Andrew Muriungi had finished roofing his newly built residential house when he realised the corrugated iron sheet colour and nail caps were not matching.
Standing outside the house on a quarter acre plot in Kitengela Township he saw a heap of corrugated iron sheets sliced off by fundis to fit as they erected the roof. It was a big waste and annoying.
But, Mr Muriungi, then working as an agency business manager with a local media house, saw an opportunity that would give birth to a multi-million shilling investment. That was in 2016.
“I returned to Nairobi and handed in my resignation to concentrate on my new venture where a feasibility study showed me builders only relied on hardware shops to purchase corrugated iron sheets cut at specific sizes of two, 2.5, and three metres,” he recalls.
The University of Nairobi economics and accounting graduate set up Rhino Mabati Factory Limited with his savings and cash from family and bank loan. He raised Sh5 million and was ready to start climbing to his new roof of business.
He used the cash to import a corrugated iron sheet making machine from China which came together with rubber roof caps machine as well as a nail production line.
“The Chinese firm installed the machine as well as trained me and my staff about our automated machine,” he says, adding it took three months for the pre-ordered machinery to be assembled and another three months to ship it in.
The Chinese technicians spent three months to assemble the machinery and oversee initial test-runs at his Kitengela base.
Rhino Mabati applied for a product approval at the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) and the proprietor hired 10 employees and set out an online sales team that engaged project owners for custom-built products.
“I make what people want and the colour they want as I discovered during construction. Corrugated iron-sheet sellers are keen to make a sale for a product that gives them the highest profit margin regardless of quality. Woe unto you if you are building a house and are working since you will have no choice but to take what your fundi tells you.”
The facility with a capacity to produce 50,000 metres of corrugated iron sheets per month has introduced two products: gloss and matte coloured corrugated iron sheets that are moulded like tiles whose lengths start from one to eight metres, depending on order.
“Customised services is the future of any business; information technology is slowly shaping up the next war on customer service. We rely on referrals and currently have a showroom in Kitengela where people can place orders,” he said.
Mr Muriungi said their production strategy entailed studying building plans provided by their customers to determine the number of iron sheets.
“We have been unable to strike any deal with corporate and public entities since they thrive on credit and we are a new company that has no deep-pockets.”
The year-old investment that started with a capital of Sh5 million has since grown to a Sh30 million investment, the proprietor says.
Mr Muriungi, currently pursuing a Master’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Nairobi, says he plans to expand into east Africa in the next five years.
“A building’s roof speaks volume of the owner and no one wants a roof made from sliced pieces of iron sheets that creates a mismatch in colours. My ‘disaster’ house angered me into seeking a permanent solution for other owners,” he said.
Rhino has different colours, textures and lengths based on a customers need, he says.