For decades, the American dream has always been having a whole lot of luxuries and whereas many Indians lived this fantasy, 40-year-old Anil Kumar envisioned the “Ugandan dream.” His was a dream of a better life born out of the satisfaction of running a personal business. From his story, he attained his entrepreneurial calling in a rite of passage from his father.
Mr Kumar reveals that at the age of 12, he started selling electrical equipment with his father, an experience that molded his business mind.
After completing two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Commerce and Law from India, he intended to start a business but worked for his investment capital first.
In the accountant’s quest for a better life, he left Kadiri, his home town in South India and settled in Uganda in 2000.
“I left India to have better growth in life,” he says.
Once here, he worked as an accountant in Payless Supermarket in Kabalagala and later moved to Stanhope Finance company which was purchased by Crane Bank in 2006.
Within three years, even as he was managing a Crane Bank branch, Mr Kumar felt he was destined for bigger things on his own. He then resigned from Crane Bank in 2009.
“I could excel in the bank but I saw that in business, there are more opportunities. I studied the market and said, let me try business,” he recounts.
Mr Kumar’s takeaway from the banking experience was that registering a company, having financial discipline, customer care and advertising are paramount in any business.
Starting the company
After consulting several people in business, Mr Kumar says the growth in the construction sector pushed him to kickstart his company.
“I almost did business in South Sudan but the war was still on. I knew Uganda well and the construction sector here was starting to boom,” he says.
Mr Kumar took advantage of his decade of expertise in accountancy and developed SSG Granites Limited, a company that supplies tiles used in construction.
However, it later dawned on him that he could not do this solely because of the huge sums of money required. He sought out four Indian friends to pool Shs100m as startup capital.
Incorporated in 2009, the company would not only import granite and porcelain tiles, it would cut the tiles and fix them in clients’ houses and buildings. He rented a cream bungalow along Mawanda Road, hired three workers with experience in granite cutting and operations took off.
The first sale came in March 2010 as the goods arrived after four months. It is then that the challenges kicked in.
“It was very hard because there were many players who had been in the system. For the new players, it was very hard to penetrate but we knew being a landlocked country, there would be a shortage at some point,” he notes.
This was followed by mistrust in the company and wrong procurement of tiles that resulted into wastage since most clients were interested in kitchen tiles.
He also notes the market seemed narrow because big construction companies were importing their materials instead of buying from retailers like him.
He then turned to “daily customers” and smaller construction businesses though these questioned the company’s ability to deliver a good job. Clients told him: “First establish for three years then we can have the confidence that you can stay in the market,” he says.
By the end of 2010, he had supplied about 10 clients in construction and furniture businesses.
How the construction company works
He says the company provides about 23 colours of granite tiles from India and porcelain tiles from China. Because of different client needs, he keeps researching on new tile colours.
Besides fixing tiles in kitchens, bathrooms, graves, the company covers floors and walls with tiles especially in big buildings.
Mr Kumar cites a major hiccup in the construction sector.
“Since last year, construction has been down because of the high interest rates levied on loans by banks. This has forced clients to use alternative products such as timber,” he says.
He says this has pushed the company to reduce prices of tiles in order to remain in business. He, however, remains optimistic of a business boom in 2017 once the sector stabilises.
Mr Kumar reveals that the company currently earns Shs220m from sales every month.
Last year, SSG Granites Limited emerged fourteenth in the Top 100 Mid-sized companies’ competition organised by Daily Monitor and KPMG. Mr Kumar notes that he participated to attain visibility.
“We wanted to know where we stand, many people would come to know us and it would be a good platform for me to expand the business because Daily Monitor has a good readership,” he says.
His effort has paid off as it has exposed the company to other sectors through networking.
Mr Kumar says one of his major achievements is working with big construction companies such as Roko, Excel and Cementers.
In a good month, he fixes tiles in 75 kitchens. He boasts of a growth in employees, from five to 30 workers today.
He has gained companies’ confidence sayinh this would be impossible without proper planning and delivery of services in time.
He hopes to expand the business with two branches in Kampala. He also plans to go into wholesale business. He intends to join the local mining business to supply granite.
People uplifted by SSG Granites Limited
“Mr Kumar keeps his word and is a trustworthy person who gives us goods on credit. He is a good business manager who handles customers well, the rich and poor alike. They have unique stones from what I see in the market,”
Fred Nakedde, Interior Designer and company client
“Business is growing. The company protects us well because the nature of job we do can expose us to many dangers,”
Constant Otieno, Granite cutter SSG Granites Limited
“There is steady growth in the business. Mr Kumar handles us well and he has trained us to do what we do because if you do not put all your strength in this work, you cannot manage,”
Jimmy Odam, Granite cutter SSG Granites Limited
Source: Daily Monitor