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How pandemic triggered cleric’s sofa-bed dream

By Enock Amukhale
Wednesday, September 30th, 2020
Protus Otieno who operates from his workshop in Gem Constituency has opened satellite outlets to meet demand. Photo/PD/Enock Amukhale
In summary
    • The first person to patent  a sofabed  or folding bed was Leonard C. Bailey on 18 July 1899. The metal bed frame was capable of being folded, bent mattress closed for use if needed. Later, it was known as a “hide-a-bed”
    • William Lawrence Murphy took out a patent for making “In-A-Dor bed”, which is known as a “Murphy bed” today. It is characterised with the folded space-saver into a wall-closet.

The outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic led to massive job losses and salary cuts, forcing many people to re-organise their lives to fit their new reality. 

Those living in spacious rented houses were forced to move to smaller houses, sell off some of their furniture or transport them upcountry.

Living in a smaller house poses the challenge of fitting in all household items and this is where Protus Otieno, a welder saw an opportunity.

 Otieno who is also a pastor at the Ministry of Repentance and Holiness innovated a unit that can be used as a table, seat and storage cabin.

“I have always dreamt of finding a solution to the housing problems in many towns where people are forced to live in small houses and the pandemic simply presented an opportunity to turn my idea into a tangible innovation,” he said.

When you find the father of five working at his Proverbs Kings Investment Workshop in Ramula, Gem Constituency in Siaya County, the passion for his work is evident. 

Otieno said having worked in Nairobi for 10 years he experienced housing challenges that many low-income earners were going through.

Covid-19, he said, further complicated the situation after many Kenyans lost their jobs or sources of income. 

The sofa-beds Protus Otieno makes can be used as a bed, table and seat. PD/enock amukhale

Otieno, an artisan from Kericho polytechnic with knowledge in welding and fabrication said he thought of coming up a unit which comprises of Sofa set, 4x6 bed and storage cabin to help those living in towns to organise their houses better. 

He said during daytime one can use the sofa set and when one wants to sleep, they can draw the bed inserted in the sofa set and put on a mattress.

Under the bed, there is storage cabin where one can store clothes and other household items. On the other side of the sofa set, there are two tables.

Otieno said the high number of Kenyans who showed interest when he posted one of the prototypes on social media surprised him. Orders started coming in from various parts of the country. 

 “It has only been a month and the orders are overwhelming. I cannot manage to make all of them, but I am trying my best to ensure that those that I accept, I deliver,” he said.

Customer access

He has opened mobile workshops at various points near the customers who have placed the orders to cut on transport cost and accessibility. 

He has set up a workshop in Embulbul in Ngong, Kajiado County and another in Nairobi to ensure his customer access the products easily. Each unit costs Sh20,000.

Otieno whose motto is ‘passion fuels innovation’ said apart from the one-in-all furniture unit he has also innovated pocket friendly medical beds for patients in critical conditions.

The medical bed has an oxygen cylinder, ventilator cabin, and gears levers for adjusting the patient at any angle he or she wants to sleep or sit.

 “I was inspired by a speech by President Uhuru Kenyatta asking jua kali artisans to be innovative and come up with locally assembled medical beds,” he said.

Otieno said the only challenge he is facing is lack of adequate finances to fulfil his orders.

He said though many of his products are on high demand but he has no capital to explore his venture fully.

“I require good equipment and materials to satisfy my customers. Some customers cannot pay deposit for the product because I don’t have a well-established workshop,” said Otieno.

Otieno appealed to the national and county government to give him a contract to supply medical beds to health facilities to help him scale-up his venture.

He added that he has received many orders from police officers.

Otieno said if he is supported can create jobs for many youth in the country.  For the last one month he has been making the beds, he has hired 20 youth to do painting, welding and fabrication, joinery and transportation.

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