Taking on the multinationals: Kenyan entrepreneur provides snapshot of her home and personal care products company

Shirlene Nafula

We speak to Shirlene Nafula, CEO of Crystal River Products, a Kenyan company that manufactures home and personal care products including soaps, body lotions, sanitisers and shampoos.

1. Who is your target market?

Our target market is the middle- and low-income earners who value affordable, high-quality products in convenient locations.

2. Tell us about your product range.

We have a range of 20 products, seven of which are licensed by Kenya Bureau of Standards that are being sold in Kenya and the East African region: Bethels Hair Shampoo, Bio Pearl Hand Sanitiser, Bio Pearl Hand Wash, Shanea Glycerine, Shanea Shower Gel, Shanea Body Lotion and Gran’ma’s Multi-purpose Soap, which we have separated for dishes, laundry and surface washing.

3. Where do you sell your products?

We have partnered with several distributors across the country that ensure stocking of our products and resale to wholesalers and retail outlets. We also directly stock a number of small supermarkets and mini markets. It is our goal to actively stock all major retail outlets in the next financial year and plans are already underway.

We have partnered with online marketplaces such as Glovo, Jiji and Jumia to assist with our B2C clients who prefer door-to-door delivery. We also supply cleaning companies, hotel suppliers, corporates, organisations and institutions.

A selection of Crystal River’s products.

4. How have you positioned your products in the very competitive market alongside both multinationals and other local brands?

The competition is tough but we like to believe we are tougher. There is a thrill that comes with competing with big, multinational brands. Our motto is: the only way to join the big league is to compete with them. So, we have positioned our products as best quality and value for money. We are currently working on a model to ensure our products are available at each and every Kenyan’s nearest store.

5. Who are your main competitors?

This differs, depending on the product and region; there are companies producing similar products and targeting the same market in certain geographical areas.

Employees at the production facility.

6. What has been the most successful form of marketing?

Different approaches have worked in different markets. Active digital marketing has proven beneficial for some of our clients while for other markets, door-to-door sales and marketing has been the most helpful.

7. Tell us about the biggest challenges in your industry.

We are fighting for our slice of cake in an industry that has been largely occupied by big multinational players with years of experience and substantial financial muscle.

8. What mistakes have you made along the way?

I would say, hiring poorly, not marketing actively, wanting to do everything at the same time without clear strategic plans, procrastinating with following up with clients, letting the rejections and discouragements get to me; these all affected my overall performance.

9. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.

When I first began, I was over-staffed yet they were not working as hard as I expected. I didn’t know how to be their boss since many were my age or older and some were friends. I was soft on them and didn’t push them hard enough to achieve results. At the end of the month, I lacked the money to pay bills and their salaries. I had to release all of them and moved to smaller premises. I learnt how to do everything that pertains to the business by myself (such as mixing, labelling, packaging, accounting and marketing). It was the first time I enjoyed little profits from the business. These days I am extremely tough on my staff but in a positive way so we can achieve the best results: for ourselves and the overall good of the company.

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