Kenya: Our Business Did Better With Covid-19

Ms Flora Mutahi is a leader in Kenya’s manufacturing sector.

Twenty five years ago, she founded Melvin Marsh International, with table salt as a kicker product. But making a significant profit meant her selling tonnes of the salt.

She opted to diversify. She tried her hand on pure tea. The sales were unimpressive. She learnt through the process.

It is through these experiences that she has managed to create more than 20 brands of processed food products. To her name is Melvins salt, brown rice and flavoured teas.

But how did she nurture her entrepreneurial prowess?

She started a with a Sh300,000 grant from Kenya Women Finance. Although, it wasn’t enough to cover the initial cost of investments, it gave her the footing.

She started off with hawking her packaged tea. Her marketing strategy was ingenious.

“I could make (ready-to-drink) tea in the morning and carry it in big thermoses. Then go to women in places like Kawangware and Uthiru, serve them in a small cup. I could then engage them in a talk for quite some time before I make them buy the tea,” says Ms Mutahi who is also the company’s chief executive officer.

It took her five years to begin “feeling the sense” of the business. Twice, she tried to sell the business, but pulled off. Her heart was not convinced that it was the right thing to do.

Business performance

“What I used to sell in a year, these guys are selling in two days,” she says in reference to her business performance.

Covid-19 did not dampen performance of her business. Instead, they did even better as her products resonate with healthy living, choice Kenyans are making in the wake of the infectious respiratory disease.

Even as the world looks into encouraging women to go into entrepreneurship in the new era, Ms Mutahi urges discretion.

“If you have less than what you need, you to have a very good prioritisation and negotiation ability,” she advises.

When she started, printers could produce a minimum of a 100,000 pieces of packages, yet her daily demand was about 5,000 pieces

“I could request the printer to do the 100,000 pieces but I tell him, I could only be picking and paying for what I need for that day,” she says, adding that innovations have now made it easier for the printers to produce smaller bundles.

Often, she says entrepreneurs complain of inability to sell yet they are varied avenues to explore to make a sale.

“Sell even in advance, get money and come and make (your product),” she advises.

“People get caught in some utopia that they need a lot of money to sell even when they have not made any sale. Sell first, see what happens and learn from that,” adds Ms Mutahi whose mother, also a businesswoman, remains her greatest mentor in her entrepreneurial journey.

Her membership with Kenya Association of Manufacturers where she served as the chairperson of the board is also paying off.

Improve their visibility

She says her interactions with veteran industrialists have left her with more knowledge and points of reference.

She says Covid-19 has re-shaped the business environment; making it easier for women to penetrate the market from the comfort of their homes.

“Now, visibility cannot be an excuse for women. What they need to ask themselves is whether they are in platforms which can boost their visibility or have skills to improve their visibility,” she says.