ENTREPRENEUR SUCCEEDS BEYOND HER WILDEST IMAGINATION

Linet Kathambi, director, Sung Timber and Products displays a certificate of appreciation during the World Wetland Day.
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Starting in a very humble way as a hawker, ambitious lady is now a major player in real estate

By Paul Kamau

Linet Kathambi (also known as Kathy Andrews in social circles) is a perfect example of a go-getter. Her inspiring story dates back to a small village in Imenti Central, Meru County where she was born and brought up. Linet attended Mwirine primary school in Meru, before joining Kinjo Girls high school for her secondary education. After completing her high school studies, she got a job as an attendant at a timber yard in Meru town. “It was a booming business but unfortunately, the government imposed a ban on tree harvesting and we had to close shop,” she sadly recalls. After the business closed down, Linet joinedher sister in Nairobi where she hoped to get a job and make ends meet. “I remember when my sister came home,she used to pass by the timber yard where I was employed and I would confide in her my desire to venture into that business,” she says.

When Linet joined her sister in the capital city, life was not as easy as she had anticipated. Using her little savings, she started a hawking business. She would buy household goods and car air fresheners from Kamukunji market and hawk them at the city centre and Zimmerman estate where she was residing. “Although life was tough, I did not lose hope since my eyes were set on saving enough capital to start my own timber yard”, she says.

Outside Sung Timber and Products main office in Kikuyu Town.

Getting started

It is while she was still on the hawking business that she met the love of her life, Moses Ng’ang’a, a businessman, who played a pivotal role in helping her set up Sung Timber and Products. Coincidentally, Ng’ang’a had a lot of experience in the timber business as a supplier. This came in handy. It is against this background that even without an office and vehicle but armed with enough skills, she opened her business in 2014 in Kinoo, Kiambu County. “I had a lot of experience in handling customers , thanks to my first job in Meru,” she says.

She would visit various construction sites to market her products, besides tendering for big jobs to supply timber. Her effort paid off. Within a short period of time , Sung Timber managed to win many customers, registering a lot of growth in the process. It was at that point in time that she acquired a piece of land in Kikuyu town where she set up a bigger branch. After a few months of operation, and with support from her husband, Linet bought a second hand pick up for delivering timber to her customers.

Breakthrough

As fate would have it, Linet’s breakthrough came in 2018 when the government imposed a ban on timber production, creating a big shortage in the local market. Whereas this move adversely affected many entrepreneurs in the timber business, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Linet. As most of her colleagues waited for the ban to be lifted, Linet explored other markets in Zambia, Tanzania,Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. It was apparent to her that the ban would take longer. “We decided to start importing timber from other countries in order to meet the high demand in the market as the local saw millers were still

waiting for the ban to be lifted,” she affirms.

Soon she started getting orders from all over the country. This was a game changer. In the process, she was even able to win a few government tenders. Sung Timber and Products has since grown and built a name in the construction industry. Today, the company boasts of employing over one hundred permanent employees. By the same token, it owns over fifty tracks and it has established five branches across Kikuyu town, Gitaru and Gikambura.

Challenges

Some of the biggest challenges in the timber business are unscrupulous traders and sale of poor quality goods. Sung Timber and Products has devised effective ways to counter those vices. “We only receive payments from our customers after they have verified that the goods sold to them have met the required quantity and quality,” says Linet. Another challenge is delays in clearing the goods at the borders. Nevertheless, owing to the rapport she has established with her international suppliers, she has been able to overcome that challenge and deliver on time.

Road ahead

In future, Sung Timber and Products is planning to have a presence in all the forty seven counties. Additionally, by mentoring her staff in entrepreneurship, Linet is optimistic that they shall be able to open their own businesses.

The fast growing company has also launched a new product dubbed Homes by Sung. The decision to launch this product was informed by the fact that together with her husband, Linet identified a gap in the provision of affordable housing in Kenya. “Shelter is a basic need, but most people, especially in the urban areas do not own houses and they have to reside in rented premises,” she observes. Homes by Sung mainly targets the upper middle class market segment and its value proposition is honouring the promises made to customers. So far, it has completed the first phase of a major project in Kikuyu town – the Old Lake Villas. Currently, the project is on its second phase. Upon its completion, the second phase will have fifty, four bedroom modern maisonettes with servant quarters in a gated community. The residents will also have agym, clubhouse, shared swimming pool and a gardenfor outdoor activities. “Phase one is already sold out and occupied, while phase two is almost complete and the official handover ceremony is slated for August this year,” says Linet

HOMES BY SUNG: Phase one of the upcoming Old Lake villas project in Ondiri, Kikuyu.

Giving Back

Owing to her strong social media presence and her philanthropy work, her followers came up with an idea of launching Kathy Foundation. “I have been doing charity work since we began this business as a way of giving back to the community,” says Linet. To this end, her foundation has partnered with the PCEA church in identifying needy cases in the local community and supporting them to own homes.

Her charity work came into the limelight recently when she gave Joseph Kinuthia (also known as Omosh and formerly an actor in Citizen TV’s Tahidi High drama series) a house. “He has really been entertaining us and having watched him since I was a child, I really sympathized with his condition and the shame he was going through,” she says adding that her foundation built a house for Omosh in Malaa, Machakos County. Currently, she is in the process of settling another family in Matuu, within the same county.

Advice to Entrepreneurs

Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is short, simple and precise – Just start.“If you want to venture into business, just get started and cultivate a good rapport with your suppliers,” she says. In addition, Linet says that it is important to invest a lot in marketing in order to enhance the visibility of one’s brand. “With digital marketing, you can never go wrong. In fact, you take photos of your products and post them online,reaching many customers in the process,” she offers.

The soft-spoken entrepreneur intimates that there are many untapped business opportunities which entrepreneurs can leverage. “Once you begin, don’t stop. There are a lot of challenges on the way but master how to overcome them until you become successful”, she ends.

With a Light Touch

Diary:She wakes up at 6: 30am, prepares her family breakfast and personally drops the kids to school. Then, she goes to the office at 8.00 am and her day begins. In between, she visits different branches and also drops by the site where the Old Lake Villas project is currently ongoing.

Marital status: Married with three boys.

Favourite food: She loves trying out new cuisines.

Hobbies: Linet loves driving cars and currently, she is training to be a biker.

Favourite quote: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Life Philosophy: The number of lives you have uplifted is your greatest achievement

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