The all-round building products firm is shifting from just focusing on distribution to manufacturing while maintaining consistency and product quality.
There are many building products solution providers in Kenya, and then there is Space and Style Ltd. Established 16 years ago, the company has grown by leaps and bounds over the years to become a one-stop shop specialized in building materials.
The story of this company offers the inspiration that women can be successful in male dominated industries; with the right mindset, being consistent and giving your business time to grow. “I am a firm believer that we should all fight for our space and be given jobs on merit. I do not position my business as a woman owned business rather, a business that can compete in the market place fairly and succeed based on the value we give our customers,” says Winnie Ngumi, CEO, Space and Style Ltd.
Space and Style’s history dates back to 2002, when Ms. Ngumi decided to start the company, with a business partner after completing her Bachelor’s degree in Architecture. She knew she wanted to run a business while still in school. “I never worked as an architect. I did my six years of university study and after completing, I did the usual odd jobs for a while,” she says.
“Later on, I came across the Decra roofing product. It was a unique solution unknown in the Kenyan market. After talking to a few architects, it sounded like a good product that would fill a gap in roofing requirements in Kenya. People started drawing interest; I found the suppliers, engaged them and they were also interested in coming to our market. It was a good partnership,” Ms. Ngumi reveals.
Over time, the enterprising entrepreneur has evolved into a building products specialist, providing solutions to the builders or architects to assist them achieve what they design.
For her, growing the business to what it is today is a combination of many things. She was lucky to get good and reliable suppliers from the beginning, as well as support from her peers. Furthermore, maintaining consistency, self-development and reinvesting proceeds in the business played a major role.
Space and Style started off as the exclusive supplier of Decra roofing systems. According to the Managing Director, the Company was the first to introduce this roofing solution into the market. “Prior to us coming into the market, roofs covers were mainly made from concrete and clay tiles. We therefore came in as an alternative roofing solution.”
“We try to keep ahead in order to become leaders. We are always the ones introducing the new products solutions.”
The company imports Decra roofing products from New Zealand, something that Ms. Ngumi says was not easy at first given the importing logistics involved and supply chain demands.
After growing the Decra roofing products for eight years, the company decided to diversify. “We brought other products on board that complement the roof such as Frametech steel structures and frames, a pre-engineered structural steel solution that we developed and manufacture locally,” she offers.
Today, the now fully fledged building products solutions firm offers a range of products including Flowplumb drainage systems, Rainwater gutter systems, Fortiza roofing systems, unique floor laminates, Fiber cement ceilings, eaves and fascia boards, APP flat roof waterproofing membranes and Roofcolor bituminous roofing shingles among others.
And it is still aiming higher. Plans are underway to start manufacturing locally in line with the current Big 4 Agenda. “We are setting up and we will be commissioning the factory in a month’s time.” The idea is to do most of the processes locally in order to pass on to the customers a competitive price, while maintaining product quality.
Manufacturing of the roofing tiles is actually the biggest project the company has done so far and she believes in more transformation going forward.
“As Space and Style, we endeavor to offer high quality and unique solutions – quality is our value proposition – and we don’t take short-cuts on costs or specifications,” says Ms. Ngumi. “That is to ensure clients derive the right quality from the product they get from us’ she adds.
In 2010, Space and Style started a fully self- funded ‘Fundi Maalum’ training program focusing on training in installation techniques and product knowledge. “So far, we have trained thousands of ‘Fundi Maalums’ to enable them install our products properly to alleviate installation complaints from our customers and raise the standards of construction,” she says.
Over time, the programme has grown to include training on safety standards and financial literacy.
“Any time we launch a new product; we carry out a year of training in different towns across the country. These are however not our employees, but people who grow their own businesses from the benefits they derive from the training.” This has really made the company stand out from the rest.”
Space and Style has received a lot of recognition, especially from its stakeholders. It has also been the lead distributer of roofing solutions for a couple of years.
The company achieved Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) status a while back, meaning that it has been recognized by the Kenyan Government as working above board in its processes and practices.
Furthermore, it has been a long-time member of Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), and Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), besides being ISO certified.
According to the Managing Director, the firm has mainly been recognized for its distribution, processes and belief in quality. It has therefore been investing in order to improve. “As the company grows, you find you have challenges related to the growth; so you have to really work on your processes and develop strategic partnerships.”
In spite of these milestones, Ms. Ngumi says growing the business to what it is today has not been easy. It takes a lot of time and perseverance to grow a business. Besides, lack of capital is a major challenge for many businesses, especially start-ups. She however explains that if you have a good business model, capital is not necessarily a challenge.
A difficult business environment such as unfavorable policies, counterfeit products, challenges in forecasting the sometimes volatile market and an uneven playing field, are other hurdles affecting the building and construction space.
The growth of the industry is also hindered by the archaic by-laws. These, according to Winnie, should be amended since they do not allow for the rapid adoption of affordable housing construction using alternative technologies.
Nonetheless, what gives Ms. Ngumi the most satisfaction is the impact they are creating – especially on the roofs.
On starting a business
The Managing Director says that although there are no two businesses that start up in the same manner, there are some basic principles which every entrepreneur should put in into consideration. Having a good product, creating strategic partnerships, keeping quality and consistency, giving your business time to grow and attracting and keeping customers are some of the key principles.
She advises entrepreneurs not to give up despite extreme challenges. “Whatever line of business you start, hang in there and make it work” is her advice.
“We are in a growing economy; so any business you start today should essentially work if you give it time, remain consistent and avoid taking shortcuts. Businesses grow organically, and this takes time.”
Finally, she closes by saying, “Entrepreneurs should not copycat other people’s businesses. All businesses are unique and very challenging. Do a business that you understand and are passionate about so that you won’t give up along the way.”
Winnie Ngumi at a glance
A trained architect/ building products specialist
Chairs the Alumni Network for Centre for Corporate Governance (CCG)
Vice-chair Building, Mining and Construction sector, KAM
Does entrepreneurship and mentorship engagements
Student, Stanford SEED Business Transformation Program