Selling 200 pair of shoes to make become a Ugandan Mllionaire: Katumwa's Story
Who is David Katumwa?
I am a self-made entrepreneur with a modest background. My life’s journey began in the early 1970s. I was abandoned by my parents while I was young. I was raised by my grandparents in Busukuma, sub-country in Gayaza. Life was not easy, I did odd jobs to raise my school fees.
Interestingly, all the hardships I went through while growing up gave me the impetus to work hard for a good future. The going got tough in 1989 and I had to drop out of school, while in Senior One to fend for myself.
Is that when you started out in business?
Since my childhood I was involved in business, but on a small scale. While at school I used to sell pancakes and mandazi during break time.
In primary school, we used to wake up as early as 4:00am, prepare and transport vegetables like nakati, bugga and dodo on bicycles to the to markets like Kalerwe and even as far as Nakasero, a distance of over 8km.
We would wake up early because we did not want to get caught up in the jam and yet we had to get back home and hurry to school. We grew the vegetables during rainy season and the process started as early as 6:00pm the previous evening when we returned from school. We would harvest the vegetables, sprinkle water on them and store them for the next morning.
I sold 200 pairs of second-hand shoes to get my first million
Did you do this all year through?
These vegetables require a lot of water so we only peddled vegetables during the rainy season as we had no money for irrigation. In the dry season, we would vend other items on like firewood and charcoal, which we would also collect and sell to the traders in Kalerwe Market.
We would also fetch water in jerry cans from the taps and wells in town and ferry it to rich men’s farms for a fee.
We also dabbled in local brew (mwenge bigere) trade. We made it ourselves from fermented banana juice in the villages, ferried it on bicycles and sold it to dealers in Katanga, Wandegeya and many other areas.
For how long did you do this?
When I went to secondary school, I did this over the weekends because I had less time during the week. But after I dropped out of school, I continued selling this for three to four years. I even diversified into making bricks. There is virtually nothing I did not try out in the village at the time.
SETTING OUT IN THE SHOE BUSINESS
But how did you move from that to business?
In the early 1990, there was a boy we used to work with in the market, who enticed me to join him. I always thought of how best to improve my life.
When I watched these shoe vendors keenly, I realized they were making a lot of money. They would buy shoes from intermediaries called seniors and sell them to end customers.
These seniors would buy a bale or two from the wholesalers, who shipped in the big containers. They made about sh5, 000 off a pair. That was dream money for me.
I guess you joined them right away
Not exactly. My biggest challenge was capital. But even trickier was acquiring a stall. Many people operated illegally because we sold from the Nakivubo Stadium park yard. So, I gave up on the idea of a stall and decided to work for these guys instead. They paid me sh1, 000 a day.
In six months, I had accumulated about sh100, 000 enough to rent my own stall.
MY FIRST SHOP IN KAMPALA CITY
How did you move from Owino to a shop on Ben Kiwanuka Street?
That was the most challenging thing in my journey thus far. It took me a year. The shops were expensive.
They cost sh500, 000 a month. I could not afford that. So, I used my savings to instead expand my business by acquiring a kiosk on the peripheries of the park yard. I moved in there and employed someone to work in my stall.
How did that work out for you?
I moved in with a couple of women, who hired out a shelf to me on Ben Kiwanuka Street. But I retained my stall and kiosk back in Owino.
I had developed a passion for sports shoes so I stocked them. I also stocked children’s, men and women’s shoes. I still bought from the seniors even at this level.
You eventually took over the shop, right?
Eventually, yes. Most of these women had their businesses set up for them by their husbands and some did not persevere the hardships that come with running a business. They gave up easily.
Whenever someone gave up their shelf, I would take it over. In three years, I had taken over the entire shop and that was in 1998.
GETTING INTO THE IMPORT BUSINESS
How did you move from that to importing?
I had always dreamed of going to get my own stock from Dubai. I had even worked out the costs. I knew I required $2,500, inclusive of shipping and taxes but exclusive of return airfare and accommodation.
I raised this money and in 1999, I made my maiden trip to Dubai, becoming the first importer of sports equipment at a time when most Ugandans rushed for hardware and garments. I used that trip to create rapport with shippers and courier companies.
BUILDING A BRAND
In 2000, I was importing sports items ranging from pool tables, balls, gym equipment to soccer team uniforms. Because I imported my own stock, I opened three shops – one on Batia Tower on Ben Kiwanuka Street, another on Cine Afrique building on Kampala Road and another on Youma building.
I started radio advertising and getting involved in sponsorships, especially for local clubs so as to create awareness about my business.
At that time, I dreamed of owning the biggest one-stop sports equipment shopping centre. So, rather than have shops strewn all over town, I decided to join them into one – the current Kayumwa Sports Centre and moved into the current premises – a 1,000 square metres showroom on Tropical Complex, Ben Kiwanuka Street.
MY FIRST MILLION
Whenever I bought shoes from the seniors, I would pick out the first class from their bales and store them in a box at home.
Those shoes were worth much more than the rest and storing them was my way of saving. At one point, I had about 200 pairs accumulated over a period of eight months.
There were traders who sought out these kinds of shoes. They came from as far as Kigali, Rwanda or Bukavu, DR Congo. I sold all 200 pairs at once to these guys and got a profit of more than sh1m. That was the largest amount of money I had ever made at the time.
Challenges he has faced
What has been your challenge with dealing with people in your business?
Most of the people you are working with have different motives; some may be negative and some positive.
So there is a challenge in the area of management, handling and looking for customers, the challenge of looking for good suppliers, who are genuine and then looking for strategic premises.
According to your experience what would be the necessary capital for those who would like to start off a business?
It is not advisable to seek a business loan until the business gains ground and the clientele has been established. After the business has graduated to the next level, then a loan can be the best option.
What has been your greatest milestone since you started off your business career?
I have a 50% shares with Cobra Sports Goods in Japan, which deals in the manufacturing of pool game. As a shareholder, I used my influence to popularise pool table and pool table sales in Uganda and beyond.
I am considering opening up a factory to manufacturer sportswear in Uganda. I intend to imports sports materials from Asian countries. I can envision the market for sports equipment is growing every single day. Because of that I don’t think I will go wrong with what I intend to do.
Expanding into other territories
Did you venture into any other businesses?
I tried farming and bought acres of land in Katugo, Luweero, where I put up a farm with over 200 cows. Unfortunately, because I was new in this field, I failed to sustain the farm and ended up selling it.
In the early 2000s, I dreamt of manufacturing, with special attention to sports equipment. I looked around for partners.
Today I’m in touch with partners in over 26 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. However, the conditions here were not favourable for an industry of that nature. So, eventually, I settled for Cobra Sports Goods in Japan, an ailing factory that required a cash injection of $20m to get back on track.
We pooled resources with my partner Kevin Zongo and today, we are supplying stores in Europe, Japan and Africa. I directly oversee the emerging markets – that’s East and Central Africa.
From the early 2000s, I have been buying land and real estateS and selling them for a profit. There are a couple of prime properties in town currently. We also recently acquired Gakir Hostel in Juba, southern Sudan at $2m.
I run a company that offers friendly loans, especially to stranded fellow traders in the range of sh3-10m.
How have you managed to steadfastly expand your estate?
The key has been reinvesting back a big part of profits. I have relied on the personal savings to graduate from one level to another, unlike most aspiring business entrepreneurs who prefer to use loans to sustain the growth of their companies.
I believe that profits and personal savings accrued from the sales have to be ploughed back to boost the business and it has worked for me.
The New Vision Newspaper