In 2002 David Yego had just bought a small bottling business in Mombasa’s island with just two tucks and limited routes of operations.
Now 18 years later he has grown his business into two of the biggest distributor business in Mombasa and Changamwe.
West Mainland distributors limited and Changamwe distributors limited are running 20 trucks with an army of 70 workers keeping the cogs of the business running.
Then coronavirus pandemic happened and he had to shrink his business reducing staff and trucks per route as sales plummeted.
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But this set back only reminds him of his roots, he has been here before, he can grow again.
Mr. Yego bought his business from a friend who wanted to exit the market and he decided to try his hand in the business.
He says what drew him to the business was that it gave him self-employment and afforded him time.
He said that he liked it because it is not so demanding, the moment you deploy your trucks to the market you have minimal work to do.
He grew by acquiring Kawasar distributors and their entire operations and then Changamwe, and grew to over 70 staff, drivers, salesmen loaders and those who operate at the depots.
The business was running smoothly until Covid-19 happened and restaurants and shops closed as the government sought to contain the spread of the virus.
“The business lost sales volume especially at the begining of the pandemic when tight curfews and total lockdowns were imposed on the coastal city of Mombasa, but once the conditions were relaxed a little bit we started picking up” Mr Yego said.
“Sales came down by about a third because we used to sell 1400 to 1800 cases but once Covid19 set in we even sold as low as 800 cases. It was just enough to support our operations the profit margins shrunk substantially,” Mr Yego said.
He quickly switched to survival mode initially starting by reducing staff because they had 3 loaders in the vehicles but they reduced to 2 and also reduced the number of trucks per route.
They took in the health ministry health requirements emphasizing that customers who came to the depot wash hands and put on a mask and ensured that there was spacing for staff to reduce crowding.
Coca-Cola has partnered with Amref Health Africa to train its trade partners (kiosks and eateries) on how to re-open and operate safely in line with the COVID-19 regulations which helped in ensuring business pick up helping sustain demand for Mr Yego.
The wider partnership between Coca Cola beverages, Absa bank, Amref, Women Enterprise Fund and Cooperative Bank has also been helping hotels, restaurants, bars, general shops and official Coca-Cola Distributors have their staff are further equipped with PPE’s, sanitizers and handwashing stations, garden furniture to support social distancing, communication and awareness materials related to COVID-19 safety and precautions to help them maintain hygiene and minimize the spread of the virus.
Although his profits were squeezed out, he knew that he had to prepare for recovery once conditions were relaxed.
“We have been trying to come back and what helped was that we had maintained that continuity in the market even during the worst times,” he said.
Mr Yego says diversity of products especially worked to their advantage as the business switched to selling more water and juice than fizzy drinks since their biggest clients, the hotels were shuttered or operated way below capacity.
“The advantage of Coca-Cola Coast bottlers is they give us a broad spectrum of products for example water juices and the rest so we have a substantial volume of other products apart from the bottled products and that assists us in pushing the numbers up,” he said.
Holding a confident stare Mr Yego believes he can grow his business back up again and make it even bigger going into the future having endured the darkest moments of the pandemic.
Experience to him has been key through his history of growth, knowing how to adjust and looking for alternatives.
He says as partners with Coast bottlers the future lies in working towards an aggressive sales promotion to push up sales and build back demand while addressing growing competition.
“Sales promotion is very essential because the customers have to see advertisements in the shops, we have to go to road shows and give our salesmen incentives so that we enhance our sales,” Mr Yego said.