STEELING THE SHOW THE ZEN OF HOMES FOR THE PEOPLE Zenith Steel Fabricators Ltd www.zenithsteel.com +254 20 551874/5
Zenith Steel Fabricators Ltd
An energetic innovator in product line and geographical reach, Kenya-based Zenith Steel Fabricators is now driving into East Africa’s mass housing market. The prize – social and commercial – is enormous, co-director Raheem Biviji tells Ben Walker. A breakthrough expansion policy started seven years ago has seen Nairobi-based Zenith Steel Fabricators rise to become market leader throughout Kenya and East Africa. Founded in 1977 as a small fabrication workshop, Zenith is a family-owned bespoke design and construction company with a project portfolio ranging from affordable housing to multi-story commissions, and a client base from industrial and religious to governmental and private. A high commitment to quality through its ISO 9001:2008 certifications has enabled it to capture a large and expanding market – now extending into West Africa - and co-director Raheem Biviji predicts continuing growth, notably in neighbouring Tanzania. It is a strategy in which Zenith’s most recent diversification – housing – is set to play a powerful role. Kenya, the region’s biggest economy, builds around 35,000 new housing units a year but has an annual shortfall of 150,000 units according to official statistics (with an annual 40,000 shortfall in Tanzania and Zambia respectively). And the country’s biggest mortgage lender Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) sees demand continuing to outstrip supply even as the rising cost of construction materials shifts demand towards affordable housing. Prices of cement and other materials have risen sharply on the back of weakness in Kenya’s shilling hammered by falling government bond yields and a global rush into the dollar stoked by fears of a possible Greek exit from the euro. “We will see people adjust to affordable lower-cost income houses. But the demand for housing in Kenya is still exponential and cannot be fulfilled by the current supply,” says KCB’s Director of Mortgage Business Joram Kiarie. With affordable housing both a regional social need and a business opportunity, enter the Zen House, the division of Zenith Steel Fabricators for the design and manufacture of high quality affordable housing - and specifically targeting the mass market in Kenya. Primarily a steel frame system with insulated concrete wall panels, the Zen House is available in attractive designs and a finishing tailored to individual tastes and budget. Set against more conventional builds, the advantages in cost and speed of construction are decisive says Raheem, 32 year old son of co-founder Abbas Biviji. “The units go up from start to finish in eight to ten weeks and are between 15% and 20% cheaper than conventional bricks and mortar constructions. These are early days but our target is forty to fifty houses a month.” The Zen comes in two sizes, 42 sq metres – the equivalent of a compact two bed roomed bijou house - and 130 sq metres, with a choice of roofing, flooring and furniture/ soft furnishings.
The formation of the housing division in 2010 was one of a series of milestones catapulting Zenith into its premier position in East Africa. Five years earlier the structural steel division started export marketing with operations in Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia, later expanding first into Uganda and Malawi, and then in 2009 into West Africa. Complementing this geographical push was a massive expansion in product range, which in 2007 saw the launch of Argonaut trailers - skeleton, flat bed, general cargo and enclosed, and adaptable to two, three, four axles, all designed, fabricated and tested in-house. The following year - in which Zenith secured ISO certification - saw the introduction of pressed panel water tanks made from pressed steel panels and cold-formed to diamond shape providing both structural and aesthetic functions. A perfect balance between efficiency and mobility, says Raheem Biviji.
One of Zenith’s key structural type specialities are Go-downs, warehouses, often on docksides, with spans ranging from 12m to 60m to meet client demands for the open and free flow spaces that increase functional flexibility. “The client’s specific requirements for use determine the building’s form, and, whatever the solution our most important goal is to provide a completed project with speed, economy and structural efficiency.” Design, fabrication and erection of high rise buildings with metal decking sheets are another major division. The Zenith system - capable of reaching twenty five floors comprises steel columns and beams hoisted into place. Steel high rise buildings have a marked advantage over conventional reinforced concrete buildings; substantially quicker construction and with no further timber shuttering needed. The reduced weight of a steel building compared with an equivalent reinforced concrete building results in a reduced reaction loads on the foundations, leading to lighter, more economical foundations. Zenith also offers a design, fabrication and erection service of both free standing and cable stayed towers. For this highly skilled operation, towers are designed to withstand not only wind speed, but also wind-induced oscillation. “We have been responsible for many bridges from small footbridges to much larger road bridges.” Current and recently completed projects include twelve and fourteen story buildings and – With the introduction of a tropical climate-adapted sugar beet that will boost farmers profits through
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migration from longer-maturing sugarcane - a sugar factory in Western Kenya. In East Africa growth is a real option. In the past, when the global economy weakened, sub-Saharan Africa fared badly. Not so in recent years. While the global economy spluttered last year, the region notched up five per cent growth – outpaced only by emerging Asia - and the IMF forecasts a broadly similar outcome this year, with subSaharan Africa growing by about 5.5 per cent. Growth in Tanzania has been even stronger – an impressive 7.3% average in the in the four years up to 2008. And supported by accommodative fiscal and monetary policy, and financial support from the IMF and development partners, Tanzania has emerged relatively unscathed from the impact of the global financial crisis. Unsurprisingly Biviji expects “substantial” growth for Zenith in Tanzania. “In Kenya the housing market should expand tremendously, and while I see the Kenyan economy fading somewhat by the end of the year, Tanzania looks to be very buoyant and set to continue growing.” And for Zenith a similar forecast. “We started with humble beginnings and have expanded to cover many sectors both in the residential and industrial markets. We are involved in a range of products and provide turnkey solutions for factories and cost-effective houses. “Our in-house design capabilities are just one distinguishing key that sets us apart, and we deliver on time and with high quality products. We plan to remain what we are – sector leaders in this part of Africa.”