Roseline Dondi,33, worked in a global NGO before becoming a finance and administration consultant.
When enrolling her child to kindergarten, she struggled to find a comfortable, durable pair of shoes for him. Then she saw a similar complaint online that ignited a passion to start a mega shoe distributor
How did the business idea come about?
The idea of Fora Shoe House, known informally as 4-Shoe, was born out of the need to find a solution for a problem I encountered.
My three-year-old son was about to join kindergarten, so I went for school shoe shopping. The options available were too heavy for my little boy.
The leading retailer in my town kept promising to stock a better type in the coming weeks, but it was not to be. I came home, logged onto Facebook and found one renowned writer and owner of Lovely Kindergarten, Beryl Itindi, had written a post detailing her struggles to find a pair of apt school shoes for her child too.
Many parents who commented had agreed with her that the available options were bulky and not long-lasting for an active school child.
The post created a eureka moment that resulted in the establishment of Fora Shoe House, which retails and distributes shoes manufactured by Josef Seibel Africa (JSA). We partnered with JSA because they specialise in comfortable shoes.
What does the business entail?
In a nutshell, we distribute and retail quality, durable, and lightweight school shoes. We also have a range of comfortable, stylish and quality wear for both men and women.
As a business founder, was it hard raising capital?
No. The Lord's grace was sufficient. When I came up with the idea, it hit me that it needed lots of money to actualise. The initial capital was huge (tens of millions). Since I couldn’t raise that kind of money, I pitched the idea to my friends, and three of them came on board with the needed capital.
How is the profit distributed?
We’re four partners (all female): Fareriah Okoth, Stella Mwangi, Sylvia Wamuyu, and I. Each has equal stakes of 25 per cent in the company. We capitalised on some of our networks in business to break through the market.
Apart from the finances, every partner came on board with different strengths and capabilities, each is uniquely gifted with different experiences in business. It was easy to allocate each a department based on their competencies, expertise, and experience.
Is the business partnership working well? Are there challenges?
Generally, the partnership is working well and serving the business as intended. Of course, there are challenges.
We live in different towns and the other shareholders, Okoth and Mwangi, are still employed on a full time basis, making it hard to run the businesses. Over time, we have found a way to maneuver those challenges.
Who makes decisions and how do you reach a compromise?
Each partner has an area of specialties such as retail, distribution and wholesale, finance and administration, and social media. Partners can decide how to run their departments, but we consult a lot.
For pertinent issues, we sometimes put them to vote. There have been disagreements but not one we can't get past.
Who do you target as your core client?
School-going children are our core clients. Since they don't have the purchasing power, we target their guardians, parents and even schools. For the adult wear, our focus is on the high-end clients with a knack for comfort and quality.
How do you reach your clients?
Fora (4-Shoe) is mainly an online business, although we have various physical shops in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu and now Thika.
Therefore, most of our clients are from social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Also, our friends and families were our initial clients and still are. The market has grown from referrals, word of mouth and constant online marketing.
We market the business by boosting our social media pages, engaging influential people with a significant presence online, and having marketing representatives.
In Kenya, you can't succeed in school businesses without engaging uniform distributors. We have a sales and marketing team specialising in the third category.
What are some challenges in the business?
I mentioned above that the Kenyan school shoe business mainly depends on uniform distributors. Most schools direct students to buy uniforms and footwear from them.
As such, you can only sell to these students through their known distributors. As an entrant in the market, it's been a challenge working with some key distributors because of they have prior contracts with suppliers.
Convincing them to try a new product is not easy. Secondly, some of our competitors have been in the market for decades, making them known. We may have a better quality product, but some people still prefer older brands even if it does not serve them.
It's a David versus Goliath affair. School shoe businesses are mostly seasonal with peaks being school holidays or back to school. As such, failure to plan well can be catastrophic. It takes three months to build networks so that when the back-to-school frenzy happens, we have already secured clients.
How do you manage to compete against the lead market players?
Our mantra is not to be a market disruptor, but to offer quality brands that can be worn for years without needing a trip to a cobbler’s stand.
That is what defines us from the competition. We intend to intensify our marketing to be a go-to brand for quality and comfortable shoes in Kenya and beyond.
What has business taught you that employment did not ?
Entrepreneurship is where actual character development occurs. It's a different ball game from employment. You learn resilience, patience and grace.