From Training Nannies to Running a Successful Bed and Breakfast

A bedroom at Magnolia Pine bed and breakfast

Every change has a story is a common phrase shrouded with mystery, one that every person dreams to share with the world. When Esther Kairo first quit her job, the uncertainty of the future loomed, despite her good reasoning for leaving gainful employment. She was going into unknown territory and exciting as that was, she could not ignore the mystery within.

Esther Kairo, a married mother of three, left gainful employment two years after getting into it and immediately ventured into the business world.  Having been brought up by a mom who over the years engaged in various businesses, Esther was sure she was making the right call. Her first stint was a common and highly praised business venture by most business newbies; a DvD library. Along the way she became a distributor for MyJobsEye cards. She later sold off the library and started a nanny and housekeeping training and placement facility with two friends. Demand for trained domestic workers was and still is high. However as a result of the severity of the business challenges, Esther decided to move away from said industry. They say third time’s is a charm, and that is where Esther found hers; her third business enterprise, Magnolia Pine bed and breakfast. Three years later, she lives to tell the tale.

Esther Kairo Hannah Wanjiru
Anne Waithera Rose Vike

Transitioning from a training school to a bed and breakfast was not as challenging as Esther had anticipated. Injecting money from their personal resources, they refurbished, furnished and equipped the premises. They also retained their staff, who were well versed in the skills needed in housekeeping and cooking for the guests.

They had actualized an idea and they had a facility, staff and proper amenities; next came the marketing bit. As a trained marketer – she holds a degree majoring in marketing from the University of Nairobi;Esther knew a thing or two on how to sell her business to the world. She engaged the online booking platforms, took to directly contacting organizations that have visiting employees or clients and told the taxi guys around the neighbourhood that she had a bed and breakfast, in case any of their clients needed one. The online booking platforms proved twice as effective as she got most of her clients from there, the taxi guys came in a close second and referrals from previous guests came in third. The marketing strategy was working.

Along the Way

Having no prior experience in the hotel industry, Esther Kairo, Hannah Wanjiru and Josephine Waithera had a lot to learn, and fast. They notably discovered that the conventional ways of creating awareness for a business were not working for them and surprise, they were also affected by low seasons. “We never saw that coming,” says Esther. “For some reason we thought a bed and breakfast would be different.”

Aware of the immense potential for their kind of business, they embraced patience and persistence. Soon, finances were tight as the capital they first injected did not fulfil all they wanted to do. The facility had to undergo a facelift and an upgrade to fit in with what their guests required. But turning back and giving up was not an option. Besides, they were mentally prepared that the fruits of their labour were not going to be instantaneous.

Magnolia Pine’s team is lean, small and effective. Of the three partners, Hannah has undertaken a course in hotel management and manages the day-to-day running with Esther. Josephine is in full employment. They have two staff members; Rose Vike is in charge of housekeeping and Anne Waithira is responsible for the kitchen. They trained them in various aspects of their departments over the years to upgrade their skills. Together the team is able to give the best to their customers.

Magnolia Pine bed and breakfast

How They Keep Floating

“When things get thick as they sometimes do in business, two things can happen,” says Esther, “one can choose to either close shop and go home, or to take a step back, evaluate and continue moving. We chose the latter! Keep moving!”

One of the effective ways they discovered to get their juices flowing and face whatever challenges is to take a well-deserved break. Equally helpful is recording their business journey and celebrating milestones. “You would be surprised at how far you’ve come in your journey and also be motivated on how far your journey could go. With these things in mind, we kept floating, navigating through, and now three years later, here we are!  Still swimming,” Esther asserts.

Given the breadth of the industry, they needed to distinguish themselves to keep afloat. They don’t compromise on beds and beddings. They underwent training on hotel service etiquette to improve on customer service and response to complaints or dissatisfaction. Being small works to their advantage as they interact with guests within reason, making them feel their hosts are out to ensure their stay is as pleasant as possible.   They throw in the free value added services factor, an old time classic that never grows old.

The dinning room at Magnolia Pine bed and breakfastThe sitting room at Magnolia Pine bed and breakfast

Making Partnerships Work

Having heard stories of partnership gone sour many times, Esther recalls being wary at first when she decided to partner with a couple of friends. Three years later though, they have managed to stand strong by observing a couple of rules and guidelines.

The first guideline has been to know their boundaries. The three friends try not to mix personal matters with business. Each person has their job description based on strengths and abilities, and they try as much as possible to honour that, for they all know if one does not do their part, the boat will sink. As a result they keep each other accountable in their responsibilities and duties.

“Picking our battles wisely is also a key guideline we have employed in our partnership formation,” says Esther. “Knowing when an issue is worth fighting about and when to back down has helped us navigate the partnership challenges well, leading to mutual respect.”

Like in a marriage, trust and transparency are key for a partnership to work. Everything should be open to scrutiny and no offence should be taken when queried about anything to do with the business. It's also important to understand the duties of your partners and finally, an auditor helps.

On lessons and advice

The biggest lesson the three friends have learned is that plans are just plans. They should be flexible because sometimes the market or political conditions change and you need to rework your model to suit the environment. “I have to be easily accessible as situations do arise that need my personal intervention,” she observes. “My business is a big part of my life and cannot be disregarded even if I am on vacation. Looking back, my only regret would be that I did not start the business sooner.”

To fellow entrepreneurs Esther urges to do all the necessary research and legwork before starting any venture. They should also bear in mind that they need to be flexible and able to adapt to the constant changing world; and sometimes to think on their feet.


Esther Kairo
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Diana Ashley


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