Shifting the bar

My mum was taken aback when I told her I was running a mobile bar business.

Elizabeth Gachihi, 34, launched a business in the mobile liquour sector. PHOTO| COURTESY 

IN SUMMARY

  • I hadn’t realised the smarts it really took to prepare for an event, especially sourcing for the drinks.
  • I also didn’t have the money to fully finance myself. I’d been wary of taking loans but I was now treading new territory that demanded I take new risks.

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Elizabeth Gachihi, 34, launched a business in the mobile liquour sector. She tells Florence Bett-Kinyatti how she has survived the ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

“My mum was taken aback when I told her I was running a mobile bar business. I remember she asked me, ‘Liz, you want to become a barmaid and sell alcohol to people?’ I laughed.

Mobile bars were only catching on back then and most people didn’t understand what I do: I provide mobile bar services to private and public events like weddings, parties and corporate events – I provide the drinks and staff to support that event.

“I started out in early 2014 by partnering with an already established bar. Running a bar is a capital-intensive venture. I had neither the reputation nor the financial muscle this bar had, so I’d buy drinks from them then resell them at my events at a small margin.

They were pleased with our partnership because my mobile bar was another avenue for them to generate income. It wasn’t a sustainable or profitable business model for me though because my margins were miniscule.

“I also got too comfortable; my greatest challenge was only to source events and sell their liquor. That was it. But all the skills I needed to run a mobile bar I learned from my three years in this partnership. Skills like engaging with the crowd at events, dressing for the event, managing my waiters, how to step in when one doesn’t show, accounting for liquor and for cash.

I also learned how to measure and pour spirits, make cocktails, prep ice and fruit condiments, set up the mobile bar itself with the glassware and bottles.

“Management of the bar changed hands around mid 2017; the new management frustrated the liberty I initially had to operate as my events dictated. The frustration was disruptive to my business but it was the push I needed to step out on my own and grow. So I took the plunge.

I had my first independent event that December – my partner was having a party at his studio, I provided the drinks and staff.

“Before this event, I hadn’t realised the smarts it really took to prepare for an event, especially sourcing for the drinks. I also didn’t have the money to fully finance myself. I’d been wary of taking loans but I was now treading new territory that demanded I take new risks. A close friend loaned me the shortfall and I dove into the deep end. The event was a success! I was exhilarated and proud of myself – I could actually do this on my own.

For a long time since 2014, I’d constantly doubted I was doing the right thing. There’d been many difficult months I didn’t have money or events. The flame of my perseverance had flickered to the point where I was anxious about my future. I was heading to 30 and nothing I’d touched in my journey had worked out as I’d wanted.

“I’d joined the University of Nairobi in 2004 for my undergraduate in cultural tourism. My classes were in the evening and I lived at home, so I missed out the ‘campus experience’ everyone bangs about.

SINGLE MUM

“Mum raised us a single mum since I was 11, when we lost Dad. She inspired me to seek financial freedom – in my second year I got a paying job as a personal assistant to a government kahuna. I worked with him for two years then became a professional nightclub DJ. Mum had always encouraged my two siblings and me to make our own decisions and our own mistakes – I appreciate her for this – she trusted me to deejay in a nightclub and behave myself.

“Early 2013, I got a job as a guest relations officer at a hotel on Kiambu Road. I resigned six months later to naively follow a romantic relationship to Thika, where I got another job as a guest relations manager. I’ve never felt further from home or from what I wanted as a person. By the time I ended the relationship and moved back home that December, I was a disoriented little girl returning home to her mummy. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted for my life or what to do for money. Sitting at home with your thoughts of hopelessness can take your mind and body to dark spaces you may not return from, so I exercised. Running put my mind back into the right mental space, helped me lose weight and restore my confidence. So yes, hosting my first successful independent event last December was the reassurance I’d been praying for for years.

“I registered Liqors Mobile Bar as a business early this year and committed to expanding my brand’s visibility on social media. I consistently pushed out content and even launched my YouTube channel, ‘Cocktails With Liz’; I teach my viewers how to make cocktails at home.

I like to host events of 200 to 300 people because I can give my clients a more personalised service. I work with three casuals for such events.

“I just invested in my first display fridge – I’m now looking to invest in more refrigeration equipment this year.”

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