Firms should tap growing online market

Firms should tap growing online market

Did you know that 65% of consumers are more loyal to the brands they follow on social media?

By Raphael Kioko

Forget the brick and mortar shops. Online platforms are set to change the fortunes of businesses in a big way. Every business owner agrees that the Covid-19 containment measures and the resulting consumer mindset shift added to the already struggling customer reach for most companies. Research shows that retail businesses experienced over 65% decline in customer visits during the pandemic. 

This meant a significant downturn for most companies. For Kamaldeep Sandhu, it was an eye-opener to realize that online presence for her business was the booster she had been missing. Ms Sandhu is the managing director of Malaika Gifts and Interiors, a Kenya-based start-up that links artisans with clients. 

Founded in 2012, the firm has been operating from a physical shop in Nakuru while juggling the provision of marketing space for artisans and small-scale exporters. According to Sandhu, in the current modern world, artisans should not face challenges of embracing social media since there are companies that focus on providing such entrepreneurs with a lasting solution. 

She enrolled in Invest In Africa’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) recovery and resilience program in a bid to not only push up numbers a midst tough business environment but also to gain skills and understand how to enhance the online presence of her business. She was also assigned a certified business coach, and now she understands how to plan business processes and logistics effectively to suit the current customer needs.  

At the end of the program, Sandhu was able to adopt tools like social media, Google my Business, and AdWords. This has been instrumental in tapping into the online market, increasing her business visibility, and facilitating artisans to reach more clients, she says.   

“The business coaching enabled me to focus on online marketing effectively, and through this, the business has begun to attract more customers,” Sandhu says, adding that more artisans are now more willing to work with her firm because of the increased customer reach.  

In addition to the enhanced online presence, the entrepreneur admits that the coaching opened her eyes to thinking innovatively to meet customer needs effectively.

“Through the coaching, I have established ways to realize the ever-changing customer needs and curate the best products,” she says. 

Sandhu is among the many entrepreneurs who leveraged the Invest In Africa SME “recovery and resilience” program to enable their businesses to survive the impact of the pandemic. The program was implemented in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation to build the capacity of tiny players to recover from the economic downturn. 

So far, the program has enrolled over 4000 small and medium enterprises through virtual masterclasses, peer-to-peer mentorship sessions, and business coaching. The aim is to enhance SME access to capacity-building opportunities, finance linkages, and new market streams. 

It was upsetting that the investment banking professional could not get her favourite brands from the local market. At some point, she bought beauty products that had harmful chemicals, and had to dispose them off. 

That is how she developed a keen interest in starting Lheritier, a skincare company. Her first natural product was the Osmanthus eau de Parfum, a woody, floral, citrus fragrance, which sits well with both men and women.

During an interview with the Nairobi Business Monthly at Hilton Double Tree on Ngong’ road, Ms Ochieng’ said the need for quality beauty products was the inspiration behind the idea of opening the firm. 

“If you have $10,000 (Sh1.1mn), you can start a beauty and cosmetics company and launch even tomorrow,” she says. “Having gained work experience, and with good savings, I decided to explore and research on quality beauty products.” 

Ms Ochieng’ revealed that she used part of her savings to start the business. It was 2019. To those who have an interest in entrepreneurship but are unable to raise start-up capital, she says, nuclear family should come in handy. But how is she managing? How has the company grown?

“I would like to say that we grew to an extent that when we saw the opportunity and started sourcing for these things (referring to sheer butter and vanilla extract) from Madagascar, Jeninia from Rwanda to bring them to one place for manufacturing purposes. We also find Uganda based butter version to be very easy. The skin eats it and it melts. So we know where to get these ‘clean’ raw products that we use in manufacturing quality products.”

By training, Ms. Ochieng’ is an investment banker who graduated from Boston with a double major in BSc. Finance/Management. She worked in the strategy statutory wing and developed strategy, operating models for certain county governments, and participated in stock trading and derivatives. The Master’s degree holder in “investment management” from the Class Business School, University of London was also part of the team that advised Ford motors on how to enter the Kenyan market. She spent her childhood in the US.

In addition, she is a founding member of Wellness Republic Africa and a volunteer mentor at Mandela-Washington Fellowship (YALI) started by former US President, Obama where she mentors young visionary African leaders.

Her products are available at Africa Lifestyle Hub located on the first floor of the new wing at the Village, and True Cosmetics shop at Sarit Centre. Customers can also buy their fragrance, skin care and make-up products online via

Of her time in the banking sector, she says, “I have worked in the financial sector for a while, and I enjoy doing stock trading and derivatives besides that I have been a key business driver especially in the financial sector.” 

With five employees, her idea is to expand and become a big brand in the beauty industry. Her aim is to help clients experience botanical excellence. Although her biggest client base is within Kenya and East African countries such as Uganda and Tanzania, her firm has been able to service clients from the US, Japan, India, Thailand, Russia, UK, France, and more. 

“Locally, we are doing business to consumers (B2C). Outside the country, we have been business to business (B2B) so we have distributors some in California, some in London to push consumers on our behalf. And, it is a good investment. Our customers have been very, very happy. We haven’t experienced any attempt of sabotage. I am also glad that we are changing the manufacturing appeal of Kenya to the world,” she says. 

But amidst the good tidings, there are challenges. “It is a market full of chest pains. You can copy but you can’t sustain it,” she says. 

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