In 2006, Clementine Kandera quit her job as a nurse at a mental health centre to try her hand at business. Then aged 26, Kandera threw in the towel to follow her passion, which “kept calling every day as I walked through the gates of the hospital”.
She says because she felt business was her calling; she started saving most of her salary earlier on. When she finally called time on her career as a nurse, Kandera found a ready fan, her husband, who even contributed some of the startup capital for the enterprise, a boutique.
“I opted for a women’s clothes business because I know women are good spenders,” says the resident of Gisozi sector in Gasabo District.
“I had not saved enough money by the time I resigned from my job, but I was lucky as my husband contributed about Rwf7 million, part of which I used to pay rent and buy some clothes to kick-start the enterprise,” she says.
Her boutique, Kenzo Shop, at Mateos in the Central Business District, Kigali, was soon to become popular among Kigali residents, especially those with an eye for fashion.
“I made sure that I bought trendy designs that kept clients flocking in. Every time I found a new design, I would risk and go for it. The risk paid off as people who liked my clothes would tell friends about my shop,” says the mother of three.
She, however, points out that the first two consignments she imported did not fare well, saying she had not yet figured out the best for business.
“My breakthrough was with the third lot,” she adds.
Kandera recalls naysayers were always predicting doom for her, but she ignored them and focused on her business and learning new skills to run it better.
Eventually, her persistence bore fruit as was able to build a permanent house using savings from the business, besides saving up to Rwf50 million a year.
Expansion into electronics and hardware
Kandera says she operated the boutique for six years and, was then “hit by another idea” to expand her dream of becoming a phenomenal entrepreneur into hardware dealership.
In 2012, the 35-year-old entrepreneur opened a hardware and electronic shop called Kigali Source Centre at Mateos, a few metres from the boutique. Kigali Source Company deals in electronics, building materials, and furnishing appliances such as lights, switches, sockets wall lamps and sanitary ware.
From then on, she started to divide her time between the two ventures. Kandera, however, says with time, she realised that the hardware store required more time, especially to look for supplies to restock and managing her books of accounts. She says most of her products are from Dubai and Istanbul.
The hardware enterprise was to be the litmus test for her business acumen. Kandera says she encountered many challenges in the new line of business compared to boutique.
“The equipment were costly… I thought I had enough capital, but hardware products are very costly. Shipment became expensive since I only would afford a few products to fill a container,” she reveals. Kandera says the taxes were very high at that time “and profit maximisation required a lot of sacrifice.”
“However, towards the end of my first year in the hardware business, I had mastered the art of running the enterprise, and I started making bigger profit margins compared to the clothes business,” she notes.
This could explain why her business now grosses over Rwf400 million.
“From the hardware, I have built two more commercial houses; I am also able to cater for my children’s school fees and other requirements without having to wait on my husband to provide for everything,” Kandera says.
Kandera employs 10 workers, two of whom work at the boutique and the rest at the hardware. She says her winning formula has been to provide top notch customer service and to operate with honesty.
“My clients always entrust me with many tasks and a lot of money, but I have to deliver in time and, in case of any delays, I communicate to ensure they are aware of what is happening,” she says.
“Because I also like good things, I offer others the best, and, if something is faulty, I would rather discard it than sell it,” Kandera says. Although the hardware shop brings in more profits, Kandera has not ignored the boutique. She says she has a further plan to expand both businesses.
The sky, it seems, is the limit for the former nurse, who attributes her success to hard work and her persistence.