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How Kenyan migrant Steve Mululu established Dream Body Fitness Wellness Centre

How Kenyan migrant Steve Mululu established Dream Body Fitness Wellness Centre

Kenyan migrant, Steve Mululu, is a fitness trainer and entrepreneur behind the popular Dream Body Fitness Wellness Centre, which is based in Sunningh

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Kenyan migrant, Steve Mululu, is a fitness trainer and entrepreneur behind the popular Dream Body Fitness Wellness Centre, which is based in Sunninghill, Johannesburg, South Africa. Very few people actually know that he is a migrant from Kenya in East Africa.

He is evidence that, with determination, focus and hard work, any person – despite their background, can succeed in business in any country.

According to Mululu, he was born in the western part of Kenya in a large family since his father had four wives.

“I think he only read one verse in the Bible that all that a man has to do is multiply and that’s all he did,” he jokes.

“He’s got four wives and each wife has got 15 kids so, I come from a big family of 60 siblings. From a very young age, I’ve always known that there has to be a better life out there.

“Traditionally, our fathers looked as kids as investment because the more the hands, the more the hands you had to work the farm, but when I looked at the kind of lifestyle we had at home

being so many people, I think it just ignited the competitiveness in me.”

Mululu says while they felt very loved at home, they lacked many things to make life bearable.

“You know if you’re one minute late when it’s time for meal, you lose out your meal because somebody else is gonna eat it.  If you go to bed one minute late, somebody else is gonna take your space,” he describes.

“So as much as I was close to my brothers, they also became my competitors.

“While still under the age of 16, I realized that’s not the kind of life that I want for myself so like any other African child, we always saw the dream of the city lights. You always think that life is always better in the city and I took off to the city.”

Ironically, when he got to the city, life was even worse than at home.

“Why do I say it was worse, because in the city for you to survive, you have to have specific skills – and, unfortunately, skills come from going to school,” he describes.

“Now, my father is not one of those people that invested in education because it wasn’t a priority – just being a boy for him was good enough because I’m strong I’ll be able to work long on the farm.

“So by going into the city, what used to be my strength became my weakness because there in the city to survive you need skills in terms of intelligence. It meant for me to use my village skills, I had to do manual labour.”

Steve Mululu decides to leave Kenya for South Africa

Mululu ended up on the streets as a hawker.

“I also had to go to the Kenyan cereal board and be a parker. I remember one day, I walked into the Kenyan cereal board – I must have been 17. They gave me the overall and I looked at all these people and I remember there was a very old guy there,” he describes.

“Most of the guys had a stooped posture from their waist down. I asked one of the guys there how long he had been working at the cereal board and he told me he had been working there for 40 years.

“At that point, I saw my future and I don’t know what happened I took the overall off and I walked out because I knew the minute I picked up the first bag, my future is sealed – and that wasn’t the kind of future I wanted for myself.”

Mululu says he had also observed in his village that people basically were born, grew up, and every morning went to the farm and came home in the evenings just in time to cook and sleep before repeating the same things over and over for the next few years.

“They were stuck in the same routine in the same place. So, at the Cereal Board, I saw the same trend and I said it’s not going to work for me and that’s how I decided to change and get into something else,” he notes.

“Like everybody else, I had to use what I have. What did I have was that I have always been very strong.

“So what did I do? I started doing a bit of boxing. Boxing became my thing because that’s where you were judged purely on individual performance. From boxing of course, I started going into gyms to see people training and all that and that’s how I got into fitness.

“I knew that I can’t have what other people have – for me to go and get what I want I have to focus on my strength rather than my weaknesses. I’ve always been a very physical person and that’s what I’ve always used as my main source of investment into an eventual life.”

Mululu stills says physical energy became the only thing that he could count on to outplay everybody else.

In the 90’s, he decided on his biggest gamble. Leaving his home country and migrating to South Africa, which was opening up after the end of apartheid.

“Starting out here was and is tough. As a foreigner, you have a lot of barriers – one from a language perspective; two from a skills perspective; three from a culture point. I wouldn’t just say it’s a situation in South Africa only – I think it happens every time a person relocates to a new country without any kind of support.”

Mululu said that there has always existed a separation between locals and foreign nationals.

