A young man in Nyamasaria area of Kisumu County is using a unique business idea to gain a foothold in solar business.
Unlike other traders who sell their solar lamps at a profit, Richard Ochieng of Badogo Art Bone Enterprise at Nyamasaria shopping centre in Kisumu County is hiring out his Sun King Solo lamps to villagers at only Sh15 a day.
“I employ the sun to help people light up their homes. This has cut the cost of fuel and reduced health risks associated with exposure to paraffin lamps,” he says.
Starting off in 2012 with only five lamps worth about Sh12,000, Ochieng now has a monthly turnover of Sh90,000.
A resident of Obamo area of Kisumu West sub-county, he says he borrowed the business idea from Swedish trainers who were researching on entrepreneurship and training local youths during an open seminar at Kisumu Polytechnic.
The professional artist who studied at the Kenya Industrial Technical Training was then in the painting and decorating business. He got the conviction to diversify his dealings and increase his sources of income.
“I studied an array of business proposals that the researchers had and fell for the concept of buying and selling solar lanterns. However, I wanted to be different from the shops that sell lanterns. I thought of renting them out cheaply to fishermen,” he said.
From the many lighting samples that the Swedish scholars brought, Ochieng chose Sun King Pro, worth Sh4,500, and Sun King Solo, worth Sh2,500. He now buys his lamps from Nairobi.
Both come with a panel, a charging wire, and universal phone chargers.
They have stands and can be hanged from the ceiling or balanced on a table. The Pro lamp is more advanced than the Solo one.
However, the lamps did not appeal to the target fisher community as they did not radiate warmth, which is important in attracting fish to boats, the way pressure lamps do.
Ochieng did not let the predicament pin him down. For a few months, he sold the lamps at a profit of Sh500 to Sh700 while studying the market needs.
In December 2013, he changed his strategy. He took up five Sun King Solos from his stock and begun renting them out in a pilot project.
“There are those who want the lamps to use in their households since they do not have electricity, whereas small scale grocers want to use them in the market at night. A random lot requests for the lamps during power blackouts, a frequent occurrence here,” he says.
As demand increased, Ochieng used the proceeds to purchase more lamps for hire.
He acknowledges that he got financial management support from a community self-help group, Neno Mbele, where he learnt to juggle spending wisely and taking care of his three siblings who were orphaned at a young age.
Ochieng now has over 130 solar lamps, are numbered. The first 70 are for specific customers who use them frequently, while the rest are distributed randomly.
A faithful customer, Priscilla Olondo Ochieng, who sells cereals and charcoal at the centre, says she no longer worries about power blackouts since she has a solar lantern on standby in the house after using it in the market.
She says the deal is cheaper than using kerosene, as she used to in the past.
Most of the customers said their children benefit from the lamps as their brightness can be regulated to suit study needs.
With increased demand, Ochieng now employs several people to help him collect the lamps from customers. He earns an average Sh3,000 a day hiring out the lamps.
Since the lamps have a lifespan of eight to 10 years, while the battery lasts up to five years, he estimates that he will by then have made Sh54,000 from each lantern.
“I had five employees last year. I however discovered that those who managed some centres in Awasi and a section of Nyalenda Estate were unfaithful, each time giving less money for the lamps they rent out. I dismissed them and remained with only two,” he said.
Mr Alfred Otieno is in charge of collecting over 40 lanterns in households, while Premus Kibuye collects 30 from the market users for charging every morning whereas the customers pick them for use every evening from the Badogo office.
According to Otieno, the major challenges they face with the customers include misuse and theft of the lanterns.
“Some people tend to plug in electrical items in an attempt to charge the lamps despite our advice not to,” he said.
He adds that some lanterns get stolen during black outs, but since culprits do not have the panels to charge them, some are forced to take them back once the power runs out after two days.
“In three instances, some people have brought back lanterns, only to find that they are uniquely marked with Badogo logo,” he said.
Ochieng now earns an average of sh3, 000 per day for hiring out the lamps minus the profit which he earns when he sells them out.
This has enabled him to comfortably pay school fees for his younger sister who is in form three as he also cares for other two in primary schools.
He says as much as he is still into art and decoration, lantern business is the best he could ever try.
“One advantage of it is that once it’s bought, they only require constant charging which can also be done on low intensity of sun heat. They are also long lasting,” said Ochieng.
The Sun King solar lamps have a lifespan of eight to 10 years while its battery lasts up to five years.
The artist made an estimate that by the time the years elapse; he will have made an average of close to Sh54, 000 from each lantern.