.
“I applied my professional experience and still visited clients, which saw my customer base almost double to exceed 400,” he says.
It is during this time that the partners came together. The other two are Mr Maxwell Maithya, an auto-electrical engineer who owns 30 per cent of the company, and a graphic designer who owns 10 per cent.
Coincidentally Mr Maithya, an orphan, also failed to secure secondary education for lack of school fees in 1995. As his age-mates joined secondary school, he started doing menial jobs in his rural home in Machakos until 2009 when he sold the only cow he owned together with his siblings and enrolled for a certificate course in electrical engineering.
He later travelled to Nairobi, courtesy of a friend, and started working at a garage in Hurlingham.
“I understood my work well, such that my colleague, Mr Wambua ,would always send me cars that needed electrical work and this made me develop my turf over time and have a clientele that always trusted my work,” says Mr Maithya.
During his work at the jua kali garage, he learnt that some of his colleagues were buying and selling old cars after repairing them. Mr Maithya also got experience, going to government offices and securing tenders to repair and service government vehicles.
The experience acquired, he says, is so invaluable that it has enabled Mavuno Auto Masters to grow largely through government contracts.
He recalls when he bought a car for $535 and after reworking it, he sold it at $1,000. That allowed him to build his savings and in 2011, he and Mr Wambua joined hands to form Mavuno Auto Masters.
Mr Wambua owns 60 per cent of the business. The company employs seven mechanics who are specialised in car spraying, engine diagnosis and suspension, wiring and security installations of say car alarms and auto-locking gadgets. They mainly deal with Japanese and German models.
Upon request, Mr Wambua picks his customer’s cars from their homes, offices, or parking lots, then delivers them when they are ready.
The business fetches between $6,000 and $8,000 a month on average.
“I and most of my friends whom we were together in class are now pursuing post-graduate studies. I always wanted to have academic qualifications and plan to grow this business into all the 47 counties,” says Mr Wambua.
Recently, the mechanic enrolled for a $4,000 six-month online course with the Penn Foster Career School to hone his skills in the automatic transmission gear box. His decision was informed by the fact that many vehicles now have automatic transmission.
Penn Foster Career School is a US for-profit distance education vocational school. It was founded in 1890, and was formerly known as International Correspondence Schools or ICS.
The partners in the garage are now looking for a strategic investor to inject capital into the business to help them handle bigger assignments, which they cannot take advantage of because of lack of capacity to buy bigger and more sophisticated equipment.
“The nature of this work is that many times you have to foot the bill of buying spare parts and other necessary material that is expensive but necessary for our work. Therefore, you need to have a lot of liquid cash to sustain your operations as you wait for payment,” says Mr Wambua.
The partnership has also started a security services firm, Mavuno Home Care. The partners say they want to grow the business, but that the biggest constraint is inadequate financing.
“Most private security firms in the country are run by foreigners, which is indeed a challenge that we have an opportunity to also offer high-end security services,” says Mr Wambua.
The partnership is now scouting for a private equity provider to help them actualise their dream.