Yasmin Karim speaks calmly and authoritatively to a fault, about her journey of determination that sees her transact millions in a week. She speaks of trading products worth sh10 million in one week or less as if it is sh50 that you use to buy milk from the shopkeeper.
Contented with her journey, affirmative of her accomplishments and relaxed about her business, she is testament that women can thrive in business even as they undertake their other societal responsibilities. Her conviction in hard work, sacrifice and patience as the seeds to success, especially for women is the sanctity to catalyze anyone’s doubt.
It all started while running a hardware business, she noticed the difficulties people undertake to buy sodas. You know the talk in the streets is that Coca-Cola is competing with water. It goes that their success is when everyone’s thirst is quenched with their product, especially Coca-Cola. Maybe that is the case, but unbeknownst to Yasmin, her observation not only conceived her present fortunes, but bred a perfect marriage with the company itself.
Yasmin approached a distributor and asked to help him distribute sodas and to her surprise, she learnt that she would only make sh10 profit per crate. She did her mathematics and realized that she makes sh20 from selling a bag of cement and if can combine both, that would be sh30, which made business sense, so jumped right into it.
Her first hurdle was that the distributor told her she must first buy 150 crates, which she scratched every penny she had including taking a loan and bought them. “When I went to sell them, the reception was good as people bought them. I found demand is high but supply is low and that was my opportunity,” she says.
She then bought a pick-up and got a driver. She then started selling them with my husband. She was hands-on, being a sales lady, sometimes a driver and selling them, giving her first-hand experience of the business until it picked.
Lady luck knocks
A famous quote goes that chance meets a prepared mind.
She had started the business in 2013 and in 2014, Nick Maina, then the Coast Regional Manager passed by her outlet. He her asked for Ginger Ale, Soda Water, Club Soda and Strawberry, which she all had, to his amazement. He was amazed that she had products many distributors lacked, which he translated to seriousness in the business. He then asked her whether she would want to do more sales and her acceptance saw him come back the following day with the General Manager, Chief Executive Officer all from Coastal Bottlers Limited and another man from Coca-Cola Africa.
The three were also happy and she was invited to the office for a meeting with the CEO, Ibrahim Kuri. After the meeting, she needed to make a quick purchase of stock worth sh1 million but she lacked the funds. Mr. Kuri asked her whether she had a title that she could use as security to secure a loan from a bank and she answered in the affirmative. He then introduced her to a Bank Manager who processed her loan, a bank guarantee, which she used to start doing bigger volumes.
In 2015, there was a bigger space elsewhere so she moved there and was awarded full distributorship. Coastal bottlers gave her a lorry on loan, which is still in use, that she was paying over a period. By then, she was the best distributor in the region.
She quickly finished paying it and was given another space that was bigger. She was also loaned another lorry to pay slowly and she also bought a new one. She now had a total of four vehicles to move crates of soda in her territory.
After staying there for three years, her current space in Ukunda was vacant and she was also given, giving her the opportunity to increase sales volumes.
Come 2020 and the global COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging communities did not spare them. Four to five months into the pandemic, all businesses were low due to low economic activities. She admits that many retail businesses closed their shops. Many of those retailers had full time jobs which they also lost hence majorly depended on business.
However, under the Coca-Cola “Open Like Never Before” campaign which aims to support businesses in its value chain recover from the effects of the pandemic, Coastal Bottlers gave them reprieve.
They relaxed their regulations to allow them to use a smaller number of lorries to collect sodas, which helped them reduce expenses like fuel and distribute the sodas. They also give them stock and allowed them to pay later, in a week or two.
In addition, they also leased to them crates, which enabled them further lease to retailers, to ensure they have equally eased their burden of also buying them.
In Ukunda, they are surrounded by hotels and bars, which were also not spared of the pandemic. They therefore started helping them by collected sodas that were about to expire to have them sold first, before the ones that had longer period, to partly cushion the hotels and bars from more loses.
“This has really built trust between myself and Coastal Bottlers but also myself and retailers. Luckily, this trust was not breached,” she quipped.
She confesses that today, she can be given stock worth sh10 million without paying a cent and she can repay in less than one week. She can also get a new vehicle on credit and no security will be asked.
“I like that I am now trusted”, she notes.
Yasmin now controls three territories; Ukunda, Samburu to Voi and Samburu to Mwatate. She has a total of 40 employees, 30 in Ukunda and five each in the two other territories.
“I urge women, not to give up on any business they are undertaking. This soda business needs faith and industriousness. There is money in soda business”, she proudly asserted.