I had just lost my husband and was faced with the task of raising our children alone. Despite the hopelessnees and loneliness I faced, I was determined to start something that would immortalise our union even if he was not there anymore. I decided to use the Sh250,000 in our joint savings account to launch a project that would take care of me and the children.
We had a plot of land in Nyali and after consulting an architect, plans for a luxury apartments were drafted.
Luckily, we had a hospitality related business and the experience came in handy. I have been involved in many ventures but I always knew that serving people and ensuring that they are comfortable and well taken care of has been my true calling all along.
I am living my dream. Although my initial capital wasn’t much, the faith and determination I had in realising my dream kept me going.
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I remember the first thing I did when I started was put up a perimeter fence around my plot and the money ran out even before the wall was complete. That was in 2005.
I raised money through engaging in export business, which I had done before and supplying labour to ships at the port. I also got assistance from a bank and slowly by slowly, the building took shape.
Take the first step
I knew that luxury apartments have to live up to their name by offering comfortable and luxurious amenities and yet here I was with 12 units — six studio, three one-bedroom, two two-bedroom and one three-bedroom — that had been tastefully finished but with no furniture, appliances or utensils.
Even before we officially opened, clients started making enquiries and I had to strip my own home to furnish the three and two bedroom units to accommodate them.
Luckily, during my many trips abroad I had amassed quite a collection of kitchenware and that really came in handy. Seeing our first clients move in was an awesome experience and from there, we invested all we had to on the furnishings.
When we started off, we were just providing furnished apartments and a steward for the visitors. Then technological advancements necessitated the need to provide free WiFi. I was among the first to install, at my facility. To ensure that we are always in sync with modernity, we overhaul furnishings to trends that are in vogue every time the opportunity arises.
We also strive to provide the latest in kitchen, bathroom and bedroom appliances so that we are always ahead of the competition.
We also ensure that the furnishings have an eclectic taste to them. This has allowed us to not only accommodate locals but also host tourists from as far away as Australia, Netherlands, Germany and even the Far East.
Word out there
Our most effective advertising has always been word of mouth, with those who visit recommending our destination to others.
We have had to innovate along the way and some of these simple variations we have had to effect have turned out to be great successes.
For instance, after realising that our guests could get bored with technologically enhanced conveniences, we decided to light up our garden, provide lounge chairs and assign a steward to serve those who would wish to spend their evenings among the flowers and palms. Guests love this spot.
Our marketing is online, through our website jacyjoka.com and our social media pages. We interact with clients to get feedback that helps us improve on quality. Initially, we didn’t have a pool and relied on the beach which is a stone’s throw away from the facilty.
We have since constructed one and can now comfortably offer the option of the ocean or pool. We have also added an ala carte restaurant cum club into out repertoire, making us a hotel, which recently received a three-star rating.
We even set up a tented conference facility that can take up upto 200 guests, and we are always looking out for opportunities to improve.
The Post-Election Violence of 2007 was my lowest moment. My business was just taking shape and then the country erupted into chaos. We couldn’t conduct any business and at the time I was servicing a loan.
It became nearly impossible and I remember I almost quit. But I remembered that I had to be strong for my boys who were still in school.
They were studying in Europe and it was so bad that at some point, I couldn’t afford their boarding.
I remember I had to go back to the drawing board and evaluate the objectives I had when starting this business to draw inspiration. I decided to hang in there and eventually, things got better though the road to recovery was slow and painful.
Invest in skills and staff
I have about a dozen employees, many of whom we started out together in 2007. We encourage and support those who want to pursue their career beyond our facility to do so.
We are grateful for the opportunity of serving with them and even keep in touch. You will be surprised at the gratitude you get from these acts of kindness and even other staff feel appreciated. That is the same way they are going to treat your guests.
I have also attended business development courses at Strathmore College and ensure that we are always represented in entrepreneurship summits in the region.
I am currently serving as the chairperson of an organisation that brings together female hospitality industrialists in Mombasa.
Passion for profit
The hospitality industry requires passion and not just the desire to rake in profits.
This business requires constant building of trust with the customer. A customer can tell when you genuinely care for their wellbeing.
The hospitality industry requires a huge percentage of goodwill because we are dealing with guests we have invited to sample our accommodation and service.