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We lost 60 per cent of our first stock

 Winnie Ndungu, founder of Clay Republic (Elvis Ogina, Standard)

Winfred Nyambura Ndung’u, 44, is the Founder/Commercial Director of The Clay Republic, a company that deals in pure clay products aimed at improving health and empowering traditional potters.

She tells us about the roots of her venture, the gains and losses of running a business and rising above challenges to keep it going.

My background

Growing up, we were groomed and urged to work extremely hard right from a young age. I was brought up in what I would describe as a humble background. My parents were in business -- farming and transportation.

I hold a degree in Marketing from Kenya Methodist University which I completed in 2010. I am finalising my Master of Science degree in Marketing at Kenyatta

University. Having worked with various firms including Buyline Industries Limited, Britam and Cytonn, I have over 20 years of experience in sales, marketing and administration.

The idea

I reached a point where I felt I just couldn’t take instructions anymore. I needed something challenging. I thought of traditional clay products. Their use has been eroded by modern pottery.

Our forefathers lived for so long. They never used aluminum or consumed bottled water. They boiled everything using clay pots and they rarely fell sick. The little things they did, in small ways, made them live this long.

We started out as three partners. Coincidentally, we were all raised by parents who used pots. When we got together, it was an easy conversation as we all understood benefits of using clay pots for cooking and storing drinking water.

We had two things clear on our minds on why we needed to deal in pure clay pots. The first was to ensure we brought healthy lifestyles to our homes.

The second was to empower traditional potters in Western, Eastern and Central regions by reviving traditional pottery and linking their products to markets both locally and internationally.

While doing this, we are encouraging potters to recruit younger people to ensure the skill does not die or is not passed on to others the moment they stop moulding.


What happened next

Together with my partners, we decided to carry out some research to see if it was a viable business we could venture into. We ordered one water pot and decorated it.

We then posted a picture of it on social media platforms and the feedback was great. We all agreed that it is what we wanted to do and kicked off.

We ordered our first batch of pots and, by the time they got to Nairobi from Western, 60 per cent of them were broken. However, we didn’t give up.

We sold the remaining 40 per cent to recover the initial investments. Out of this experience, we decided we must re-strategise on transportation of the products we would order.

Since then, our transportation has greatly improved and now, 90 per cent of our pots and arrive at the destination without a dent.

Running a startup

It has been a learning experience, both for me and my partner (one left, we are now two). Putting structures in place and ensuring everything runs smoothly from production, sales, finances, customer relationship, among others, has been one huge responsibility for us, but we have made it, thanks to Uzapoint, an app that is able to do most of this at the click of a button.

Some things won’t move as fast as we would want. On the other hand, there are so many factors involved in production such as the weather, manpower, design, quality etc. Pots take time to dry and, sometimes, we have to wait for over 3-5 weeks to have our stock ready.

We have encountered challenges such as getting enough stock to satisfy the market. These are handmade products that take close to a month to produce.

We have no intention of tampering with the natural production process hence it has taken us a while to figure out a steady flow. Right now, I would say we are just about to nail it.

Financing the project is also another challenge. It is a capital intensive venture as you have to place new orders way before you clear your available stock. But we have managed through savings and sometimes borrowing small loans here and there from various banks.

Getting committed distributors to sell our products has been tough since most fear the fragility of the items. We have a few who are committed and are pushing the products really fast. We are aggressively looking for distributors to cover the entire country. Our focus right now is Nairobi, Coast and North Eastern regions.


Where I am now

Balancing between family and the venture has been a bit rough. I find myself handling customer queries at night and sometimes I feel so guilty because the people I love most are a few inches away but we don’t get to spend quality time together.

Finding time for my own self, to be me, to feel me, is difficult but with time, I am learning to spare some few minutes each day just for myself. We learn every day.

I would say we are at the final stage of the struggles since we had taken this first year to learn as much as possible on the dos and don’ts of the business. It is said you only learn through experience.

We are working towards delegating all matters operations to the people we have hired so that we can focus on the bigger picture. It is still work in progress. We hire direct from university, those with no much exposure but got the right attitude.

My tip

Fail as many times, but ensure you learn something. Be aggressive and stick to the cause you believe in (know your product). All in all, start. Just do it.

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