One determined woman is scaling the heights of the construction industry with her state-of-the-art roofing products and is posting an annual turnover of Sh100 million from Sh3 million when she started three years ago.
Ms Irene Wanjiku, the Marketing Director at Rexe Roofing Products, says her start-up faced numerous challenges, including setting up capital and lack of clients. There is also a lot of undercutting from competitors.
After a stint at a well- paying construction company, Ms Wanjiku quit in 2011 when she saw a gap in the industry in East Africa, especially in the supply of affordable roofing materials.
“I was working in the construction industry when I saw the opportunity to supply quality roofing products. The few that were available were too expensive and not of the best quality,” she says.
She set up an office on Ngong Road in Nairobi from where she moved from site to site looking for clients.
“I would start early at six o’clock in the morning and drive to different construction sites to talk to property developers and return to the office in the afternoon to send loads of emails,” she says.
She constantly made presentations to would-be clients and though it was initially daunting, her persistency paid off. In 2012 rented a stand at the Kenya Homes Expo at the Sarit Centre where she clinched her first business and first big break.
“This is was my first bet to market the company and our products. However, what I didn’t know was that visitors would never tell a start-up from the rest. All of us were under one roof,” says Ms Wanjiku.
Her savings of about Sh3 million was not enough for her venture, but she says her customers trusted her with their deposits. And she did not disappoint.
“Every Kenyan’s dream is to build his or her own house to live in, a sturdy one that will last long enough to serve his children and you cannot play games with such personal dreams,” she says.
The biggest challenge was convincing developers and individual home-builders to pay half the price upfront,” she says. But her first client gave her a deposit of Sh1.5 million out of trust.
For the first three days at the expo, Ms Wanjiku had received a total of Sh3.5 million as deposits from clients who trusted her to deliver.
“I could not believe it. I went ahead to place orders for the products.”
The materials, which she sources from South Korea and Belgium, have been well -received in the booming construction industry where competition is also fierce.
The company supplies a range of roofing shingles, concrete and DS roofing tiles that are eco- friendly as most of them are made from recycled materials.
Rexe Roofing Products boasts 60 per cent growth in client base every year. Their clients include the upcoming Karen hub, Aberdares Hills Golf Resort, Telkom Kenya, Mount Kenya Wildlife Estate, Mount Kenya Holiday Homes and Acacia shopping mall in Uganda, among others.
According to Ms Wanjiku, the industry poses a great challenge to start-ups, especially because homes are close to Kenyans’ heart hence the first assignment is always on building and establishing confidence and trust.
Though she started alone, she now employs 13 people on permanent basis and another 20 workers who assist in assembling and roofing.
She is now thinking of expanding the business across Kenya and the East African region although the exhibition still remains the best place to meet new clients.
A stand at the Kenya Homes Expo costs between Sh100,000 and Sh700,000 depending on the size. Maureen Ojijo, the lead organiser at Kenya Homes Expo, says most entrepreneurs fear venturing in the construction industry for lack of capital or means to penetrate the market.
“The biggest issue is always marketing ones products or services, more so because an entrepreneur’s marketing budget always needs more and more money,” she says.
Mrs Ojijo however says entrepreneurs who are not faint-hearted have found a safe landing at the Kenya Homes Expo.
“Last time we received over 50,000 visitors. This is only relevant traffic as we charge Sh150 to ensure only potential buyers come in,” she says.