The TARPO Story

TARPO can trace its roots back to 1975 when Mr. Nilesh Shah, a salesman working for his father’s wholesale shop, began the company in Mombasa, Kenya.

The Genesis

The business idea behind TARPO was inspired by a client who approached Nilesh with a rather unique request; he wanted him to make a tarpaulin, something that Nilesh had never attempted before. But, a salesperson at heart and never one to pass up a challenge, he decided to roll the dice. With only two sewing machines in hand and two other members of staff, he embarked on this uncharted territory. To his pleasant surprise, his gamble paid off, and the client was thrilled with the finished product. It surpassed his expectations in both function and aesthetic.

Nilesh Shah, Tarpo's Founder

This successful task and positive feedback from the client gave him a sudden glimpse of the potential demand, and he realised that there was a gap to be filled in the market. His confidence surged, and he focused all his attention on this new business venture. This was the light-bulb moment for Nilesh that began TARPO's journey and led to the formal establishment of Tarpo Industries Ltd. The name "Tarpo" was derived from the name of that first product, the word ‘tarpaulin.’

Our company's primary focus at the time was that initial product, tarpaulins. We continued to deliver quality tarpaulins to the coastal region covering a majority portion of the transportation industry and increased resources to meet the demand that was slowly taking shape. New customers began to stream in via word of mouth, and a reputation of stellar quality products began to form, which stands to date.

Hundreds of satisfied customers later, product feedback and recommendations followed. Clients started making requests for products that required the same materials used for the tarpaulins, that is, PVC and canvas fabrics. This meant we needed to expand our business to cater to this growing demand and opportunity. Even then, we ran on the core principle of dedication to innovation, and as the client requests continued, coupled with our passionate desire to be a market leader, we made the strategic decision to diversify our product line, which gave birth to the tent product line.

The First Tent

The first tent we ever manufactured came as a consequence of a client request. It was a small, compact, and simple canvas safari tent made up of only two poles, and it came with a separate groundsheet. This first tent, however basic, was revolutionary to our future. It gave rise to new market prospects as well as a new breed of clients in the hospitality and accommodation space.

Most clients in the hospitality industry favoured unique but practical designs to give enhanced experiences to their clients; therefore, they desired a finer tent design. While the earlier safari tent design was a success and met some of our client's needs, the design was too standard and allowed little room for customisation, therefore, we diversified the tent range. The accommodation tent range widened from the basic 2x1.8 meter floorspace, pole style safari tents to frame tents that boasted a 10x8metre floorspace; the product lines of Lamu, Kizingo, and Tunisia were born.

We pride ourselves as being the original suppliers to the very first tented luxury camps in the famous Serengeti, Samburu, and Tsavo regions in the 1980s, tents that continue to function in the lodges to this day with little maintenance done.

The Move To Nairobi

Upon analysis of the growing industry, we concluded that we needed to change location from Mombasa to Nairobi. There were just a handful of players in the market at that time, and a move meant a better avenue for growth and expansion. Consequently, in 1978 we moved our entire operations from the coastal city of Mombasa to the country's capital, Nairobi. Our first office and workshop building was in a modest, rented building along Dar Es Salaam Road.

The move to Nairobi was a significant turning point that changed the course of the business and shaped us into what we are today. Nairobi offered an extensive, diverse clientele, national networking opportunities, and a better chance for brand exposure and recognition.

A few years later, we developed our very own 100,000 square foot facility in Nairobi's Industrial Area in 1989. This new location was necessary for us to remain competitive in the ever growing industry. It continues to be our home to date, where we base all our operations, from design to sales support to manufacturing.

The location at Industrial Area was phenomenal for us. Not only did it offer a much bigger facility, more resources, and opportunities to make capital investments but with it, came credibility and confidence in our capacity to produce. It positioned us to offer unparalleled quality control, which ultimately led to guaranteed customer satisfaction. We also went from a company that manufacturers a few hundred tarpaulins and small-scale accommodation tents per week to producing about 50 to 100 emergency relief tents per day for the relief efforts, such as the aftermath of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.

