I quit a well paying job in October 2011 with a vision; I saw a gap in the roofing industry in East Africa especially in the supply of affordable roofing materials. I knew I could bridge the gap by supplying quality affordable roofing materials.
Going by the name “The roofing queen” Irene Wanjiku, the founder and C.E.O of Rexe roofing company, boosts of an annual turnover of 100 million Kenyan Shilling (Ksh) from Ksh 3 million when she started four years ago.
Ms. Wanjiku reveals to me, that it is hard work and determination that made her achieve her goals and reach where she is today. “I quit a well paying job in October 2011 with a vision; I saw a gap in the roofing industry in East Africa especially in the supply of affordable roofing materials. I knew I could bridge the gap by supplying quality affordable roofing materials,” she said.
Irene registered her company in November 2011. She rented a desk in a shared office space and proceeded to learn more about roofing from Google and from members of her family who were building homes. She then started moving 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. “I would constantly make presentations to would-be clients and though it was initially daunting, my persistency paid off,” she added.
Her breakthrough came when she rented a stand at the Kenya Homes Expo at Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC). She took this opportunity to market her company and products which were mainly shingles and stone coated tiles with other roofing accessories. What amazed her is that clients did not tell the difference between her start-up and other companies. This made her enjoy all the benefits that come with the expo.
As she was making her way through the stands, she bumped into a white guy who worked with an international roofing company based in Belgium, which manufactured mainly shingles. He was in Kenya because they were looking for local distributors for their products and she managed to convince him that she was the right person for the job.
After getting this deal Irene was invited to bid for a contract to roof 100 holiday homes in Mount Kenya. “I was jittery”, she says. “One night, at 2am, I wrote a lengthy email to the shingles manufacturer. I told them that I needed their help to win a contract. I asked them to send me an engineer to train my people and to install the product. The Belgians were moved and accepted to provide the help.” Before this, Irene would train her staff under a tree because she could not afford office space.
Winning that contract was the game changer for Irene. The contract ran for seven months and it meant many things for Rexe; steady cash flows for the business to break even, a hands-on learning opportunity for her staff, pushing serious volumes of product into the market, recognition and awards.
Customers trusted her with their deposit to import building materials on their behalf and she did not disappoint. Though she started alone, she was able to increase her employees from 13 people on permanent basis in addition to 20 casual workers who assist in assembling and roofing. She currently employs 25 permanent employees and 30 casual workers.
Irene managed to move her office to a maisonette in Kilimani area. Apart from this she earned the title of partner to the shingles manufacturer, and was no longer just a distributor.
Her last big project includes “The Hub” located in Karen. She roofed it with shingles, her number one roofing material.