One of the mantras that we have at Amani Institute is that “knowledge has value when it is applied.” In the Leadership for Growth program, a key component of the application piece is the Business Innovation Project (BIP) that allows participants to have an immediate impact on the job and an opportunity to practice program learnings. For Fulgence Ondoro, from Watervale Investments/Moko, is a perfect illustration of the impact the BIP can have on a business. Watervale is a furniture upholstery and stuffing company that aims to make affordable, high-quality furniture available for for the local market.
For his Business Innovation Project, Fulgence chose to tackle an issue that had given Watervale’s management team sleepless nights: how to increase the use of foam chips in furniture and consequently Watervale’s overall market share and profits. This led to Fulgence doing market research from their customer base and finding out reasons for low uptake of their foam chips. Some of the issues identified from customers over time were:
- The bags the chips were packed in looking thin and small.
- Lack of branding on the bags which made it difficult to identify foam chips.
- The foam chips had a lot of dust particles.
Thanks to the design thinking process taught in the program, Fulgence sought to empathize with the customer and innovate a responsive solution to their needs, starting with the packaging. He sought to change the packaging of their foam chip bags from plastic into gurneys. This would ensure that the durability of the packaging would increase and that once the foam chips are used, the packaging could be used as seat linings for carpenters. This helped save customers Ksh 500 for every 5kg bag of foam chips bought from Watervale, that typically would be used to buy lining separately. He prototyped the new packaging and the immediate impacts were amazing.
Within three months from September to December 2017, sales increased by 66% (from Ksh 581,850 to Ksh 970,070). After the Leadership for Growth Program, Fulgence continued implementing his innovation in his functional role and gradually addressing customer complaints during market research. After noticing how the clients loved the new gurney bags used in packaging, the bags were branded to make them more identifiable to clients.
In response to customer complaints about dust in their foam chips, he sought to reduce the usage of foam skin in foam chips production to reduce dust. When doing his financial analysis in mid-2018, Fulgence noticed something interesting: despite the tremendous increase in sales, profits were only marginally increasing. Using some of the tools taught in the Leadership for Growth Program like Root Cause Analysis and design thinking, Fulgence came up with a novel idea: use the foam chips as a raw material in the creation of a new type of foam called Comfort Foam. This prototype turned out to be incredibly successful and a hit in the market.
In 2019, the monthly sales of the Comfort Foam continued to increase steadily, ultimately contributing to the profit margins at the company. There is also a one and a half month waiting list for the foam-based products showing just how popular the product is.
In addition to the BIP proving to be an immense value add for his parent company, Fulgence also attributes the Leadership for Growth program with helping him become a better manager. “Prior to joining the program I was often doing things on the fly without prior planning but I am more strategic about planning in advance. I have also become far more adept at working without the oversight of a manager. ” The company recognized his personal and professional growth after the Leadership for Growth Program. He was promoted from Customer Engagement Officer to Senior Customer Engagement Officer and he now oversees a team of four people.
Such cases of profound impact are what we are happy to see as an organization. We are sure that Fulgence is just at the start of a long successful chapter and can’t wait to see how the company continues to grow.
*Image courtesy of Moko.