How Rosemary built her paint company without taking loans


Rosemary Kirimi, CEO and founder of Rockmix Paints at her office in Ruiru. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Rosemary Murugi was an entrepreneur at heart long before she cut her teeth in business. She didn't know which line of business fate had predetermined for her, but she was certain she would find fulfilment in the journey.

And when the first chance came along her way, she ran away with it.

“Just after university, I got an opportunity to work with someone who was making paint. I worked as a research assistant, and that marked the beginning of this paint manufacturing firm,” explains Rosemary, the founder and CEO of Rockmix Paints.

Activity in Kenya's construction industry was just starting to pick up. On every corner she looked, a project was either underway or upcoming and Rosemary saw an opportunity to paint her entrepreneurial path.

“With manufacturing being a straightforward affair - get your raw materials, put them together, right components and have a product and being scalable, I figured I had a clear path,” she points out.

She quit employment, and founded her firm in 2013, taking the plunge into the murky world of entrepreneurship. It helped, she quickly adds, that she hadn't started a family, and therefore free of the immobilising fears that encumber most business founders who have dependants. 

“Yes, I was afraid but I had hope because I wanted to make money. It was also assuring that others had done it and documented their stories, so I read a lot of books,” recalls the 41-year-old mother of three.

Over the last 10 years, Rosemary has taken calculated steps to carve out a niche for her firm by avoiding bank loans, refining her products and customer targeting.

Fundraising and initial challenges

“Our initial investment of about Sh1.5 million came from my Sacco savings and my partner’s contributions. Since then, it’s been about selling and ploughing the money back into the business and growing organically,” she explains.

Rosemary adds that even though banks are willing to lend them money right now, that wasn’t the case back when she was starting.

That one shouldn’t rely on bank loans while starting a business, was one of the most important money lessons that have proved invaluable in her venture.

The other is understanding how to properly manage money to ensure cash flow.

Being small was their biggest challenge. “Because of our limited capacity, we couldn’t pitch for big assignments,” she says.

Rosemary instead focused on people building their own homes and small business even as she worked to increase their capacity.

“We have now moved from a 100-kilogram machine to producing 10,000 litres and 2 tonnes of liquid and powder paints respectively every two hours,” she points out about her factory in Ruiru, Kiambu.

Success amidst Covid-19 disruptions

Since Rockmix Paints imports the bulk of its raw materials, mainly from Germany, Turkey, China and Egypt, the pandemic supply disruptions put a heavy financial strain on the firm as raw materials costs quadrupled, even though there was a spike in sales.

“The paint industry in Kenya looks big but it is rather small so we have carved a niche for ourselves by focusing on quality,” says Rosemary.

They offer their customers a package that includes supply, application and scaffolding. “Because we are small, we are agile and that differentiates us from our competitors.”

Eye on the African market

Rosemary has ambitious dreams to grow beyond Kenya's borders.

And with technological advancement, she has new products in the development pipeline to match market demand.

“My hope is that we develop our capital markets to enable us to access the right type of funding to accelerate growth. We are looking at Africa because Kenya already has enough players and with the East Africa region opening up, we are ready to replicate our proof of concept in those markets,” she opens.

Business Philosophy and Lessons

Summing up her entrepreneurial journey, Rosemary describes herself in simple terms - build and they will come.

“You cannot negate hard work. Entrepreneurship is a lot harder than employment. Be consistent, tenacious and most importantly, you have to understand money, whether in business or employment because money is an amazing slave but a terrible master,” she asserts.

On the value of building relationships, she reckons entrepreneurs need to have the right tie-ups and a good track record.

“When starting a company, think about your exit. As you bring in a partner, have an exit plan in mind and how that will work out even though it is hard to fathom at the beginning when prospects and financials are rosy,” she advises.

She concludes by saying that if you have to bring in a partner, you need to have an aligned vision and a clear-cut direction.

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