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How ‘Fred Vunjabei’ built a Sh4bn business empire at 33

Tuesday November 03 2020
Vunja bei pic

While it is everyone’s dream to succeed in life, some people are luckier than others when it comes to achieving their life goals - with some doing so earlier than others.

Fred Fabian Ngajiro is one of those who were lucky to succeed at an exceptionally young age. At 33, the entrepreneur - who is popular as ‘Fred Vunjabei’ - is already a Shilling billionaire, employing nearly 150 young people in his nine retail outlets across Tanzania.

Fred Vunjabei deals in adult and children’s clothing and footwear, all sold at ridiculously low prices - thus making a killing at the market.

‘Vunjabei’ prices are low compared with those in other retail outlets, according to customers. They say the trade name itself - which loosely translates into ‘knockdown’ or ‘throwaway’ prices - is difficult to resist.

“Once there, you will not be disappointed; the prices are much lower compared to other retailers’ prices in the market,” says Theresia Elias, a regular Vunjabei customer.

The successful young entrepreneur was born on June 16, 1987 in Iringa Region in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania.

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Not many of his customers know that Fred holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration (Mzumbe University, Class of 2014) - and also a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce from the University of Dar es Salaam (Class of 2010).

He secured a Civil Service job after graduation - but due to his strong passion for doing and owning a business, he did not stay long in salaried employment.

“I was able to secure employment after graduation. But I quit the job and started travelled to and from South Africa in 2012 to pursue my passion,” he says.

When in South Africa, Fred started sending used mobile phones to Tanzania for sale.

“It was not my first time to do business. When I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Dar es Salaam, I already was selling DVD players to fellow students,” he says.

Apart from selling used smartphones, the self-made entrepreneur engaged in other businesses, including importing cars.

The birth of ‘Vunjabei’

Got a business idea? Start by finding your ‘why’.

For Fred, his ‘why’ for coming up with the Vunjabei brand was conceived during a trip to India in 2014.

He says his observation in different Indian market places taught him the trick that products that were sold at a discount, attracted more customers - and sold out quickly - compared to those that were not.

“Giving people a discount might just be the thing to draw them in and attract them to become your royal customers. And new customers mean new opportunities for cross-sells and up-sells, meaning more revenue in the long run as well,” he says.

His inspirational mentality and determination pushed him to open his first clothing retail outlet in Kariakoo in 2015, calling it ‘Fred Vunjabei’. He started with a Sh2.5 million capital.

At that time, Fred had already left India for China where he was sourcing his supplies for the shop in Tanzania. He later started a fashion store company named ‘Vunjabei (T) Group Ltd:’ his brand tag for all of his retail shops in Tanzania.

Fred says he knew the idea of selling clothes at a discount price would work because most retailers in fashion stores were selling at higher prices.

Not everyone can afford high prices and so this gave Fred a competitive edge.

Today his investment is valued at Sh4.64 billion, which includes other reputable businesses such as the specific Vunjabei outlets for sports and children’s wear called ‘Vunjabei Sports’ and ‘Vunjabei Toto.’

Wondering how he makes profit while selling at such low prices? He explains.

“There is room for making profit because I try to minimise my operational costs as much as possible, including shipping by ferries instead of airplanes.”

He says one unit is transported at Sh3,500 by plane and Sh800 by ferry.

Other ventures

Fred’s business has expanded to more than just selling clothes. He has diversified his businesses into the hospitality and entertainment industries as well.

He has established Vunjabei hotels and a music label called ‘Too Much Money,’ which manages several popular musicians.

On his strategy to incorporate entertainment into his commercial activities, Fred says “business is incomplete without entertainment, so I have to think outside the box to motivate my customers. But, also, this is a job opportunity for fellow young Tanzanians with dreams and goals to achieve.”

The enterprising young man plans to sign on nearly 30 more artists under his music label, as well as establish a video production company.

“This will create more employment opportunities for young people in the country,” he says.

Fred has already been a big influence in the music industry, engaging and investing in different events. He has worked with A-list celebrities, including Diamond Platnumz, Hamisa Mobetto, Hassan Mwakinyo and Zuchu, among others.

“Working with such celebrities can be costly; but it pays, since they help promote my business brand - and that is a good thing for me,” says Fred.

Challenges

“There are a lot of challenges in this business, the major one being lack of trust. Some people would just be happy to see your fall,” he shares.

Fred says success doesn’t come easily and believes he got where he is today due to his aggressiveness in business.

He adds: “When I face a challenge I usually find a way to overcome it and always learn a thing or two from the challenge.”

Awards

Fred’s efforts to use his education to make a living for himself and others have not gone unnoticed.

In 2019, he was nominated by Tanzania Digital Awards as ‘Best Male Entrepreneur on the Digital.’

This year, he was nominated by Tanzania Consumer Choice Awards as the ‘Most Preferred Upcoming Male Business Icon of the Year 2020’ in the category of Corporate /Business Professionals.

Advice to the youth

For those wishing to be as successful as Fred, the entrepreneur says it’s possible - as all young people have the ability to make it happen.

The important thing, he says, is making sure they have long-term plans in everything they do.

“I believe a lot in the power of the youth and self-dedication - but more so in long-term goals in everything that they do,” he says.

Family

Little is known about Fred’s family. Being a public figure, he prefers treating information about his family as private. This is one way of keeping them out of the public eye.