Meet the customer…

CustomerBusinessman James Kariuki Njoroge is a Platinum for Life member with Kenya Airways. Jackson Biko met up with him in Nairobi to hear his success story

Q What do you do for a living and how did you end up where you are now?
I started my business when I was in high school. I was selling bread. There was always a shortage of bread, I sold it at night when people were hungry. When I went for my A-Levels business became a bit tricky because I was a school captain. But shortly after my A-Levels I went into the matatu business, which I drove throughout my university days at Moi University. After university I closed down my matatu business and settled in Luthuli Avenue in Nairobi. I sold video and audio cassettes, which we did for quite some time until the CDs and DVDs started coming in and the cassettes became redundant. We didn’t want to continue with that so we went into electronics.

My wife continued with the electronics business and I went into logistics. We set up an office in China for cargo. I was going to China even before KQ started on this route. This was way back in 2002 when I used to get second-hand electronics from Hong Kong. Then I realised there were other opportunities in China so we set up there until 2013 when the business became too competitive and it was too much work for you to make money. We changed tack; instead of importing, we started manufacturing.

Currently, we still import electronics, we do gypsum ceilings, we store and manufacture. We also do jewellery and we’re involved in Mazeras stones – cutting, shaping them, installing them.

Q How many trips do you make to China?
About 50 flights a year. I used to do it every two weeks but now I’ve slowed down a bit, because this business requires more time. I’m also older now. We are starting to initiate our children to start doing the same. I’m more local now and concentrating on developing the business here, especially with the shilling weakening – the opportunities for export have become very good. Business for now is not about travelling, it’s about what you are able to do in that time.

Q Initially, what drove you to choose Kenya Airways as your airline?
I started flying KQ when it had the Boeing 707. When I started actually I had no loyalty. I would fly other airlines. I was a Gold card holder for many years, before the programme changed. When the Platinum card started, they said you could get the Platinum card for life if you flew consistently and maintained a certain number of flights for ten years, so I set my goals there, despite the challenges. I continued until I got my card at the end of 2014.

The Platinum card gives you a lot of weight. When you make statements they are taken with a lot of weight: you are no longer an ordinary passenger. So the status that the card comes with has actually been very good for me. We have a bigger voice now. It’s like we’ve gotten a bigger speaker to express our issues.

Q What do you like about Kenya Airways, having flown with the airline for many years?
There are two parts of KQ that I’ve never had an issue with; that I’ve always been proud of. One is equipment and the other is pilots. In the ten years our business has been in existence, we’ve never had one accident. Which is amazing in itself. It’s something to celebrate.

I don’t look at KQ as an airline, I look at it as an asset of Kenya. Other countries suffer that have no airlines. I could not imagine living in a country without an airline of your own.

Q How would you say the airline has helped you develop your business?
First and foremost, of course, without going to China I would not have been able to do the work I was doing at that time, because when it started there were no other flights. So in a way it opened up, for me and other traders, access to China, because it was the first airline to fly there, even before Emirates and Qatar.

Q Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Guys who are just starting in business or trade – don’t go with money on your first trip. Research is key. Don’t be in a hurry. Buy in small quantities. Your first time, don’t buy big quantities – sometimes what you think will move doesn’t.

Q What’s the most rewarding thing about your business?
For me what’s rewarding is employing people.

Platinum for Life
A Platinum for Life guest is a member of the Flying Blue Programme. For them to attain this level, they should have flown with Kenya Airways or any of the SkyTeam members on 60 one-way flights every year for ten consecutive years without fail. After the tenth year of being Platinum we award them with the Platinum for Life status, hence they are entitled to all the Platinum Elite Plus benefits for the rest of their lives. These include:
• 100% more Award Miles on SkyTeam flights
• Business Class check-in
• Free lounge access
• Extra baggage allowance
• SkyPriority treatment
• Highest priority on waiting list