Jane Akeyo Omoro runs Benzel Herbal Soaps, a cottage soap factory in Kisii town and hopes to grow it into a full-blown factory. She shares what it takes to see her business grow wings and rise to the top
I was born in Mbita, Homa Bay County 45 years ago and got married to my contractor husband Samuel Moturi immediately after completing secondary school education in 1991. We have lived together in our Kisii home where we have been blessed with three grown up sons.
Our first born is a Civil Engineer, the second born is working with Kenya Medical Research Institute and our last born is currently studying Pharmacy. I tried my hand in several businesses which include selling second hand clothes and operating a posho mill near my home. I sold goats at Daraja Mbili Market and later operated a cyber café in Kisii town before deciding to go back to school.
In 2013, I joined Kisii University to pursue a Diploma in Entrepreneurship where I found one of the lecturers training students in soap making. I got interested and joined the class that attracted 157 students at the beginning but at the end of the course I was the only student. Most of the students got excited and left the class after gaining some knowledge in making liquid soap. I stayed behind and learnt how to make bar soap which I do not regret.
What happened next:
When I completed my studies, I started making bar soap at my Bogeka village home in Kisii in 2015 after which I decided to start Kisii Entrepreneurs Self Help Group. In the beginning, the group had 37 members, each paying Sh200 membership fee with the intention of starting a soap making business at Rugaa market at the border of Kisii and Homa Bay Counties. Sometime later, some members left since they did not share in my dream of expanding our business. They thought this was just a merry go round where they could just share profits any time they had some good sales.
Running a startup:
When majority members in our group left, I moved the business to my Kisii home where I have been operating ever since with the support of six members. Currently I am the Chief Executive Officer of Benzel Herbal Soaps where we are making different types of soaps using locally available agricultural raw materials in Kisii. Our group has Alice Makori as Secretary, Linet Gwako as Treasurer, Donvick Olwuok as Accountant, Jacob Ouma as Storekeeper and Sophy Moraa as an Assistant.
Where I am now:
At Benzel Herbal Soaps, we make soaps from banana, tomato, avocado, lemon, rice, vegetables, aloe vera, yam, eucalyptus, rosemary and activated charcoal. We sell each soap to our customers at pricea ranging from Sh300 to 500. On a good day, we make sales of Sh8,000-10,000 at our various shops. We also have customers who make their orders from various parts of the country who include some prominent people.
Currently we have a stock of soaps worth Sh1.5 million, ready for sale at our various shops in Kisii. I intend to set up a soap factory and will need around 300 people to work in my factory. That is why we are training as many people as possible to learn how to make soap. I would also like to empower women who solely depend on their husbands for upkeep. I have written a book explaining how the various types of soaps we make are beneficial to the human skin. It is set for release in March.
I have also been invited to attend a trade fair to be held in Turkey in April where I will showcase my skills in soap making. I met President Uhuru Kenyatta during the National Youth Forum held in Kisii Town last year. The President was impressed with my soap making skills and invited me to take some of our brands to State House, Nairobi, which I am yet to do.
I have also been engaged by Mawego Institute of Technology in Homabay County as a lecturer in soap making and I am training seven groups in Homabay County. The soap products we make have been certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards and have won several awards during the annual Kisii Agricultural show. We have shops in Suneka, Nyakoe, Daraja Mbili and Oyugis Towns and intend to expand by the end of the year.
I started the soap making business from savings of Sh3,000. Now the business has grown to the point where we have a stock worth Sh 1.5 million in our shops. Just start with what you have and you will make it.Are you the black sheep of your family?