TURNING PASSION TO PROFITS

Salah Omar at his shop.
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Obsession for shoes propels Saalah Omar to venture into apparel and clothing

By Joseph Macharia

At a young age Saalah Omar was often fascinated by shoes. He would become interested in the minutest details about shoes that escape most of our attention. The perfect present to him was the latest sneaker in the market. His singular driving force was exploring the world of shoes and sneakers. Little did he know that he would venture into a foot wear business.

In 2018, her mum bought him a pair of shoe branded Nike Air Max 97 Golden boot. He liked the shoe so much that he ended up being a collector of shoes of similar make. As the shoes piled, it became unbearable frustration to him and had to find a way to get rid of them. At the time, Nike Air Max was rare in the market presenting a great gap in the market to sell his collections.

Great Label

Gripped so much by passion that he did not wait to complete his high school education; he secured financing from a family friend and started a clothing label in Nairobi to sell shoes. He called it Great Label. “Great Label began as a thrift shop dealing in shoes, clothes, accessories like bags and socks,” he explains. With Ksh 60,000 he started off by stocking mitumba (second-hand) shoes and sneakers of various sizes.

In the beginning he specialized in shoes but as time went by, his clients started asking for similar related accessories necessitating him to stock clothes too. With many people preferring to do their shopping online, Omar started making deliveries within the country in order it convenient for his clients. He has been using the internet to grow his customer base. Most of his clientele leads come from Instagram, where Great Label enjoys a vibrant followership. “We use Instagram to interact and get to know the needs of our customers,” he says adding that their online presence has boosted sales.

Omar wanted to provide customers with quality shoes with affordable prices. In his stockings, he made sure all shoes brought in for sale are of the best quality. “Everything we sell is of very good quality, we stock the best for our customers,” he explains adding that Great Label’s adherence on quality products is one the key reasons they have grown so rapidly in the few years. “What make Great Label unique is the quality products that we sell to our clients. It’s about quality. Our slogan is better quality and better prices,” he asserts.

Some of the clothes at Omar’s shop.

Major breakthrough

Omar’s major breakthrough came when he was awarded an order to supply shoes to students by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO). As you might guess he made a handsome profit from the order. It was the biggest order that he ever landed which helped him to scale up his business. With the proceeds, he began sourcing quality shoes from Thailand and the Middle East.

Hurdles

Challenges are part and parcel of our daily lives. Like any other up-coming entrepreneur, Omar had a number of setbacks to contend with. Since he started out with second-hand shoes, it was a challenge to get quality shoes which to him is a core value. Most of the shoes he procured turned out to have defects which greatly cut into his profit margins. Repairing the damaged shoes cost money not mentioning the time wasted going to the cobbler. “When we started mitumba we faced many challenges. I had to wake up early at 4 am to go and buy my stock. Most shoes we bought had blemishes, so even after buying I was always forced to go and have them fixed,” Omar explains noting that he wasted a lot of time and money in the process.

“The stocks we got from mitumba was quite limited. It was hard to get shoes of different sizes. So we were required to buy stocks of one sized shoes which didn’t go well with the business. Clients would request sizes we didn’t have,” Omar laments. This resulted in him stocking shoes that were moving slowly. His capital was at stake. The challenges provided him with important lessons about his line of business.

Competition is everywhere, however Omar acknowledges that competition in fashion and wear is ruthlessly gut wrenching. It takes resilience and perseverance to make it in this business. “Competition is very stiff, if you sleep on your laurels you’ll be forced to close shop,” he says with a serious expression o his face. Despite the challenges, he encourages a healthy competition as it’s beneficial to everyone.

On boarding clients has also been a challenge. He draws on passion to keep and convince new clients to do business with him. “Nowadays you have to look for customers. Gone are the days when customers were looking for buyers,” he quips.

Footwear on display at Omar’s shop.

Advice to youths

Despite being self-employed Omar says as an entrepreneur you have to be disciplined for you to succeed. “You cannot come to work wherever you feel. The benefit of running your own business is that you can get to do what you love at a profit,” he remarks. Omar plans to expand his business and provide quality products to as many people as possible.

He cautions young entrepreneurs that business is not for the soft-hearted. “Anyone who wants to venture into this business, the field is wide. However, no one is going to spoon feed you. You have to roll up your sleeves and work hard to get a piece of the cake,” he counsels adding that competition is inevitable. To unemployed youths without capital to start, Omar urges them not be choosy when seeking jobs. “Don’t discriminate jobs. Take a job that comes your way. You’ll upgrade with time.  If you have something to do, do your best and hard work,” he says extolling youths to shun drugs and illegal activities.

Saalah Omar at a glance

Typical day: Wakes at 5:00 am and says Fajr prayers, goes to work at 6:00 am. He handles business affairs taking orders and sending out deliveries. Hits the gym in the evening, he goes home around 7pm.

Hobbies: Going to the gym and driving.

Favourite cuisine: Pasta

Favourite quote: “Succes has no age requirement, anyone can succeed.” – Anonymous

Marital status: Happily engaged

Dream car: Range Rover Discovery 4

Parting shot: Let us be kind to one another as humans. Let us love one another. Let us spread love and take care of one another.

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