When she separated from her husband in 1998 Lucy Wambui, a mother of two, was jobless. But that did not stop her from picking up what was left of her life and becoming a millionaire.
At 37, Wambui runs five herbal therapy clinics in Nairobi which have a capital base of Sh2.5 millionaire. The headquarters of the clinics is in the heart of the city centre.
“Drawing a cheque of a six digit figure is not an issue. I can also go to my bank and ask for an unsecured loan of up to Sh1.5 million and have it by close of business today,” she says.
Wambui’s resolve to be independent both socially and economically saw her invest in a unique field.
The first born in a family of six sisters was born in 1973 in Ichamara Village of Nyeri County. Wambui says that her desire was to find a partner and live happily thereafter with him.
“But with time I came to realise that life was not all about marriage; that it had too many facets and all of them tied up in financial stability,” she says. After separation she reflected on the path ahead as a single mother.
“I had the brains, the potential and will power to survive the challenge of single-motherhood through innovation,” she says. A trained pharmacist, Wambui went back to her parents’ home to chart her way forward.
“It was while under my parents’ care that learned of herbal therapies taught by the Chinese Herbal Research Centre in Nairobi. My mother funded my venture into a research programme and for six months I concentrated on traditional crops and herb combinations to come up with dietary solutions for minor ailments,” she says.
The same year, 1998, she joined a self help group in Murang’a District where the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) was researching on traditional crops with medicinal value to manage diabetes and HIV/Aids.
“The institute was collaborating with the University of Nairobi and Pennsylvania University to carry out research on traditional crops which have nutrients of high medicinal value capable of taming the diseases,” she says.
The project was funded by USAid and was later be replicated in Bomet, Makueni, and Mbeere districts. In 2000, Wambui took up research on herbal toothpaste.
“I joined a Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri) programme where for four years I concentrated on the project. Maseno University had teamed up with Kefri to carry out research on the effectiveness, safety and acceptability of herbal medicines,” she says.
The study had on board the National Museums of Kenya, whose mandate was to enhance capacity of local communities to conserve the biodiversity of medicinal plants.
In 2001, Wambui researched and developed a herbal mix that removes stains from discoloured teeth. The product, Smile and Sparkle Solution, is in the process of being patented.
“This is a combination of seven different herbs which I boil, smash and dry. I then add a little water to form a paste. I then rub it on the discoloured teeth with a small thick bristle brush. In 20 minutes, the offending colour is gone and you are free to smile,” she explains.
In the cause of the research, Wambui discovered that the offending colour never permeates the tooth beyond the enamel. In 2002, Wambui established a clinic in Wangige township of Kiambu County.
“The choice of that location was informed by the need to be strategically located, where I could be accessible to my target customers,” she says.
Then, teeth decolouration was common in Kiambu and Nakuru regions.
“It was not easy to convince people that my formulae worked. I had to devise a simple and result-oriented marketing strategy. My mother came in handy, she advanced me a Sh100,000,” she says.
Wambui advertised her products through FM stations, telling her would be client that they would pay after confirming results.
“I pegged my charges at Sh200 per tooth cleansed off the offending colour. Within a month, the results were overwhelming. I had repaid my mother’s cash and still remained with enough money to move into a more favourable location,” she says.
By 2002, Wambui had attracted a client base that included leading TV, entertainment, and public speaking personalities.
“I opened another branch in Githurai 45 to net customers from the Mt Kenya region. All my worries of an uncertain future as a single mother evaporated. However, the field is not without hurdles. Those who deal in conventional medicines resort to unorthodox territorial wars in the fight for clients.
“Also, we have encountered imposters who advertise themselves as an extension of our company,” she laments.
Another challenge is the Government’s failure to endorse herbs as a genuine field of medicine.