In a month the entrepreneurs, who are four in number, make more than Shs6m from different bamboo products. Most of the sales are as result of referrals and social media platforms, writes Joan Salmon
As she prepared for her retirement, Gertrude Newumbe had a lengthy conversation with her daughters regarding what she would do once the civil service doors closed.
“My friends had talked of opening up a nursery school but having been a teacher all those years, I was against it because I needed a job that I would ably do in the comfort of my home,” Newumbe says.
How she started
That was when her niece, Lydia Schubert Nakayenze shared with her an invitation from Zimba women for the women entrepreneurs 2016.
“She invited me for a meeting. However, the challenge was that we did not have any product to exhibit at the moment despite that being one of the things on the agenda. My niece and I started thinking of what to do in the limited time and zeroed in on doing something from bamboo. From research, we had found out that bamboo was rich in silica which was good for hair,” Newumbe shares.
For that meeting, they prepared a hair tonic bamboo and guava and packed it in bottles ready for exhibition.
“It was while there, receiving applauds for our product that a friend pointed us to Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) to help us improve on our product.”
They then applied to UIRI through the marketing department requesting to be trained in cosmetics and soap making.
“We waited for some time before getting feedback that our request had been approved and then we were sent to the biotechnology department for training,” she says.
Starting out, all they had was Shs500,000 to buy raw materials and bottles in preparation for the exhibition, “The journey began with hair tonic and several other products have been added along the way as we continue to research on how to make natural and organic beauty products.”
Although they began as a two-person team, they have soon added three people; Carol Tusiime Kaggwa who handles marketing and accounts, Andrew Wodulo who is production manager and Aggrey Songoki who has just joined the team from a graphics design background and is into operations. All coming from diverse backgrounds, the team says there has been lots of learning to do. “Starting something new and innovative was thrilling so I was glad to come on board. However, there was lots of learning to do since all I knew was microbiology where reagents were already there but in this field I had to make everything from scratch. Besides that, I had a lot of adjustments to make seeing that I was coming to a totally different field that had its own needs and challenges different the field that I was familiar with coupled with change in environment and surroundings,” Wodulo says.
Wodulo, the start also called for him to handle deliveries, production and sales, “It was a tedious time because I had work and other engagements that kept me out of Kampala and the country too but I have soon handed over a number of responsibilities beyond packaging.”
Apart from handling production, he is also in charge of planning, organising and preparing for trade shows and exhibitions. However, the transition was smoother for Tusiime, a banking veteran, who was only changing office but still in the same line of work, “All I had to learn was marketing beauty products rather than banking products as I came from a banking background. We were fully operating from UIRI until August 2018,” Tusiime says.
Elgon Naturals a company birthed from the hard work of this team get their raw materials both from within and as well as abroad. For example, the bamboo is sourced from Sironko District, “Newumbe takes care of the plants and herbal garden. We also get raw materials from locals as a way to support the local community through our venture. We have since secured land in Bulambuli District where we shall grow the bamboo and other herbs that will be needed for production on a large scale,” Tusiime says.
Wodulo shares that a batch of bamboo hair tonic costs them Shs200,000 to produce. And a batch of bamboo hair oil costs them Shs187,000 to produce while a batch of bamboo skin healer costs Shs260,000 to produce.
Marketing and sales
At the moment, Elgon Naturals sells their products during exhibitions, trade fairs such as those held by Zimba Women, UMA and trainings. “We also place our products at EnviriZaNacho, a natural hair product’s outlet,” Tusiime says. She also mentions that they do a lot of social media advertising to target the clients from all over.
“We also make deliveries for people that cannot easily access EnviriZaNacho,” she says.
Cost of energy (gas and electricity) is high and this drives up the costs hence impacting on the prices. Some of the raw materials needed in production such as baobab oil are out sourced from Tanzania, the almond oil and grape seed oil from Germany.
“The issue is the plants of some of these raw materials are indigenous to some areas and therefore we cannot grow them here such as baobab which is wild and only found in Kenya and Tanzania as the nearest sources,” Wodulo explains. Other essential oils such as cedar wood, basilkum, Japanese mint, ylang ylang are really hard to come by and you have to get these from Europe because it is the biggest market most producers target.
“We are however thankful that Nakayenze helps us with bringing for us some of the raw materials when she comes around which eases on our operations,” he adds.
They hope to set up their industry in Mbale to cut down on transportation and operational costs. They also continue to participate in Zimba Women programmes which equip them with entrepreneurial skills.