When Angela Gamba, a marketer, joined a group of sandal makers three years ago, she had no idea she would be charting new ground.
The group, Makuti Youth, is now receiving orders from among other clients, top tourist hotels in Nakuru for their trendy footwear called “Green Sandals”.
The soles of the sandals are made from recycled car tyres. “It all began with a six-week course conducted by Hope and Vision Sacco in Nakuru where I learnt how to advance my business,” says Ms Gamba. The beneficiaries were all traders in Nakuru town who had no previous entrepreneurial training.
“I learned marketing skills, customer relations and basic book-keeping, which helped me to manage the little capital I had saved.”
Ms Gamba started by selling earrings, jewellery and other small ornamental objects in offices in Nakuru town. She could make up to Sh3,000 in a day which she ploughed back into the sandal business.
As part of the training, she came up with a project idea which she pitched to the trainers. She convinced them that the ordinary Akala sandals once famous with the Maasai and other pastoral communities could be made more attractive and sold to tourists.
By then she had joined Makuti Youth Group. The trainers liked her idea of customising the sandals to depict Kenya’s rich culture by using soft materials such as leso and kikoy and other cloths bearing the colours of the national flag.
This got seed funding from the training team, which Ms Gamba and her partners used to buy more materials.
She came up with new ways of adding value to the products, which the rest of the four-member group liked. They transformed the sandals from drab and hardy footwear to, trendy work of art and fashion.
The group also makes clutch bags, wallets and other accessories, but the green sandal is their flagship project.
Despite challenges such as lack of a specific outlet to sell their products and the headache of dealing with customers who fail to pay for their orders, Ms Gamba and her friends are not deterred.
“By the end of the year, we hope to open an outlet in Nakuru town for both wholesale and retail customers,” she says.
The group also plans to add beadwork to some orders from hotels.
“We have received a good order for sandals, although the client wants something that we have not tried before. But we have seen the business opportunity there and will use our creativity to deliver.”
According to Ms Gamba, opportunity to sell their products comes in many forms. One of them is to search the Internet for top hotels in the Rift Valley and book an appointment with the manager.
“I then walk into their offices and introduce my group and our business with the aim of clinching a sale. Most managers respond well and place orders.”
But tighter vigil in the hotel industry due to poaching and other forms of insecurity in the game parks has put a damper on the business because access to tourism sites and hotels is now more difficult.
But her customer relations skills have come in handy, enabling her to persuade potential buyers of the group’s objectives.
Makuti, which is now six years old has learnt a lot of virtues along the way and patience is one of them. Ms Gamba, who is the group’s marketing manager, has had to put up with delays in orders and customers who will not keep their word.
They are however, encouraged by regular feedback from customers, thus pushing their options even further. They are now venturing into online marketing and would like to set up a website for their clients most of whom are international tourists.