Monica Matiri is the founder and director of Workmanship Production Limited, a Kenyan company involved in transporting goods in the East African region. Matiri spoke to How we made it in Africa’s Regina Ekiru on how she has made it in a male dominated field.
Tell us more about your company
Workmanship Production Limited owns two trucks that transport goods to East African countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and southern Sudan as well as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) markets. We have five full-time employees and at times use up to seven part-time employees, depending on job availability.
As a woman was it easy to fit in the male dominated trucking business?
No. I actually have to work twice as hard. This is not only a male dominated field in terms of business owners but is also quite technical. Respect is earned and this takes time. I believe I am beginning to prove myself from the deals I have been able to make.
This is a very competitive field where large companies, which own more than 100 trucks, call the shots. How do you cope?
We are not taking competition from big multinational companies lying down. Instead, we sub-contract from other truck owners. This has helped us win contracts from big corporations in East Africa looking to transport goods in the region.
Describe some of the challenges you face in running the business?
Financing and external factors such as unpredictable fuel prices are some of the challenges we face. When we get contracts, say for several years, we put into consideration the costs we will incur, including fuel costs. However, when the fuel prices go up it eats into our profits since we cannot go back to our clients and demand a renegotiation. Poor infrastructure in the corridors linking Kenya and its neighbouring countries, and human resource issues such as recklessness among drivers, leading to vehicle damage and downtime as a result, are also sources of concern.
To overcome these challenges I have learnt to be streetwise and sniff for new business opportunities. To avoid running into problems with the authorities, I comply with all statutory requirements and avoid overloading.
Have you always been interested in business?
I have always been enterprising and when the calling came I had to quit employment and venture into business. Fifteen years ago I got my first ‘big cheque’ of Ksh.50,000 from a local supermarket after supplying them with a 2,000 kg corn order. Though I later went into employment, I have always had the passion of going into business.
Any words of advice for other entrepreneurs?
Before you invest ask yourself what is your motivation? For some it is money, for others it is passion. For a few it is both. The harsh reality, however, is that money will trickle in, but what happens when it stops flowing, do you quit? There are high failure rates among business start-ups because entrepreneurs do not undertake research before investing and therefore have no clear strategy. Before you take the leap, know what you are getting into.
What are your future plans?
I would like to have a fleet of 50 trucks and a clearing and forwarding firm. This will give us a competitive edge. We are looking for partnerships that will put us in the league of big transport companies in the region.