You never think about furniture until your parents throw you out of their house to start your life in a barren world. Then is when you learn how even owning a stool can be such a hustle. To make your shopping easier for you, here's James Otato; a carpenter who has been in business for over 22 years and knows EVERYTHING that you may be wanting to know about furniture.
Let’s start with your title. Are you a carpenter, a furniture designer, or, what’s your rightful job title?
Professionally, I am a carpenter.
For how long have you been in the industry?
I have been in this industry for 22 years now. It quite a while but I take each year as a year full of lessons and experiences that has contributed to my perfecting of the work.
Back in the day they used to teach woodwork in school, did you study carpentry there?
No. I undertook my training in one of the missionary schools in my home area that was being run by the Catholic missionaries. It has now graduated to become a Polytechnic.
But there is a rumor that the best carpenters had their training in prison. Did you get additional training in prison?
That's quite an assumption! No, I have never had training in prison. As a matter of fact, I have never been into a prison. All the same, I believe that my work is even much better than for those who were trained behind bars.
Is there a school out there that one can enroll in to learn how to make furniture?
Yes. There are a couple of institutions that offer carpentry, most of which are technical schools. Most Polytechnics do offer the course, and one can also learn this art through apprenticeship.
You've got lots of marvelous designs. Do you imagine them, make them up, or borrow from what other designers are doing?
There are those designs that I conceptualise all by myself but of course, there are those that I borrow from other carpenters and designers. In this business, you have to stay up-to-date on what's new and what's trending. Designs keep changing so are the customer needs and preferences. But there are those times when a customer approaches you with their own designs...so it works both ways.
Talking of other designer’s work, do you like have a way of copyrighting your work?
Not yet. Copyrighting at this point may not be such a wise idea. I am currently working towards having a full and functioning showroom ready and then afterwards, I can think about the copyright thing.
What do you think makes your furniture and services different from those offered by others?
· Quality. My furniture is of very high quality, and my services are very satisfactory. I always advise my customers on the need to purchase durable furniture which can serve them for long. The market is so full of counterfeit products and that's why I have to recommend specific outlets and stores for materials.
· I also take into consideration the pricing: Compared to what is offered by my competitors, my products are very affordable (not cheap though).
· My relationship with my customers tops it all. I have never let down a single customer.
Which one word describes your work?
Do you have anyone you aspire to be like in the near future?
I admire the Victoria Furniture Ltd. and aspire for the Jack Otato Furniture to be that way someday.
Your business is doing pretty well in the market despite the huge competition, what’s your secret to remaining competitive?
Customer satisfaction has always been and will always be my Number One priority. That is what keeps me going and has also contributed towards the success of my business.
You know, like the old saying, Mganga hajigangi…so, do you design your own furniture?
Yes,I do it. I am my own doctor. I however have to supervise everything from the start to the very end.
So you do have employees working under you?
Yes. I have three employees which makes us a team of four. But, there are times when we have so much work on our hands that I end up looking for more employees-but on temporary basis.
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
Five years from now, I see my business to have grown nationally; and not just in Nairobi. I look forward to serving more customers, employing more people and generating higher sales and profits. Currently, I am working towards the expansion of my premises so that it can incorporate not just a workshop but also a showroom.
After Wangari Maathai won a Nobel Peace prize for her work towards environmental conservation, how do you feel about using timber to create furniture? Do you use any recycled or environmental friendly materials?
Unfortunately, all my furniture is made of timber...but I am always taking part in community work like tree planting activities...but I am experimenting with recycled materials such as hard plastic to see if it can be used in place of timber.
Were you to switch careers, what would you rather be?
Kiswahili teacher-maybe. Trust me, I am very good at it. If not that, maybe a church leader, or an actor.
Let’s say that you have two apprentices; a man and a woman who are willing to learn and work with you. Who would you rather consider, or who would you rather give the first priority?
What counts is one's willingness to perform their tasks. And so to me, gender is not a priority. I'd rather work with a woman who is motivated and willing to learn than with a man who lacks self drive.
So, was a customer to get in touch with you, how would they go about it?
The easiest way would be by reaching me via my Phone Number (0721 932 042), via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or simply via Facebook (James Otato Furnitures).
Other than furniture, what else do you do?
Nothing, all I do is or is related to furniture.
What about the other side of James? What else about you don’t we know about?
I am a very very hardworking, God fearing, married and a church leader at the St. Teresa's Catholic Church. I am also a member of the Truth & Justice Commission.