The story Ivan Ongeiwun runs The Glass Klinique glass furniture showroom in Bukoto behind Kabira Country.
As you walk by, the temptation of making an unplanned stop to admire the table pieces is not optional.
While there are pieces designed in circular shapes, there are equally those in square and rectangular shapes, and pulpits that are designed purposely for church use.
There are pieces that are designed with pieces of wood as supporting pillars positioned centrally in the glass table. The stands of most glass pieces are equally designed from glass.
They are short and broken pieces of wood attached and glued on top of each other using ultraviolent glue. They coil going round and support the top flat glass surface where something can be rested or served.
Venturing in glass furniture
In late 2000, Ongeiwun recalls working with Glass Creations, now defunct, in Industrial area in Kampala that dealt in different glass products, including tables. It is from there that he acquired knowledge about glass work because his job was a hands-on. It involved cutting glass into different shapes ready for sale.
After recommendation from one of the customers, Ongeiwun moved on to work with Interior Technology at Namanve.
They dealt in interior designing and partitioning. While there, he introduced an idea of including glass furniture as one of the company’s items, an idea his employers took long to buy into.
After working for them for more than two years, he persistently asked for salary increment.
However, his plea fell on deaf ears. His employers were open and told him that they could not give him the salary he wanted, but that he should learn how to work to make the salary or money he wanted.
“Instead of increasing my salary, I started to love what I did. I stayed at the job while pushing for work to get complete. One of my closest employers branded me a one-man army because I loved and did it with passion and commitment. I would not sit until something was complete and ready to be bought by someone,” Ongeiwun recalls.
“One evening in a conversation with one of my bosses, he asked me not to ever work for anyone else. He told me I could use my knowledge and expertise to start up something of my own and it was around the same time that I wanted to quit my job where I was earning Shs1.2m,” he adds. After resigning from his job and staying home for eight months, Ongeiwun run back to what he loved most- glass furniture making. He sailed on the motto of quality and earning trust from people.
“When I resigned, I did not know that my former employers would give me contracts. When my former employers gave me a contract of supplying them with display cabinets, I did and one contract led to another. I survived on reasonable contracts of Shs3.5m by MTN Uganda,” Ongeiwun says, explaining that survival contracts were those from which he could deliver customer’s products but also make a small profit for life to move on. Some of his clients included Club Silk and Liquid Silk that only paid for his services after he delivered finished glass tables.
Opening up a showroom
In 2017, Ongeiwun recalls one of his customers counting money for his services at the veranda of Mega Standard Supermarket in downtown Kampala.
That moment, the same client asked him to secure an office from where formal business and business negotiations could be done. It is then that he decided to open up The Glass Klinique along Bukoto Street that stretches from Oryx Fuel Station in Bukoto to Cayenne Bar behind Kabira Country Club.
Glass furniture as a unique business
Compared to other businesses, Ongeiwun says the business of making glass furniture is one that is unique and that it has a ready market. It is something he says does not require a lot of energy as long as you have mastered the art of designing.
“When you are making glass pieces, it requires a lot of concentration. If you give it (glass) the necessary concentration, you can curve and develop any shape and make what you want out of it,” he says.
At the showroom, the smallest piece that is in square shape costs approximately Shs150,000 while a rectangular one costs approximately between Shs300,000 to Shs350,000.
A short glass stool with a wooden rectangular pillar in the middle costs Shs300,000 while a church pulpit costs approximately Shs850,000. These all come with flower vases. However, customers can also have customised designs and shapes made for them on order.
Like any other business, Ongeiwun says glass furniture business is one that has its challenges. When it comes to glass safety, he says it is so fragile yet the market offers little safety equipment. “Glass furniture is something new to the Ugandan market because many people understand glass as something that is used in the construction industry on windows and doors and scared to buy it as furniture. Even when a piece is stronger, a customer will always doubt its strength,” Ongeiwun stresses.
The Ugandan market, he adds lacks basic knowledge because it is a bit expensive compared to wooden and metal furniture.
During transportation of glass material from the dealer in Industrial Area where he purchases it, to his workshop in Kisaasi where the assembling and cuttings take place, sometimes he experiences glass breaks, losses he cannot calculate because sometimes it comes in large quantities. During the cutting to obtain manageable sizes and shapes with two of his employees, sometimes he sustains cuts on his body that leaves him with injuries.
To beat odds amidst challenges encountered in the glass business, Ongeiwun has found a solution in using strong and durable glass to make pieces customers cannot be worried about. They are in different sizes of six, eight, 10 and 12millimetres. The size of the glass used sometimes determines the price or cost of a particular piece.
Locally, Ongeiwun says few Ugandans love glass yet it is a business with a great potential to cover a wider market. This is because some people have a wrong perception that all finished glass material or products are imported from the western world into Uganda ready for sale.
“Go into this business believing that any glass product, however beautiful it may be can be designed in Uganda by Ugandans. Join the business with an open mind knowing and believing that there is a ready market for it as long as you do something that people will love and recommend others. That is how your business will grow,” Ongeiwun concludes.