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I found profit in inconvenience: Rita Oyier’s story delivering shopping to women

 Rita Oyier with some of the products that customers can buy from her Heri Online platform (Courtesy)

“My deepest desire is for women to aspire to run big businesses. We don’t have to be confined to running businesses from our houses,” starts Rita Oyier, the founder of Heri Online. “We need to dream big if we’re ever going to be taken seriously in the spaces that matter.”

Heri Online is a shopping platform targeted towards women, especially mothers who don’t have time to walk into a supermarket for monthly shopping.

To stand out in what’s become a rather crowded market, Heri Online allows its customers to call in and read out their shopping list, email their shopping list or go to the Heri website, select the goods they want and check out.

The goods are then delivered within 24 hours.

Rita started her company in October 2016 after enduring a difficult 2015 when her relationship fell apart a week before their wedding.

She rebounded and rebuilt her life, with her focus being on empowering and enabling women to channel their energies to their families, their finances and other things that matter. She speaks about how she’s getting this done.

What’s your professional background?

I’m a marketer and worked in that space for eight years. I felt, however, that the traditional mode of direct marketing needed a more scientific approach.

I started my own company, Monar, in 2014 to address this problem. We hit it big, with our turnover coming in at Sh60 million in year one.

That’s a great way to announce your presence. 

It is, if you know what you’re doing. I did not. My rent for office space, for instance, was Sh350,000 a month, that’s how clueless I was.

I don’t know if the big monies would have kept coming, but in April 2015, I went through an emotional breakup with my fiancé, and right about that time I realised that my company wasn’t really representing what I set out for it to represent, which was a more calculated approach to marketing. I stopped everything.

I was confused about my vision, my purpose and my life in general.

My pain was so intense that I would randomly park the car on the side of the road and weep.

How did you stop the spin?

I had a good support system in close friends and family who allowed me to grieve how I best understood it.

That, for me, is caving inward until I’m okay, and then returning to the world again. It took a year for that to happen.

When I returned, I started another company, Sakal, which was more targeted towards my original idea of offering technical solutions for marketing.

With a company to set up and children to raise in a single-resource home, I found I had zero time to shop, especially at the wholesale outlets I preferred because they were cost friendly.

One day, while discussing this problem, a friend and I decided to go into the business of supplying wholesale-priced goods to women, delivered straight to their door. And Heri Online was born.

What was it like in the beginning?

Within the first month, we got an order of about Sh100,000 worth of shopping. We struggled to meet this order.  We had no stock, no storage and no adequate means of delivering such a big order. It took us three days to process the order.

How did you rectify some of these issues going forward?

We muddled through. For one, I realised that if we left product options completely open to customers, we’d get too wide a range of products and brands to supply, so we came up with a pricelist of the most preferred products.

If a customer didn’t find what they wanted from this list, they were free to add onto it, but the pricelist streamlined our range.

Additionally, to make us more efficient, I delegated, hiring a social media manager and a driver with a van for deliveries. We grew steadily, bringing in about 25 orders and a turnover of approximately Sh200,000 a month by April 2017.

 Rita realised that between running their homes and career, women had little time to shop (Photo: LinkedIn)

In 2018, Heri Online got a grant of Sh1 million. Tell us about this.

The grant came from Standard Chartered Women in Tech, which is a business incubator programme run by Standard Chartered Bank and Strathmore University.

The aim is to build women leaders in technology across Africa.

It’s one of the best things that happened to me, not just because of the grant, but because of how much we learnt during the programme.

What were some of the key lessons?

I’d say building a business that will not kill you. Heri Online was working but it was killing me. Dealing with stock, deliveries and a multitude of customers who wanted their goods when they wanted them was difficult to maintain.

At this hub, we learned the importance of systems that run with or without you, and at minimum risk and minimum collateral.

We focused on what the majority of customers needed and made that our backbone. Most customers didn’t struggle with replacing milk at the end of the week, but they struggled with bulk shopping, so we made that our flagship.

You’d be surprised at how many times a woman will call in and we hear a baby crying in the background and she’s busy trying to soothe the child as she reads out her list.

These are the defining moments for me, the moments I know we’re meeting a point of need, making a difference.

By handling her entire shopping list, we’ve given this woman back maybe four hours of her life and given her baby four hours of mummy time.

How many households do you currently supply?

In 2018, we served 700 homes and 30 businesses and institutions. Our minimum order is Sh4,000. Our biggest order has been Sh1 million.

Our turnover for 2017 and 2018 combined was $155,000 (Sh15.5 million).

What’s your vision for Heri?

To place women in a position where their most valuable time is not taken up by the mundane. How many times in your life will you have to drive somewhere to buy soap?

I believe if most women had more time, they’d be more productive, innovative and their careers and businesses would flourish.

Why be content with little when you can have the world? Why run a tiny outlet when your business has the potential to absorb other businesses and change the workspace?

My vision in a nutshell, is to enable women to enable themselves.

At Heri, within the next few months, we’ll be introducing niche products, like homemade peanut butter or essential oils.

Ordinarily, these women would only sell these goods to their neighbours or friends, but Heri wants to give them a platform to go large scale. Why can’t we do it? It’s all about saying yes to more.

Would you share a toothbrush with your partner?

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