Spotlight: ‘Who said the best houses need to be made of stones?’

MRM Roofing Head of Marketing,Harry Muchangi Njagi, with some of the products the company manufactures [David Njaaga, Standard]
No construction industry is complete without building materials manufacturers. In Kenya, Mabati Rolling Mills (MRM) is one of the best known roofing materials makers. Harry Njagi, MRM’s head of marketing in charge of roofing products, talks to Home & Away on the industry.

The local construction industry is increasingly importing building materials, especially from China. What are companies like MRM doing to counteract thisimports?

We focus on innovation. We are using our vast technological investments to mitigate the disruption brought about by such imports. Imports are not necessarily bad.

MRM began its business here by importing since there were no metal sheets in Kenya.

But as we invested more in modern technology, we saw the need to add value to our products and make them more attractive to our customers. We were the first company to produce coated steel using a patented aluminium-zinc alloy.

We have borrowed best practices from developed nations and came up with quality standards that were later adopted by the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

But manufacturing is still a cost-intensive venture in Kenya...

It is and that is why we want to go heavy on a sale-oriented business model.

This requires that we go to the market and listen to what the needs are then adapt our business to those needs.

Talking of innovation, you are in a drive to promote green technology. What exactly does this entail?  

We start with a cool roof for that is our core business. The cooler the roof, the higher the level of productivity.

But we can also promote green living by technology, preventing the use of timber.

For example, we have come up with a light gauge steel trussing system that replaces the use of wood on the roof. Unlike timber, the light-gauge steel is rolled off-site to tight dimensional tolerances and does not warp, meaning roof lines always remain straight. In addition, it can stay for 50 years without rotting or rusting.

MRM has in the past tried to experiment on how to assemble a low-cost house. What became of it?

We wanted to come up with a low-cost house model for the masses. However, the project was not viable since some of the materials needed to be imported, making the envisaged housing model “unaffordable” to many. We are still looking at other possibilities.

Does that mean the dream of affordable homes in Kenya is a long way off?

Not really. Affordable housing need a change in policy. We have hardly professionalised our home designs.

We operate on models handed down to us ages ago by foreigners. Who, for instance, said that all standalone homes must have a chimney in a hot climate like ours? How come all our rural shops have that peculiar design that has never changed?

Who said that the best houses must be constructed with quarry stones? We must have these conversations and review the archaic Building Code.

MRM is partnering with some institutions of higher learning to look for homegrown housing solutions.

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