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How a school assignment turned into a Sh20 million business

By Mona Ombogo | July 4th 2019 at 11:38:16 GMT +0300

“I spent a night after a long day at work helping my 10-year-old daughter cover 12 exercise books,” says Patrick Korir Sigilai, the co-founder of stationery company Sandy EA.

“I remember thinking there are at least 200 other parents going through this task right now. What if there was an easier way to do it?”

Patrick discussed the idea with his wife, Shellah Korir, who was seated across from him, also engrossed in the task of covering those exercise books.

“We laughed about it, but the very next day, we set out to do our homework on whether or not this idea was feasible.”

It has been six years since that night.

Patrick, now 35, shares with Hustle how a simple assignment from the school his daughter, Sandy, attended built him a company that’s rapidly becoming a household name by providing an easy solution to covering school books.

Ready-made book covers seems like such a simple concept. What made you think you could turn it into a business?

Many great businesses are born from simple concepts, right?

People like what’s convenient and saves them that extra minute or that extra shilling. I was shocked when I did my research and realised no one else had thought of doing this, of commercialising this activity, even though it’s been a Kenyan practice for decades. We did it, our parents did it, but no one was monetising it.

Take us through the process, from concept to actualisation of the idea.

When I was covering my daughter’s books, she was extremely particular about the end result. She even vetoed the covers that didn’t meet her standards.

Her mother and I had to redo those ones – some flaps were too long, others too short, others crooked.

When I got down to creating a sample ready-made cover for the market, I knew we needed precision. I worked on that first and then went door-to-door, asking my neighbours to try the covers and see if they liked the concept.

The very next day, I had children coming to my door to order more covers. I’d only given five covers to each house, but most schools have at least 12 to 15 exercise books per child.

What were your costs for the covers?

The first samples were free. When more orders came in, I charged Sh20 for a set of five covers. I didn’t put a mark-up on this because I was still testing the product.

The cost went up to Sh35 for a set of five covers after I finalised the design, artwork and improved the paper quality. That’s the wholesale price; retailers have varied pricing. I also added an A4 version at a wholesale price of Sh50.

Apart from your neighbours, who else do you count among your first customers?

Sandy’s school. We had redone her books after I finished the final product and the ready-made covers were such a hit. Her classmates and teacher were so impressed and wanted to know where she got her covers from.

She told them I was selling the covers and the teacher called me, asking if I could supply them to her class.

The craze picked up throughout the school. Eventually the administration called me and suggested I pitch a tent at break time and sell covers to interested students. I took them up on the offer.

How did it go?

Extremely well. That day alone, we sold 300 sets of covers. In the first term, we sold approximately 1,000 sets to the school.

What has Sandy EA’s growth been like?

We registered the company in February 2013 right after we made the first few sample covers. Six months after that, I resigned from my full-time job as a marketer to focus on Sandy EA. That month, we sold 3,000 sets. Our next priority was to roll out our products to big commercial outlets like supermarkets and bookshops.

We outsourced the printing and cutting, and did the finishing ourselves.  

Who were your first large customers?

Our very first large customer was Woolmart Supermarket in Nakuru, which is where we are based. The product flew off the shelves in two weeks; we sold 100 sets of A5 and A4. The following month, we sold 300 sets of each size.

We also stocked at a bookshop that bought 500 sets of each size. On December 27, 2013, an order we’d supplied of 500 sold out in one day.  

Our big break came when we approached Nakumatt. To my shock, they enlisted the product right away, making an order of 10,000 sets of each size.

You were fairly new as a company, so how did you meet this order?

We couldn’t because no bank would finance our LPO (local purchase order). Eventually, I went back to Nakumatt and asked them if I could satisfy the order slowly over time and supply branch by branch as opposed to countrywide.

It was the December-January period, which is high season for book sales because of the back-to-school rush.

We ended up supplying them will a total of 5,000 sets, which was 50 per cent of their original ask, and it brought in Sh400,000 as opposed to the original Sh1 million.

Haw far have you spread outside of Nakuru?

We’re now countrywide, and stocked in most well-known supermarkets like Tuskys, Naivas and Chandarana. We’re also stocked in bookshops like Text Book Centre.

What was your turnover in the first year?

We turned over Sh200,000. In year two, we did Sh500,000. Last year, we closed at Sh4 million, reaching sales of 114,000 sets.

What’s your projection for 2019?

Last year, we applied to KCB Lions’ Den and got investment from Darshan Chandaria of Sh5 million. It was such a great experience because four of the Lions bid to invest in us.

We had gone in with Mr Chandaria in mind because of his retail and manufacturing expertise. We were humbled to get him on board. With his investment and guidance, we shall expand enough to meet demand and reach more networks and regions.

We anticipate a turnover of Sh20 million in 2019, selling approximately 500,000 sets.

What’s your ultimate goal?

To spread across East Africa and then go Africa-wide. We’re also in the process of releasing new products and expanding our stationary line.

In line with the ingenuity of the book covers, which we make from paper for now, we want to find the gaps in the market and fill them. It’s all about simplifying parents’ and students’ lives at an affordable cost.

KCB Lions Den Sandy EA
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