After completing his studies in criminology and security management at the university, Allan Mwangi began looking for gainful employment in various security companies in the country.
For more than a year, he tarmacked the streets of Nakuru and Nairobi but had no luck in getting a job. Feeling that he had chosen the wrong career path, he thought of trying his luck in the construction industry.
In 2021, while attending a real estate exhibition at the Sarit Centre in Westlands, Nairobi, he met an Iranian gentleman who changed the course of his life.
“He was promoting paint products that his company had manufactured in Iran, which I thought were very interesting. The products were made from materials such as recycled cotton and silk clothing, bound together with an adhesive and decorated with minerals such as micah. Once mixed with water, the combination could be applied on any wall surface, just like normal paint,” noted Mwangi during an interview with Powering SMEs.
Seeing that Mwangi was eager to learn about the products, the Iranian offered to advise him, at a fee, on how he could make the same. They exchanged business cards and after a while, they began interacting via email and WhatsApp.
"We spoke about the possibilities of partnering, whereby I would import and sell the product on his behalf, but he advised that it would be more sustainable if I manufactured locally. Here, I was having a discussion about running a manufacturing enterprise, when I had no experience in any work at all," Mwangi says.
Once he acquired the requisite knowledge, he secured some Sh6 million from well-wishers to purchase the equipment, as well as the raw materials that were needed.
He registered a firm, Celomix Company Limited, employed a plant operator and started working. The product was good, now he needed to market it. So, he reached out to an old friend of his, Gideon Muchoki, who had studied marketing and communication to help him popularise the product.
“As a new brand, building a reputation for ourselves was a challenge. We were operating in an industry where people invest even their life savings in building a house, and therefore, prefer to work with established brands, to avoid losing money,” noted Muchoki.
He says they had to invest heavily in marketing campaigns, doing live demonstrations to show people how the product is prepared, how it is applied and what the final product looks like.
“It is not an alternative for the normal paint, but it can be used on any wall surface, including gypsum and glass, to give aesthetic features. It can also be used as a filler. One kilogramme (kg) bag of material covers three square metres, once it has been mixed with water,” Muchoki explains.
“Depending on the humidity and room temperature, it can take between eight to 24 hours for it to dry after application. Once it dries on the wall, it becomes almost like concrete,” he added.
In time, they started receiving small orders from hardwares and interior designers, before graduating into larger orders from real estate companies, hotels, institutions, schools and corporate organisations.
“When we started, we were the ones going out to look for clients, we still do that, but nowadays a lot of our clients reach out first. This shows us that our product is becoming known, which is our major milestone," noted Muchoki.
Mwangi, the proprietor, says the orders they get are sometimes overwhelming, and that they have to accept only a certain number at a time to maintain quality while avoiding overextending their storage facilities. They have recently been exploring business options in other East African countries like Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"Recently, through the support of the Nation Media Group, we exhibited our products at an event in Congo and got a lot of interest from people who visited our booth. One client wanted us to deliver a metric tonne of the product. Another wanted to partner to set up a manufacturing branch there, and we are thinking about exploring that from next year,” Mwangi offered.
The firm has grown to employ six permanent staff; the management team, plant operators and handymen, as well as others on a contract basis.
“Anyone can use the product by themselves by following instructions on the package, but we have painters in Eldoret, Coast, Nakuru, Nairobi and Embu to help clients in making the most of the product. This way, we avoid delays that may be occasioned by logistical issues while transporting a painter from one area to another,” noted Mwangi.
He says the high cost of raw materials such as Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC) used for thickening and minerals such as Micah, used for decorating the product is still a problem for them.
“We source most of our raw materials from the Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Athi River, as well as small textile workshops and from uniform manufacturers. But, at times, these are not locally available, and we have to import them. Shipping and declaring these items at the port costs money,” Mwangi says, adding that logistics is also still a challenge, both in terms of shipping raw materials from source and the finished product to the customer. They recently relocated from Nakuru to a go-down in Kitengela to reduce logistical expenses, as the new workshop is closer to the EPZ.
"By using the waste products from EPZ as our raw materials, we are addressing the environmental challenges these may cause if they were otherwise disposed of," noted Mwangi.
He urges young people to think about what value they can bring to any market and put their ideas forward for support.