Kenya: I Did What I Loved - Timber Merchant Living Her Dream

17 September 2020

A signpost on top of a building on Peponi Road in Gikomba, Nairobi County welcomes you to Reaction Timber Yard.

The yard is located in a generally busy place and you can hardly communicate without shouting, because of the noise from machines slicing timber.

It is here we meet 34-year-old Ms Quenter Oloo, the owner of the timber-yard. She is engaged with a client seeking to buy her products.

On her head is a black headscarf to maintain the neatness of her hair. She has a blue mask over her mouth and nose to keep herself safe from Covid-19 infection. And a blue apron staving off dust from her blue jeans and black top.

"I look at this timber-yard and I feel proud of myself," she says with a smile.

Secretary

Ms Oloo is one of the few women who have ventured into the timber business.

In 2013, when she opened the business, she says, she was the only one in the area selling timber.

Her six-year experience in a timber-yard that operated not far from her current premises, helped her hone her skills in the business.

She worked as a secretary and out of this work, she saved Sh300,000 to which her husband topped up with an extra Sh400,000 to help her start off.

"I told him I wanted to try my hand in the business and he gave me his blessing," she says.

Ms Oloo was married at 18 years just one year after completing high school and her father's relative helped her get the secretarial job.

"Even as I did the job, my desire was to run my own business and be financially independent so I could support my siblings. I saved towards achieving my goal," asserts the mother of three.

In less than a year, her business of selling raw mahogany timber picked. How she did it, is amazing.

"I just opened my business and waited for the customers and they came. And they referred others and that is how my business has grown this far. To date, I depend on referrals from customers and fellow business people around this area" she says.

"And I did not move with my employers' customers. I did not want conflicts over customers," adds Ms Oloo whose customers are mainly from the Nairobi and its environs.

With just two staff, Ms Oloo, started with a monthly importation of 100 pieces of mahogany timber from Congo and sold them raw.

Now, she imports 500 pieces monthly and has six machines with eight staff who process the timber into doors, frames, water rounds and bindings among other products. And in three weeks, they are all sold.

Proprietor

Providing the best quality products and service to the customers is key to her success, she says.

"No customer will return to buy another product if what you offer is poor quality or your customer service is poor. You must know how to deal with customers so that they can come for more or refer someone," she advises.

Once in a while, she gets customers who insist to see the owner as they cannot believe she is the proprietor.

"But I emphatically inform them that there is no other owner except me, so they should insist on seeing me to strike a business deal," she says.

For a woman, she says, it requires one to be tough-headed to run the business as sometimes unwelcome harassment from county officials is inevitable.

The burning of her stock during a fire incident in February, 2019, counts as her lowest moment in the business. She spent Sh2 million to get back on her feet.

Congo rains

A rainy season is the biggest challenge to her business. She says it takes up to two months to import the hardwood timber when it rains in Congo and this, she says, is too costly for the business.

Her dream is to run a chain of timber-yards across the country to employ as many youth as possible.

She advises women to "never let go your passion for business. If you love it, do it. I did what I loved and now I'm successful."

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