The secret behind Kisumu’s sofa sets business craze

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A drive through major streets and highways in Kisumu reveals tens of sofa sets shops and shades.

Ssplendidly and artistically crafted sofa set designs are beautifully displayed by the roadsides and usually welcoming and tempting to cozy up in.

Buyers are usually lost for choice over the numerous colorful and artistic alternatives they are presented with, with passersby temporarily distracted by the esthetic allures.

Mushrooming all over in the past few years, the trade has become a source of livelihood for a number of young people in this lake side city.

However, little is known of the lucrative trade which has elicited desire in its countless admirers, whether would-be buyers or those just looking to dive into the trade themselves.

When Lake Region Bulletin set out to know more, 26 year old Michael Ochieng, who is a dealer, readily opened up and let us into this world of wood and cloth.

His shop which is located along Kakamega road in Kondele area of Kisumu County is home to a number of sofa set designs.

Ochieng reveals that he is a nurse by profession but has become a master in this trade given his zeal.

Having been in the business for close to six years, he says the venture is a lucrative one and has increasingly become more common with young people seeking alternative sources of livelihood.

“Many young people learn this business as an alternative source of livelihood or just to escape joblessness altogether,” he said.

His sentiments were echoed by Bonface Arwa, a 32 year old sofa set designer whose shop is located along Kisumu polytechnic road.

“Joblessness has led many youths to learn this trade as it is not a difficult craft to master once a person develops interest and is willing to learn,” he said.

He also adds that he has employed some youths himself to assist him at his site.

Production and costs

The furniture costs anywhere from Sh35, 000 to over Sh100, 000 a set and require more than just skill to bring to life.

“Skill must be married with the materials and creativity to birth the final product,” Arwa explained.

The designs come in single, double, triple and four seaters and go for Sh8, 000, Sh10, 000, Sh15 000, 000 and Sh15,000 to 18, 000 respectively when purchased individually.

Prices vary depending on the quality of materials used and the number or type of seats requested by the buyer.

Ochieng says the most expensive set goes for up to Sh180, 000 with the cheapest going for around Sh35, 000 in his shop.

George Odhiambo works a piece of wood with his colleague at his work station in Kondele Kisumu County. (PHOTO: Joseph Obonyo LRB)

He adds that it is the quality of the material used that mostly dictates the price of the set.

Some special ones also involve complex craftsmanship with lush materials and go for up to Sh25, 000 for a single seater as he explained.

The materials which include special pins, soft and spongy pads, special fabric, wood and wood glue are sourced locally and vary in prices individually as George Odhiambo who is also a carpenter in Kondele explained.

“Most of our tools of trade are readily available in the local markets,” he says, adding that sometimes they are forced to get some from Nairobi when they become unavailable or too expensive in Kisumu.

When purchased in bulk the materials are cheaper compared to when bought individually.

Odhiambo who is in his late thirties and who blamed the numerous sprouting of sofa sites on the displacement that took place in Kibuye market, causing the carpenters to be scattered all over, added that some clients are simply not aware of the high cost of production involved in designing the sofas.

The process which involves crocheting and usually requires utmost acuity and patience also include framework as the foundation.

The framework, Ochieng explains, is commonly built using blue gum wood.

Odhiambo who was in the process of working on a piece of wood when we visited his work site, added that Mahogany wood is of a higher quality and is priced the highest.

“Mahogany wood is the highest priced but we rarely use it since this will additionally increase the price of the sofas,” he said, adding that majority of clients are ignorant of such arithmetic computations and as such often question the high prices.

A set worth Sh35, 000 can cost anywhere from Sh20, 000 to Sh25, 000 to produce, the quality of the material, the design and type of sofa taken into account.

Sales fluctuate and also depend on season. During the festive season for instance, some people buy the sofas to beautify their homes.

Millicent Akinyi showing some of the sofa set fabric she sells in her shop located in Kibuye area along Kakamega road. (Photo: Joseph Obonyo, LRB)

Millicent Akinyi, who has dealt in the sofa set fabric business for a couple of years, say it’s a lucrative venture as the local carpenters make frequent purchases.

The fabrics which are sold per meter, range from Sh150 to Sh800 and come in different colors, types and quality.

She ships her merchandise from Nairobi.

“We have the satin fabric which we sell at Sh150 per meter and is our cheapest and the leather one that goes for Sh800,” says the 25year old whose shop is located in Kibuye area along Kakamega road.

Soft Khaki, Corduroy and Suede are among some of the fabric in her stock and go for Sh350, Sh600 and Sh500 respectively.

Akinyi further added that carpenters normally purchase about 25 meters for a set of seven, an amount she says can be larger depending on the design of the seats and number.

The creative designs

The origin of the designs is perhaps another question of interest for majority of people.

Ochieng, who prides himself in the quality of products his business offers, explained that in his line of work experience is the key source of creativity when it comes to designs.

“In this industry, the different designs you are exposed to overtime shape your creativity, allowing you to come up with similar or evolved versions of the designs,” he says.

Boniface Arwa shows some of the recent designs in his collection at his shop along Kisumu polytechnic road in Kisumu County. (Photo: Joseph Obonyo, LRB)

He further added: “The internet is the den of designs, playing host to thousands and even millions of sofa set designs, some of which are characterized by pure sophistication. It is indeed a rich source that majority of the people in my line of work are always eager to tap into.”

Arwa, on his part, said a good number of clients arrive armed with their own designs which they always expect to be brought to life however sophisticated.

“When a client has a design in mind and they explain it to you, you must do your best as the carpenter to actualize it however complicated,” he explained.

Some designs however, are common and can be readily and easily found at any sofa site, something the three gentlemen agreed upon.

Hurdles and markets

Both Arwa and Ochieng mentioned the crowded market as a big challenge, saying it has also messed up the pricing of the sofas with majority of clients going for cheaper designs and not appreciating the quality designs available.

With sofa sets sites sprouting in every corner every other day, it has increasingly become difficult to make sales since potential clients are exposed to countless and probably cheaper designs from which they can chose. This competition has increasingly made it difficult to make sales.

Michael Odhiambo poses with some of the sofa set designs in his collection. (Photo: Joseph Obonyo, LRB)

“Some clients are also shocked when they get to learn of the price of a sofa. They have a misplaced delusion that all the sofas should be priced the same,” Ochieng expressed with a disappointed look on his face.

Arwa also added that some clients come with too complicated a design and this is sometimes a challenge especially when the same client is not ready or willing to pay the price for the said design, given the expensive materials they want used.

“The bulkiness of the sofas is another challenge that normally present a difficult situation, especially when you don’t have a shade in the open ground and are forced to move them out for display on a daily basis and back in whenever it is raining and at day’s end,” laments Odhiambo.

He added that lack of exposes the products to nature’s elements and this may increases the wear, especially of the vibrant colors when a merchandise overstays on the shelf.

Despite these hurdles, the trade still thrives, with a good number of its clientele being referrals.

“Some people come to us after referrals by friends who in most cases are our former clients,” Ochieng says proudly.

He also adds that while some people buy sofa sets to replace the old ones in their houses, others buy in order to resell for profit.

Another interesting clientele he encounters often are individuals who are just moving into a new house for the first time and are in need of furniture.

Generally, the venture still seems to be a promising one despite the challenges faced as the three, Arwa, Ochieng and Odhiambo remained hopeful of a brighter future for the industry.

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