Irene Dreams of Roofing the World

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When Irene Wanjiku set up REXE Roofing Products Ltd in November 2011, she knew without a doubt that they would be the kings in the roofing industry. In fact rexe is a Latin word meaning ‘king’ and Irene has formed an acronym from it that reminds her and her team every day of their values with a bit of a twist: R-Reliable, E-Excellent, X –Xperienced and E-Elegant.

Six years ago, a maternal uncle who was building a dream home for himself and his family invited Irene one day to visit his construction site. Since his wife and him trusted her sense of style and also because she was working in a firm that was importing a wide range of products among them construction materials and therefore appeared as an industry expert, the uncle asked Irene to recommend the most unique product for his roof. He was concerned that over decades, roofing products were not evolving and someone needed to do something about it. Several months down the line Irene kept hearing the same question from other people. Indeed she had noticed that in Kenya only two main options for roofing were available: clay tiles or metal sheets. “In November 2011, I decided that the person in the mirror should change the status quo in the roofing industry,” says Irene of her decision to quit her job and take a plunge in business. 

Irene Wanjiku The Hub Karen
Maldives Resorts in the Maldives Islands

She started looking aggressively at various roof manufacturers in the world and attended various exhibitions in order to connect with them. In 2012 Irene contacted IKO the leading shingle manufacturers in the world and convinced them to give her distribution rights for East Africa despite her lack of experience. A dream come true for the 32-year old whose vision to roof the world and cover as many families as possible while providing the most elegant products was coming true. Now that the business is stable, Irene who is not married and has no children yet considers that she now have the time to think about starting a family.

She tells us more about her experience.

What resources did you start with and how did you use them?

Having worked for a long period of time, I had my own savings and the rest of the resources came from my family members who believed in my vision and purchased shares in my company. However the capital was still not enough as I required Ksh. 5,000,000 to bring in the first consignment. This was made possible by creating trust between the company and home owners who agreed to pay up front deposits and we kept our promise and delivered beyond their expectations.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?

The roof is the first thing you will notice about any building or structure. For this reason word of mouth and referrals have worked great as well as participating in events in the industry such as Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) conventions and National Construction Authority (NCA) conferences among others.

The Hub Karen

What have been your biggest challenges so far with running your business and how do you overcome them? 

We have had a lot of challenges with competitors trying to undercut us and we have overcome them by ensuring we give clear and honest information to our clients.

Tell us about your team.

We have a great team of 27 permanent staff and up to 50 contractual workers. They have helped build the organisation to great heights as well as assisted in giving us a county presence as we are currently in Nairobi, Kajiado (Kitengela), Uasin Gishu (Eldoret) and Nakuru (Naivasha).

What do you love most about running your own business?

I love seeing the business grow and more people coming in and getting excited about the vision. It has also helped me grow my leadership skills as well as increase my net worth and participate in various programs for entrepreneurs. In 2015 I joined the Keroche Foundation Academy and won the Keroche Foundation Entrepreneurs Award as well as a cash token at the end of the program.Stone coated tiles

How do you keep motivated through difficult times?

The vision is what drives the dream. In difficult times I remember why we started and how far we are still to go.

What's the biggest lesson you have ever learned?

Nothing in life will go as planned. Therefore it is important to be flexible and not let the good times make you overconfident or the bad times break you.

How has entrepreneurship changed you?

Entrepreneurship has made me easier to relate to as I have become more accommodating. It has also developed my leadership and speaking skills as I have been invited to speak at a number of events. I have been more deliberate about my spending and have grown to create more family time. I keep part of my weekends for family and friends.Valley Arcade Lavington

If you could go back in time, what would you do differently?

I would be careful of the people I surround myself with as not everyone shares your vision.

Where do you see your business five years from now?

We are now going into manufacturing, hence in 5 years we will be covering not only the high end undertakings but low cost projects as well. The manufacturing is all set and we will be rolling out the milele sheets by December 2016 as we are now on the testing stage to ensure we do not compromise the high quality that we have come to be identified with. We are also looking into a regional presence in East Africa as this will grow our economy and improve the livelihood of our people.

The Hub Karen

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?

  1. Don’t be easily discouragedWe must pilot our own dreams; we cannot entrust them to anyone else. People have different dreams and different realities; they will discourage you based on their own imagination and limitations and chances are if you listen, your dream will die even before it starts.

  2. Don’t follow the crowdThe crowd exists in a comfort zone, where everyone is happy to be the same and to settle. On the other hand, setting your own path requires more efforts and will be rewarding in the end. Where others offer just good enough services, purpose to offer exceptional service and stand out from the crowd, by always going the extra mile.

  3. Embrace failure and disappointmentsThe journey of entrepreneurship is like the journey of life, there are no happiness guarantees. Sometimes nothing will go as we expect but we have to be okay with that; other times you will go broke and debtors won’t pay on time. Embrace the journey because disappointment is the gap that exists between your journey and your goal. We will all walk through this gap and we must see it as a necessary part of life and not the destination.

  4. Be confident in your journey such that even if everyone else has doubts, you will have the self-assurance needed to progress. Dreams are fragile, and will require a lot of confidence to be realised.

  5. Dare to dream bigIf we are going to dream, we might as well dream big to infuse our minds with energy and get ourselves to the high heights. With dreams we can’t afford to be realistic; we must allow our minds to be lifted beyond limitations, making the impossible possible. One day someone had an idea to build an airplane, to build a ship or an iPhone. It may have looked crazy at that time, but today we enjoy the benefits. You can build something if you will dare to dream big!

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Irene Wanjiku

 

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