Susan Muriuki left a bank job after 20 years to venture into the wedding industry.
She moved to the US and six years later, was convinced that she had acquired invaluable skills in the American wedding industry and sought to transfer them back home.
When she returned to Kenya in 1996, she founded Bride and Groom but her real stab at the lucrative and fast-growing wedding industry came in 2007 when she started Divine Schools, which represents Weddings Beautiful Worldwide in East and Central Africa.
Besides stocking wedding accessories and planning weddings, the school has a Relationships School that targets widows, singles and the married on how to handle love and live fulfilling family lives.
With more than 250 graduates passing through her hands, she is arguably the leading trainer of wedding planners, event planners, and florists in Kenya. The Money team visited her Chester House-based one-stop wedding house and had a chat with her.
What has significantly changed in the industry since you came in?
Finally, Kenyans now have trained professionals who can plan weddings or events on any budget. Unique themes and a lot of creativity is being seen in the wording of wedding cards, sitting arrangements, and dealing with special family circumstances such as divorce and death. Grooms are now playing a major role in planning the wedding and not just letting the bride do it on her own.
Many people, especially men, fear weddings and cite costs. How much would a couple need to organise a wedding?
Men misunderstand the whole business of weddings and leave the planning to the women, yet 75 per cent of the duties belong to them. One can plan a wedding at a cost of from Sh20,000 to Sh200 million. It all depends on what you want and what you are willing to compromise on the guest list.
The fear also comes because you want a wedding similar to what you have seen as opposed to what you can afford. It is possible to have a simple elegant wedding on a low budget.
How much does one need in order to hire a wedding planner?
Wedding planners charge between 10 per cent (the minimum) to 20 per cent (the maximum) of the total budget for the wedding or event.
The need for a planner has gained ground as they help the couple develop and stay within the budget.
It also reduces a bride’s hustles by coordinating all service providers. They also advise on etiquette like wording of invitation cards and seating arrangements, and may become a mediator in unpleasant family circumstances.
What is your take on wedding committees?
In olden days, weddings were planned by family and community and roles were defined and allocated. When rural-urban migration occurred, committees took over to fill the vacuum of the absence of family and community in the process of planning weddings.
We have been evolving with time and committees are now being replaced by wedding planners, allowing family and friends to attend weddings and genuinely engage, participate, and celebrate with their loved ones.
Most wedding committees do not have the expertise to plan a unique wedding and what comes out of them are photocopy weddings as they are based on what was seen in another wedding. A wedding is yours alone and it must be unique to you.
Do you have an ATM card and how often do you visit the machine in a week?
I do have one and visit the machine about twice a week
What would you consider your money weakness?
I love to help people and often end up spending too much on the less fortunate. I also spend a chunk on good food, clothes, jewellery, and travelling.
How do you invest your income?
At the moment, we are investing in expansion of the business in other countries. We are now in Uganda.
What is the greatest lesson you have learnt about earning and spending money?
It is important to work smart as opposed to working hard. Saving is critical and don’t be misled by the figures before you actually know the true net profit.
I am very careful on how I spend my time, especially with clients, and ensure meetings are not unnecessarily long, especially if they are not income generating.
What are some of the challenges you face in your day-to-day life in business?
Financial institutions have suddenly woken up to paying attention to SMEs, but before, they were aloof and distant. Another challenge for SMEs is advertising, which only favours corporate companies.
The service industry is picking up in Africa, and yet there are no government incentives in terms of set up and technical assistance. It’s only after you take off that other institutions are ready to work with you, despite having a good project or concept.
Where do you see your firm in the next five years?
We expect to expand to other countries in East and Central Africa in terms of student enrolment and variety of courses that will include business skills and entrepreneurship. We are already in Uganda.