International Woman’s Day celebrates women, whatever their status, calling or convictions.
In years past, most women were confined to certain careers (if any) and could only climb so far up the ladder (if they managed to get on it at all). Today, despite the strides that women have taken to bridge several gaps in the business world, there are many professions where men still dominate. One of these professions is the meat industry.
Trailblazing in this decidedly male industry in Kenya is Dorothy Mutinda Musau, the founder of Laikipia Prime Cuts, a wholesale and retail meat product supplier in Syokimau.
The 50-year-old, who quit her job as an insurance agent at the age of 40, speaks to Hustle about her journey.
Why did you quit your job?
I was burned out and exhausted. I’d worked in the insurance industry for more than 10 years and after consistently pushing for targets and sometimes dealing with trauma from customers who’d lost their premiums, I couldn’t do it anymore.
Every Sunday night, I’d get ulcers, dreading work on Monday morning. I spoke to my husband about it and since he’d seen how tired I was; he was on board with my plan to quit.
How did you end up in the meat industry?
After quitting, I sat at home for two years. At first I was okay with this because I needed the break, but then I started getting restless. At the time, my husband had a canter and suggested I do something with it.
Someone gave me the idea to sell watermelons, which I did. But that didn’t quite work out.
What were the challenges?
Mostly it was getting fresh produce to clients in time, because it’s a rather saturated market. We would travel great distances to get the best produce at competitive rates, but even then, we consistently ran at a loss.
One day I was talking to a friend who happened to own a ranch in Laikipia. She had a lot of cattle and wanted to find a way of supplying them to potential customers. I had a canter that needed work.
We decided to join hands and start a company. The original name of the company was Laikipia Treats. Later, when this partnership ended, I started my own company, Laikipia Prime Cuts.
What was the start-up for the original company?
The capital was approximately Sh1.5 million. We used this to kit a cold room, which is where you bleed out meat by hanging it upside down to drain it of water and blood. That cost about Sh700,000. We also bought a bone saw at Sh400,000, three freezers, a mincer and a weighing machine.
So how did an insurance broker know what was needed to run a butchery?
I didn’t. We learned along the way and made several mistakes. The first year was a disaster. The biggest challenge was we bought far more meat than the demand.
Our cold room could only store meat for up to three days before it rots. So sometimes a hotel would ask for 100 kilogrammes of ox-tail, for instance. To supply this, we would have to buy several carcasses and supply the ox-tail, but then we’d be left with other parts of the carcass that no one had ordered. And after three days, it would go bad.
This wastage cost us all our profits and put us in the red many, many times.
Did you feel you had made a mistake, quitting your job?
Not really. What I kept drawing upon were the lessons and inspiration I had gained as an insurance broker.
I worked for one of the best insurance companies, and I remember at the beginning of every year, we’d be asked to note down our goals: short, middle and long term.
If your short-term goal was to buy a fridge at the end of the first quarter, your supervisor would check if you had accomplished that goal.
There were repercussions for not meeting your goals, because if you couldn’t hit your personal targets, how then could the company trust you to hit theirs?
We worked on a commission basis, so they always told us the sky wasn’t the limit; we could go beyond the sky. In the toughest times, I called on these principles to help me through.
When did you break even?
In the original company, we broke even in 2014, but I left the company soon after this. My partner and I realised we had different visions and management styles.
I then started Laikipia Prime Cuts, which broke even in June last year.
What did you put into Laikipia Prime Cuts?
It cost about the same, Sh1.5 million, though I didn’t buy everything at once. My initial cost was Sh1 million, which I paid back within the first year.
What was it like the second time around?
Experience came in handy. For instance, instead of buying complete carcasses to meet orders, I bought parts. I also changed my supplier and got my meat products from Bisil, which was closer to my butchery. We consequently saved on transportation and preservation costs.
Over the years, I’d also amassed clientele that stayed with me when I branched out.
Who are some of your clients?
For wholesale, I mainly supply hotels, including Maanzoni Lodge, Silver Springs Hotel, Siana Springs, Carnivore and some establishments in Voi. I recently started retailing to individual clients.
What’s more lucrative in your industry, wholesale or retail?
I think most successful mid-level suppliers have to do both, the reason being hotels won’t buy all parts of a meat product.
Take lamb, for example. They’ll mostly purchase lamb loin and leg, leaving you with parts like the shoulder, which you can then sell to retail clients whose needs are more diverse.
Another thing is that larger establishments take longer to pay. Big hotels can take up to three months, but an individual will pay instantly. It helps with the cash flow. My current target is gated communities, where you make large-scale sales to individuals in one location, saving time and money.
Why don’t more women venture into this business?
I think it’s the misconception that you need to be a certain way, like rough around the edges or overly tough.
I’m a rather minute woman and I get strange looks when I walk into a cattle market or a slaughter house. But let me tell you, the moment these men realise you know what you’re doing, they go out of their way to help you.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone call out to his colleague, “let’s help this kasichana kadogo”.
Some women would take offense, but why should I? It helps me get what I need quicker. My mantra is use what works for you as long as you maintain your values and morals. I don’t see barriers, I see opportunities.
What’s the vision for your company?
I’d love Laikipia Prime Cuts to be my retirement plan, which means my main aim is to set up systems and structures so that the company outlives me.