Not everybody chases the newest and trendiest items in the market, there are those that are more interested in quality, or those that only buy something they can relate with.
This was the kind of market Rose Karimi had in mind when she started her company, Niche Décor, in 2014, a business that sells antiques. The outlet, located along Kabarnet Road in Nairobi, offers not-so-new products. The catalogue ranges from sofas, old wall clocks, iron boxes of yesteryears which use charcoal, transistor radios, to lamps and lanterns that our grandparents used to light up their homes.
“I am a big fan of quality, and have found that some of these products, which were created a long time ago, are of good quality,” says Karimi, showing us around her shop, which displays a variety of interesting pieces, most of which she imports from Germany.
The businesswoman says her interest in antiques is what led her to this business seven years ago after being unable to find furniture with the quality she needed, in the local market.
She was interested in furniture made from hard wood, like a table in her home which was made in 1900.
“I just couldn’t find the kind of furniture I was looking for, and I couldn’t get the right quality,” she says.
She began to source from Germany, where she had lived before relocating to Kenya, and whenever friends visited her, they would admire her furniture and ask where they could get similar items.
Karimi saw a business opportunity and got a warehouse in Germany, which, through the help of business associates in the country, she would collect antiques, which she would then ship to Kenya.
To start the business, she got relevant business licences such as a city council licence, licence of advertisement, certificate of registration and a certificate of conformity to show that the goods she imports meet local standards.
When she began operating, she realised that the market had been starved of other forms of unique products, not just furniture, but also items that some wanted not necessarily for purposes of using, but because they had some form of attachment to them.
“Some of my clients buy items just to show them to their children, to teach them about items they used in their younger years but which have been overtaken by technology. Some of our items move fast because of that, their uniqueness and the history aspect,” she says.
Some of these include the charcoal powered iron box, old manual clocks known as ‘grandfather clocks’ and lanterns, some of which are still being used in some remote parts of Kenya.
Apart from homeowners, Karimi loans out some of her antiques to movie and music-shooting crew who use them to decorate their sets.
“In 2019, I loaned out lamp shades, Victorian vents, chandeliers and Victorian sofas which a movie maker used to portray a king’s living room – they leased the items for a month,” she says, adding that the deal earned her 40 percent of the leased items’ value.
The entrepreneur adds that her customer base is particularly made up of clients who want products they can relate to their past, those who have travelled and seen some products they were unable to bring back to the country, or those who appreciate ancient quality.
Today, she ships in a container of antiques every three months, as her clientele across the country grows and expands beyond Kenya thanks to referrals and social media marketing.
Some of the challenges she faces include availability of professionals to do repairs when there are breakages during transport, as well as an increase in taxes, which she says have almost doubled since when she started the business.