By Sara Reeves
I have been in the furniture industry in Kenya, in various iterations, for 5 years now: first making pallet furniture with my askari in my living room, then a stint running a project for the World Bank (www.workshopnairobi.com) and now heading up my own successful furniture brand, Love Artisan.
But one year ago, is when I really stumbled upon my WHY and how to best communicate it. Alongside a fellow female-founded furniture business, Love Artisan was pitching for a large parastatal contract, and as owners we were discussing what our unique selling proposition was as small, local manufacturers. Certainly, we couldn’t contest on price against imported furniture; the cost of manufacture in Kenya is simply not competitive. And as self-funded businesses, we didn’t have the capital to be able to scale operations to produce bulk quantities in a short production window. So, I asked us the question: why should somebody buy from Love Artisan?
I felt the fear of ‘maybe there’s no place for us’, ‘maybe we won’t grow because we can’t compete’. I went to bed that night worried and anxious. But the next morning I woke with renewed vigor and purpose. I was (and remain) so passionate about the potential of our informal sector furniture-making trade; I really wanted to see our industry grow and build capacity. I was convinced there was a place for us, we did matter, we did create value, I just had to find the way to communicate it.
Upon arrival at the workshop, I cleaned the whiteboard and called an impromptu team meeting. “Right guys, what does it take to make one Love Artisan chair?” “Who is involved in its manufacture?” And so, we began the exercise of listing the entire ecosystem of the creation of a single chair: from the timber sellers, to the hand-cart guys, to the textiles, nduthi guys and so on. Despite intrinsically knowing that many people were involved in, and impacted by, the production of a single chair, we were still surprised at just how deep into the economy a single purchase went.
I had my WHY and I believed it in 1000%. THIS was why the large corporations and parastatals should support Love Artisan, (and local businesses in general), because if they are not, then who is?
We pitched this concept to the parastatal and posed that very question to them. And I knew from that point forward, this was what I had to communicate. It’s the impact, the all-important impact: that was our value proposition and it’s a powerful one.
We did eventually submit a quotation to this particular parastatal, but ultimately, we chose not to move forward with them as they refused to avail any deposit for the work, and that’s quite simply outside our business terms. (Knowing what to say ‘no’ to is one of the most crucial factors in business, but that’s a story for another day).
But this story isn’t about that particular contract, it’s about how I came to understand our business ecosystem, our value chain, and how to lead with it. It’s about knowing our power as a consumer, and not underestimating the impact of where we choose to spend each shilling.
To all Kenyan enterprises, I challenge you to look inside your own businesses and really figure out who forms your value chain – I think you’ll be surprised just how much impact you have.
And to all consumers, I challenge you to be intentional and conscious about your spending decisions. Support Kenyan made, and in particular, support small businesses where your shilling really does penetrate into the grassroots level of our economy.
I would love to see the infographic above replicated in all Kenyan businesses. I will go so far as to say we should all be submitting our ‘impact assessments’ when it comes to renewing our business licenses. Think of the power we would have as Kenyan businesses if we all clearly demonstrate our impact. Think of the difference it would make to our economy and to our society. This is the true meaning of #BuyKenyaBuildKenya. If you would like to join this challenge and create your own business ecosystem infographic, please share on social media using the hashtags #whatsyourimpactchallenge and #mybusinessimpactchallenge
Love Artisan harnesses Kenya’s artisan potential to create beautiful furniture with contemporary African flair. https://www.facebook.com/loveartisankenya/