“When you come in, you get thrown straight into the melting pot. Now, the local people don’t really understand people from outside and people from outside don’t really understand people from here. So, there’d always be a clash and the clash is not that people don’t like each other – it’s just that what you don’t really know, you become fearful of. That’s what has manifested in xenophobia – but it’s purely a lack of understanding each other.”

Mululu adds that colonialism probably also played a part as it instilled in people a sense that they are different – and today, people choose to focus on those differences rather than similarities.

“I won’t say that’s an obstacle. I only see that we need to know and understand each other better so that we can live in harmony.”

Establishing fitness training business – Dream Body Fitness Wellness Centre 

Mululu says that he never went out to build a business.

“I’ve always grown up with the intention of giving as much value to the people around me, more than they can pay me,” he describes.

“I think that’s the philosophy that we have to teach most of our kids when we talk about business I think. We’ve always been misled that you have to go out there and be so physical and so forceful in terms of chasing money, but nobody’s ever taught us that money is a by-product of the value that you add to society.

“And if you want to make money of course, you have to look at the environment or where you are look at the problems, whoever solves the problems of course makes money.

“How do you find problems? Look for human beings, there is no place where the human beings are where there are no problems. Human beings are full of problems so if you come up with solutions, someone will want to pay you.

“So, when people ask me that how did I create this fitness business, I’ve always been the kind of person that understands that solutions make the world go around.”

He says his gym is in the fitness business of increasing people’s energy while at the same time letting them having fun as they achieve the body of their dreams.

“We are simply Disneyland for grown-ups.”

Mululu says he was working for one of the big gyms in South Africa and observed how people did not seem to enjoy their fitness training.

“They had fitness trainers, who tried to help the customers, but it was evident that the knowledge was lacking. Now, understand that the best inventors in life are thieves; they’re imitators.

“It’s a matter of looking at what the best are doing and then making it better. So I asked myself, how do I make the gym experience for the customer much better – that’s where we came in,” he adds.

Mululu says that when he moved from being a fitness trainer at someone’s gym to starting his own gym, it was not easy.

“One of the biggest challenges that most people face I was coming from an entity where I did one job, now owning my own gym meant that I had to take on multiple roles as a business owner,” he describes.

“I had to now start negotiating leases with a landlord – experience that I did not have; I had to make sure everything is above-board legally and to be the HR manager, marketer and salesman.

“I was also lacking the funding to finance the business.  Imagine when I went to see the first vacant property and the landlord said they wanted three rental deposit which was around R350 000.

“The second obstacle of course was the gym equipment manufacturer. They required 50% payment when you palce an order and the other 50% when they deliver.”

Mululu says the landlord and the manufacturer refused to deal with him since they wanted money upfront.

“I remember going there several times and she refused even to see me. This is where I learnt one thing – perceptions are important. I used to go to him in my personal training uniform and that automatically told him that I could not afford the place,” he notes.

“But I constantly kept on going to a point where he ended up just seeing me.

“Later, I found the contact details of the international sales director for Life Fitness International while searching the internet. I started sending him an email every Tuesday.

“I chose Tuesday because I figured that on Monday’s people’s inboxes are full and they will not read mine – or even just delete it. Tuesday is always one of the best days to send an email. So, I sent him the email for 12 consecutive weeks then one day I got a response from this guy.

“He said that he liked my idea because I had sold him my idea of the South African fitness market. I told him that if he took me on board and use my facility as a showroom for his fitness training equipment, it would be exposed to his target market.”

Mululu said that the director called him and said he would come to South Africa for discussions on his proposals.

“So, he comes and I go pick him at the airport. Then I told that I just needed one favour from him – to talk to the landlord as if he was my business partner. I knew I was taking advantage of experience since he was a sales marketer – with the bonus of an American accent. He did…

“I was excited because my dream would now come true. I had developed a habit of just going to the place to see it and imagine it full of people – the power of visualisation.”

At that point, he also recruited 20 to walk the streets of Sunninghill and spread the word about the new gym.

“We managed to get our first 100 members and for the first time, I knew that this dream has come true. There was no going back, now that I’ve taken people’s money. All I am trying to say is hold on to your dream, the world will always conspire to make your dream come true!”

And from there – as they say, the rest is history. In 2012, Dream Body Fitness opened its doors. It currently has two private gyms in Sunninghill and Woodmead, Sandton Johannesburg.

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