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Khetia turns rundown firm into a regional distributor – Business Daily

Girish Khetia, 42-year-old, managing director of Eldoret-based Khetia Garments Limited at the firm’s offices. PHOTO | STANLEY KIMUGE | NMG
When he took over running of the business, Girish Khetia was 17 years old. His brother, the founder of Khetia Garments had died and left millions of shillings in debt.
The company’s books were a mess. It was not easy to tell how much money was coming in and going out of the business. He hired experts, his first major decision, to improve his bookkeeping. Three years later, the distribution business started in the early 1990s was back to its feet.
“I had no business experience. With the guidance of my father-a priest at the Temple who was [also] not active in business, I managed to steer it back,” he says.
Today, the 42-year-old managing director sits in his office with hundreds of lessons on how to run a successful business. None has served him better than knowing how to change with the times. A few years after taking the business reins, there was an influx of cheaper imported textiles driving up competition and cutting the margins.
Mr Khetia knew it was time to change the line of business and in 2000 took the firm into the fast-moving consumer goods sector. He had noticed that the sector was underserved and the few distributors available were hardly reliable.
“We had people who used to call themselves distributors but failed to deliver the goods to doorsteps,” he says.
The enterprise has grown from three employees 25 years ago, to more than 150. “We started our distribution in Langas {Eldoret} then later opened our first branch in town with coverage of five to 10km radius where we slowly expanded,” says Mr Khetia adding that his elder brother Prahlad Khetia later joined the business as a senior director.
The company distributes foodstuff and other fast-moving basic commodities from multinational and local companies to small kiosks, mini-supermarkets, and major retail chains.
It is one of the leading distributors serving more than 10 counties in the North Rift and western Kenya such as West Pokot, Baringo, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Siaya, Busia, Kisumu, Nandi, Kakamega, and Vihiga.
“We have developed a distribution schedule so that each area of the network is covered and our customers are notified in advance on when we will deliver the ordered goods,” he says. As it grows, it has picked awards along the way. In 2019, it was among the 35 firms named by the London Stock Exchange Group as being among the most inspiring in Africa.
But competition from online platforms and wholesalers has been rising. “The biggest challenge we face currently is competition because everyone is going online. However, I believe they are short-term players who are disrupting the business,” he notes with optimism.
“I have seen most of these online distributors advertising that they have stocks when in reality they are out of stock,” he says. He is however not fazed by the rising competition. He plans to take them head on by taking the company online.
“Challenges are always there in any business but if you give your undivided attention, then you will overcome them,” he says.
What other lessons has he learnt? Building and valuing relationships with the customers and suppliers as well as being ethical.
“We believe in establishing long-term relationships with our customers, staff or employees and suppliers. We want the same customer to grow with us for 15 to 20 years. Our children and their children should continue to do business together,” he says.
On hiring, his focus is not really on university degree qualifications, because. The most important things in the business, he says, he learnt on the job.
“I believe that experience is the best teacher. Whenever we want to hire people, the least we look at is a certificate. We look at attitude. Does one possess the right attitude because with the right attitude you can align them to what you want,” advises Mr Khetia.
“If they have the degrees but have the wrong attitude, I believe that doesn’t work.” Transparency and ethics in business, he says, have worked to his favour.
“Our father who has been in the priesthood for the last 35 years installed these values in us,” he says, adding that they plan to set up our online platform and expand across the country.”
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