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He works with shipping lines with global networks to supply his merchandise to markets in Europe, America, Australia, and South America. He supplies two containers each month.
Muriuki Njeru has always been fascinated with handicrafts, especially those made out of Kisii soapstone.

Mr Njeru, who studied electrical engineering in Germany on a government scholarship, says that products made from soapstone are popular, especially in Europe.

His fascination with soapstone would later open doors for him to deal in export of African art products to Europe and US.

“I found soapstone products very interesting. I was fascinated by the beauty of the stone and the fact that many people would buy such products.”

After his first degree, he pursued an advanced degree in computer science, then worked for information technology companies until 2005.

In 2006, he and a friend established an IT firm to undertake research and development of healthcare products.

Two years later, he moved back to Germany to help his wife run a gift items and handicrafts marketing company they had established years back.

He said he knew many artisans back in Kenya who made the products but had no access to markets and depended on brokers.

“Our part was to come in and find a way of professionalising the handicrafts business; its production, quality control, exporting, marketing. We have done it now on a serious basis since 2003, when we formed our marketing company here in Germany,” Mr Njeru told Money.

He said clients in the US would place orders for the handicrafts but there was no direct communication with the artisans or exposure by the people making it to such markets.

“So, we came in to facilitate the marketing of the products and work with the artisans in Kenya to design products that are relevant to the target markets.”

He said that before he began marketing artefacts full-time, he used to buy and stock them at home and many people who visited liked his collection.

They would want to buy them or get contacts to enable them to buy their own.

He saw a huge opportunity here and began commissioning artisans back in Kenya to make artefacts.

In Tabaka, Kisii, famed for its soapstone deposits, he works with between 500 and 800 artisans. He also looks to mobilise about 500 sisal weavers in Kibwezi and Wamunyu to meet the rising demand for fabrics.

“When we came up with our own line of products, people began to place big orders,” Mr Njeru said, adding that he supplies major supermarkets in the US, Europe, and Australia.

“We have to produce them in large volumes because the target markets have, say, between 200 and 2,500 super malls or supermarkets and, therefore, they are looking to buy a minimum of a 40-foot container full of the products,” he said.

He works with shipping lines with global networks to supply his merchandise to markets in Europe, America, Australia, and South America. He supplies two containers each month.

He said he is satisfied with the way the business is doing and is targeting to generate a turnover of about Sh85 million ($1 million) this year.

Mr Njeru says he used to receive many orders from southern Europe but that the market collapsed because of the eurozone crisis which eroded consumers’ purchasing power.

However, other markets like Eastern Europe and South America are showing great potential.

Mr Njeru noted that the handicrafts and gift items are big business, but require innovation in product design and marketing.

“When you do gift items and market them as gift products, you will find a huge market. But it lacks innovative suppliers,” he said.