Dropping out of school by choice is never an easy decision; parents, relatives and friends openly frown upon it while possible employers ask a plethora of questions.
But this is exactly what Doreen Nkatha did when she was a fourth year law student at the University of Nairobi.
She dropped out of university in 2005 to pursue her love for art and design which, as it turned out, would spawn a highly successful business.
A frequenter of weddings, Doreen was convinced that she could offer more to customers in terms of variety and uniqueness of the designs and the quality of work at such once-in-a-lifetime events.
“I was looking for something fulfilling, something that would give my creativity an outlet. Apparently, it was not being a lawyer,” she told the Business Daily at the weekend during an interview at her home in Tigoni.
In 2006, she established Linens and Décor Limited using Sh800,000 partly sourced from her savings, assistance from her parents and funds she received when she got married to Amadou Chico Cissoko.
The 35-year-old’s business, which she runs with her husband, organises a host of events including bridal showers, birthday parties, corporate events, weddings as well as conferences.
The company’s client list includes Bank of Africa, Kenchic, Rotary Club of Nairobi, Planet Yoghurt, House of Dotty, UAP Insurance, Galana Oil Ernst & Young and Deloitte.
Fours ago, in order to fulfill her ambition to raise the bar in the highly competitive industry, Nkatha designed and manufactured portable and waterproof pergola for use in outdoor ceremonies.
A pergola is a garden feature forming a shaded walkway or even a sitting area comprising vertical pillars with an open rood.
Pergolas, which also serve as gazebos, were common features of Italian gardens offering an elegant sitting area which as an extension of the main house.
It is a unique outdoor party product setting as it adds beauty to your garden wedding, corporate event, house party and just about any outdoor event in need of shade,” said Ms Nkatha.
“The fact that it is made out of wood and uses specific fabrics gives it a charming look compared to the more common white tents. It doesn’t compare to other tents in the market.”
Linens and Décor has enough pergolas to sit as many as 2,000 people restaurant style. The quantity increased steadily over the years due to increased customer demand, making it the company’s biggest selling product.
Each pergola holds approximately 40 people sitting on round table seats and 36 people on rectangular tables. Ms Nkatha hires out each pergola for between Sh9,000 and Sh15,000 per day depending on the value additions.
In a month, the mother of six says she makes between Sh800,000 to Sh2 million in revenues. August and December are the high seasons for the business—coinciding with the popular wedding months in the country with the less active months being January to March.
She works with eight permanent employees and 10 casual labourers whom she pays between Sh18,000 to Sh35,000.
“We’ve set up our business in such a way that it can be run by anyone with the networks, resources and leadership to make a difference in the event and design industry in East Africa,” says Ms Nkatha.
If she were to sell the business today, the asking price would not be less than Sh50 million. At the moment, she is willing to offer up to 30 per cent equity and a seat on the board to an investor who will help the business grow to the next level.
Although she has managed to break into the market successfully, every entrepreneur is bound to run into a number of hurdles and difficult situations during their journeys.
For her, the hardest so far has not been dealing with the stress of planning for an event or finding customers.
It has been capital. “We have to keep on increasing as we grow. For us to be able to do this effectively, we need an additional Sh20 million,” she explains.
“Also venturing in to a unique concept like this is hard. We have to train new clients on how to use and handle the pergola. Competition is also real in this industry.”