By By Dorcas Mhungu
November 2010
RUDIGER Gentz owner R.O. Gentz Roof Tiling Namibia CC fell in love with the art of making tiles one morning at a local eatery in 2007 while having breakfast with his family in Klein Windhoek.

Out of curiosity, Gentz approached the restaurant owner after the breakfast meeting to ask about the tiles in the restaurant and was told that they were imported from Mexico.

The beauty of roof tiles had struck him like a bolt and he soon saw an opportunity of venturing into tile making business for the local market.

Later, he did research on tile making and the type of machinery needed.

In no time, he gave up his marketing job to give this business idea a serious thought and attention. After gathering all necessary information, including where he could buy the machinery, Gentz withdrew his savings and imported the machine.

Today, he boasts of a business venture that has not only attracted the attention of those in the construction industry but the Head of State President Hifikepunye Pohamba.

Outlining the advantages of his product, Gentz says his tiles are smooth such that dust does not sit on it, “There are no algae and plants that grow on the roof as is the case with the other types of tiles.”

Gentz says the foggy weather conditions of Swakopmund for instance and the salty sea water, that corrodes roof tiles, cannot affect his tiles, hence they have become a hit at the coast.

He further says that his tiles are easier on the pocket in comparison to other tile brands.

His product makes home owners save on insurance premiums on their properties.

Properties (lapas) thatched with grass which attract high premiums due to higher fire risks.

Namibians have adopted lapas for recreational purposes at home and these are thatched. Gentz says his tiles have brought an attractive safe alternative.

Just like most new business ventures, Gentz’ enterprise has encountered a number of challenges.

When he bought the machinery, the supplier provided a trainer for the first six months to set him sailing but electricity connection was delayed by six months. In the interim and out of passion, Gentz took the machine to Rehoboth.

In Rehoboth, the machine constantly broke down because of power surges which resulted in blown up fuses. He had to modify the machine to suit the local weather conditions.

Currently, the project has struck off four men from the register of the unemployed but when financially equipped, greater plans are on the drawing board for Gentz.

Keeping abreast with climate change, like anticipated hotter temperatures, Gentz feels confident that his tiles that are made of cement, oxide and water will give people cooler conditions.

The tiles are available in seven colours and he has a special type called, Grey tiles, for low cost houses which are manufactured at a much cheaper cost.

The biggest challenge is the unavailability of bridging funds. A common problem haunting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)because commercial banks do not extend credit without collateral.

“I have lost opportunities of getting big tenders because of capital constraints. Sometimes I get orders from home owners who need tiles but with the 500 moulds I have at the moment, it takes three to four weeks yet the customers tell you that they need the order yesterday,” Gentz mourns.

Gentz uses a machine that has a capacity to produce 2000 tiles per day. This is enough for an average standard house.

But the problem comes when three houses need tiles in one day.

At the moment he has relies on door to door marketing and targets lapas that require less quantities of tiles, and the strategy is paying off.

Some clients follow his good works by visiting sites where he would have build lapas while others are often referrals.

“I decided to showcase my product at the 2010 SME Compete Annual Expo because it is new to Namibia and offers a better option to the popularly used corrugated roofing materials. It was a good platform and there were so many enquiries. Next year, I will utilise all the marketing platforms to climb to the top,” says Gentz.

When President Pohamba officiated at the SME Compete Annual Expo last year, during a tour of the stands, he stopped to enquire with enthusiasm where the tiles were imported from and when Gentz told him that he was making them in Namibia, the President was overwhelmed, he says.

Adds Gentz, “Although the President was in a hurry to see the other exhibitions he stopped and asked more about the manufacturing process. What impressed me was the assurance that the government is willing to help finance such projects and if I cannot get financing from the available institutions, I will approach him because he was impressed by the project and the fact that tiles are being made in the country by Namibians. That has inspired me greatly and was just what the doctor ordered for me to aspire and dream on. Ten years from now, I will be Namibia’s tile making tycoon.”

Already most restaurants including the one that caught his eye in Klein Windhoek, now forms part of his client base. PF