In Correspondence with Justine Awino, CEO of Rhoi Creations, Kisumu, Kenya
Justine Awino is the CEO of Rhoi Creations. Located in Kisumu and Nairobi, Kenya, Rhoi Creations focuses on custom made interior design. Founded in 2012, the company transforms the clients’ home and office into beautiful and functional unique spaces. Justine spoke to us about her entrepreneurial journey and how COVID has impacted her business.
Music by www.bensound.com
Tell us about yourself and the work you do with Rhoi Creations?
My name is Justine Awino. I am based in Kisumu, Kenya. I do most of my work either in Kisumu or Nairobi but I have clients within the country and my area of business is interior decor.
How did you end up going into interior decor?
When I finished high school, I was accepted in university to study interiors, but my parents weren’t really excited about me doing arts. So, I switched courses and did biomedical science. I graduated and worked for about 5 years, but my heart was still missing something. So, in 2015, my contract ended and instead of looking for jobs that were inclined towards the sciences, I decided to do business. I started with the little I had saved at that time and the rest is history.
What does Rhoi Creations do?
We enter a room, look at the current interior and find ways of improving that space in a way that identifies with the individual who owns the space. We identify the colors they love - some people like warm colors, some are more inclined to colors that are dark. We also identify with the client’s personality. Eventually, we have custom made projects unique to each client.
It’s not a one size fits all interaction. We allow the client to choose what they want. We just help by sharing ideas and implementing them.
Who are your typical clients?
Since COVID hit, the typical client is an individual who wants a home office. They want a study desk, a chair that goes with it. They want a rug, so their feet aren’t on the cold floor. There are also those that have spent so much time at home that they are beginning to pick out things that they want to change in their homes, such as new bedding or new pillows. They have time to notice some of the small things that you ignore on a regular basis!
On that note, how has COVID affected you?
To be honest, for me COVID has been the biggest blessing because it has resulted in business growth. Because of COVID, we had to go into new territories. We hadn’t planned for business expansion in such short notice and COVID forced us to grow.
How has the Mkono loan helped?
The Nairobi Flea Market is a place where we take our merchandise for display. This allows us to meet new prospective clients. We used to go once a month, but stopped once COVID hit. When the flea market resumed, we had just expanded the business to making and selling our own furniture, but we still wanted to continue going to the market. So, we used the Mkono loan to prepare the items that we usually take for display. This was good because we were able to still go to the flea market, like we used to do, and pursue the expansion at the same time.
So Mkono has been of great help because we were considering forgoing the flea market due to other commitments. Mkono allowed us to do both concurrently and grow.
What challenges have you faced in general?
Entrepreneurship is challenging. When COVID hit, we had to close for some time. Initially, the restrictions were strict, so I had to close my shop and send my staff home for about 3 months. That was challenging.
Additionally, I am physically located in Kisumu. So, I have to travel between Kisumu and Nairobi a lot, which is quite challenging. We are hoping to eventually open a shop in Nairobi, so we are able to meet our clients closer to home.
Any tips for entrepreneurs from your lessons learned?
Resilience is key. We closed initially when COVID hit, but we didn’t give up on the business. We were still marketing online and trying to see how to improve our business. Now we are doing a lot of online business and people are still buying.
Finding solutions to a problem is also key. If we realize clients want a certain decor, but financially we may not be able to deliver, what do we do? We look for financing and then deliver. We do not waste time worrying about what is the current state. We work with what we have and find solutions when problems arise.
How do you find financing for small businesses in Kenya?
A lot of times, small businesses like ours don’t have collateral. Most loans need collateral. So that’s a big challenge for small businesses. Many small businesses don’t know about alternative financing solutions other than banks.