Turning rods into beautiful furniture

Taking a leap.

Discovering the go-getter in her and thinking out of the box carved a path for Jane Werikhe. She told Gillian Nantume about her achievements.

Chubby and jolly, Jane Werikhe has a passion for the girl-child and women in general. And metals, if the workshop, Abrey Interior and Exterior designers, in Seguku is anything to go by. Wearing a blue apron, she grabs sandpaper and goes to work scraping a decoration stand.

“I scrape off the rust to make it smooth and easier for the spray paint to stick to the metal,” she says. “People ask me if I do not want to have beautifully painted nails, but I prefer to work and enjoy later. I have never regretted my decision.”

The teacher
In 2002, Werikhe started teaching at Lumino High School in Busia District. Within two years, she was elevated to a class teacher and senior woman teacher.

“I was not on the government payroll. Whenever there was an opening, I applied, but the priority was given to those teaching sciences.
My specialty was humanities religious education, political education and history.”
With a Grade 5 diploma, she settled for a monthly salary of Shs 100,000. As a senior woman teacher, the high school drop-out rate of her female students appalled her.

“One hundren fifty girls joined senior one, but by senior three only 30 remained. The rest had been married off to shopkeepers. I dragged many shopkeepers to the police station for messing up with school girls. People wondered at my passion but I wanted to give these girls a chance in life.”

But even with her engaging work – she was an HIVAids counsellor and the secretary to the school examinations committee – Werikhe always wanted to upgrade. When her father could not pay for a degree course, she cried when she was admitted for a diploma in teaching at Kaliro National Teachers College.

“In 2004 I got a government scholarship at Kyambogo University. I was so happy I did not even think of changing the course. I wanted to do journalism but I continued with education, specialising in religion and history.”

Starting the business
After graduating, Werikhe quickly discovered that the only teaching jobs available were for those teaching science subjects. In 2008 she got married and began supervising her husband’s sugarcane farm in Mayuge District.

“I decided to think outside the box,” she says. “I left teaching with a lot of pain. When I had my daughter, because I almost died after the C-section, I sat at home for three years to look after her.”

While at home, in 2011, she decided to change the look of her living room after admiring the metallic sofa in her cousin’s house. The cousin connected her to the man who had made her chairs and Werikhe contracted him.

“He made my chairs for a month and we became friends in that time. I was interested and curious in his work.”

They began talking about the business and when she satisfied herself with his explanations, Werikhe talked to her husband and informed him that she wanted to sell her car (his gift to her) to fund a metal fabrication business.

Her husband, a trade unionist, liked the idea and even helped her look for buyers. With the Shs 8m proceeds from the sale, she gave half to the man who had made her chairs, and he became her business partner.

“Abbey had the machines and expertise. My job was to boost the business and market it. Along the way, I have learnt a few of his skills as well. We started in Bweyogerere but I discovered that Entebbe road was more strategic for this kind of business.”

For every order, a customer waits seven working days for it to be completed and they strive to work within that limit. Even if the furniture costs Shs1m, the customer makes a deposit of between Shs 50,000 and Shs100,000.
The business makes chairs, sofas, curtain rods, beads, and decoration stands.

Challenges
“Our main challenge is the power supply. Sometimes the power goes off for a day and we lose business. The fluctuating dollar rate means that we spend a lot on buying steel from industrial area.”

Like other businesses, the war in Sudan has meant that the business has lost a portion of its customers.

Lessons learned
“I have learnt to be aggressive in marketing our products. I cannot quantify the amount of money I spend marketing in social forums because that is the main place where I get customers.”
Werihke also says she has learnt to be patient with customers who do not pick their orders on time.

“Some customers will ask for designs and take them to our competitors. I feel bad that they are using our designs but I cannot stop them because that is how business is.”

Achievements
From the business proceeds, the mother of four has been able to buy a plot of land. She has also begun a business selling scholastic items and reading books to schools, to supplement her income.

Future plans
“I want to buy a double cabin to ferry our products to clients. We normally hire cars to do that but I want to reduce on that expenditure.”
The partners also plan to open up two showrooms in Mbarara and Busia to tap into the opportunities that the markets in Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzainia have to offer.

Tit bits
• She was born 42 years ago to Tom and Ruth Kazibwe of Njeru, Buikwe
• Werikhe attended Madhvani Primary School, St. Kalemba
Secondary School for her O-level and Joseph Nagalama for her A-level. • She qualified as a teacher at Kaliro NTC and later graduated from Kyambogo University.
• She is married to Peter Werikhe and they have four children.

Aice to women
“Anything around you, especially what you consider as a luxury, can become your starting capital,” she says. “My car was my capital and since I could not do the business alone, I got a business partner. Women should learn to partner with others”

Trustworthiness is what has made her business prosper. Clients send money through mobile money and MoneyGram, trusting that their orders will be carried out. Werikhe encourages women and other business people to be trustworthy, because a satisfied customer is a great marketeer.

“Even with a degree, a woman can go into business. There are fresh graduates every year and I could not imagine myself sharing a staffroom with children I had taught. Job opportunities exist, all we have to do is look for them and think outside the box.”

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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