Israeli-born entrepreneur Moshe Noiman always wanted to live in Africa. As a child he loved the famous Tarzan movies about a young boy raised by apes in the jungle. And more than two decades ago he applied for a job on the continent and was posted to Mombasa, Kenya, as branch manager of an air conditioning company.
Years later he quit to start his own air conditioning business. The venture did well, but his inner creativity drove him to start another company, Classic Mouldings, which offers interior design and construction services. Outside of business, Noiman at the time was both a sculptor and musician performing with leading bands in Kenya.
Noiman tells How we made it in Africa these twin passions kept him going even as Classic Mouldings struggled in its first 10 years. He continued to run the air conditioning business which helped pay the bills.
His patience and persistence has paid off. Last year Classic Mouldings was ranked one of Kenya’s Top 100 SMEs. The annual competition recognises the country’s fastest growing medium-sized companies that have reported an annual turnover of between $785,000 and $11.2m for three consecutive years.
Classic Mouldings has grown from just five employees to 114. Initially operating from a small rented house, there are now several showrooms in Kenya and Tanzania servicing clients from across East Africa. It has worked with a number of hotels that recently launched in Nairobi, as well as leading architects and property developers.
Noiman notes the Kenya property boom has led to increased demand for high-quality interior design in homes, offices and restaurants.
Metreen Wamalwa, marketing manager at Classic Mouldings says: “We have a wide range of customers including developers, hoteliers and home owners from the middle and upper-income levels. Interiors are growing popular in Kenya. People now want more than just white walls. They are bolder with colours and get ideas on the internet and from magazines. They want something unique that speaks of their personality.”
The main products include special decorative paints, mouldings and natural stones for decoration of walls, floors and ceilings. Customers spend anything between $6 and $112 per square metre for decorative paint, depending on the complexity of the designs they choose.
However, Noiman recalls that in the 1990s getting clients interested in high-quality finishes was difficult.
“At that time the market was very conservative. We started with mouldings but there was hardly any demand. The market relied on poor quality wood except for a few lawyer’s offices where they had mahogany on the walls. It took time for us to convince architects to go for high-quality and unique designs. It took 10 years before business really picked up.”
Although owning land or a house is desired by Kenyans, Wamalwa reckons buyers today are also keen on adding value to their property and “face-lifting” their homes.
To expand its customer base, Classic Mouldings last year launched a programme to train 10,000 artisans equipping them with skills on using special paints and adding natural stones, tiles and architectural mouldings. So far it has trained 3,500.
Explains Noiman: “People who fight for their daily bread will obviously not buy expensive paint. But we are reaching some in that segment by offering training. Beyond expanding the pool who know how to use our products, we have also seen young people from poor backgrounds use those skills to become more financially secure.”
He attributes the firm’s success to creativity, innovation and its investment in social media marketing.
“We are trendsetters. We think out of the box. I have dyslexia. But I have taken the dyslexia in the right direction. It inspired my imagination and now I sell creativity and imagination.
“To be a successful entrepreneur you have to be determined, persistent and driven by innovation, creativity and a desire to be unique.”