With time, the TARPO brand and product range in the capital grew leaps and bounds. We added an extensive collection in party tents and refugee tents, as well as a new range of products such as canopies and car shades to our product portfolio. We also added complementary products such as camping furniture and cholera beds. Regularly purchased products became a regular, standard stock item in our large warehouse to meet the consistent demand, which meant we could give our customers better lead times for their custom products.

Our business goal of offering the highest quality products in the market accompanied by excellent customer service resulted in a prosperous business. In 1994, we created our very first website and shortly after in the year 1995, got our first online order from Canada. Online visibility increased our reach, and our reputation grew far and wide, and we managed to expand our horizons to neighbouring East Africa markets, which led to the establishment of TARPO branches in Uganda and Tanzania in the year 2000.

From 1992, Nilesh actively ran the entire company as the managing director, handling all operations of the TARPO headquarters in Nairobi in addition to the branches of Arusha-Tanzania, and Kampala-Uganda. In 2018, his son, Asim, joined in having graduated from the University of Warwick, U.K. with an MEng (1st Class Hons) Manufacturing Engineering & Management.

New Quality Management Systems

Asim’s primary focus was to quantitatively measure overall quality throughout the entire production process, from client inquiry to delivery. He started this by applying the Japanese concept of Total Quality Management (TQM) principles.

Traditionally, our primary and only focus was on client satisfaction, which we achieved through mere quality control of inspecting and testing our finished products with little concentration on waste management. But, with the introduction of TQM concepts, we started to run on the philosophy of continuous improvement on every function of the business to ensure optimum satisfaction. With that, came the introduction of the ISO9001:2008 Quality Management System standards in 2009 that led the first step to a change management process.

We then started to run our operations by fully documenting our activities, placed emphasis on active participation throughout the value chain and dedicated to consciously improve by constantly reassessing our internal processes. We looked at all directions of the value chain, including the supply end to support our high standards of internal quality processes. These changes led to a streamlining of our already impressive production capability to be able to offer clients superior quality products, with even shorter lead times, with lean manufacturing while simultaneously reducing waste. Other important byproducts of our new approach to business were better team cohesion, improved goal setting, and we efficiently measured performance throughout the entire company, which directly impacted and ensured our customers had a consistent positive experience every time.

We became the first and only tent manufacturer in the Great Lakes region to run under the strict international management standards outlined in the ISO 9001:2008 standards that still shape the way we operate today. With the certification and improved systems in place, we confidently positioned ourselves on the global platform. This naturally increased our reach to international markets and enhanced customer retention because customer feedback and complaints were captured better, therefore, reduced, and in most instances, eliminated the chance of reoccurrence.

TARPO At Present

Today, just like in the beginning, we ensure that we are continually evolving by adapting our strategy to meet the needs of our clients and changes in demand.

Our product development and advancement still happens either through our own utilisation of the products or through clients inquiry, feedback, and recommendations. For example, one of our latest additions is the Il Ngwesi luxury accommodation tent. It's an ensuite tent that came about from Asim's experience with a puff adder snake at the annual 4x4 off-road fundraising event, Rhino Charge, in Kalama in Northern Kenya. He was using one of our most popular, standard accommodation tents, the Kizingo, and since it's not an ensuite style, the toilet was only accessible from outside the tent.

The snake happened to be resting behind the toilet seat, and the process of getting in and out of the tent was too slow to be completely safe from the snake. Luckily, both Asim and the puff adder escaped to safety. That occurrence helped Asim identify the opportunity for an improved tent design that would reduce the likelihood of such incidents, whilst still allowing users to enjoy the adventure of camping in the wild. On his return to Nairobi, he determined to find a solution that would best tackle the challenge in the future, which he found in the Il Ngwesi tent design.

Over the last decade, the soft roof shelter industry has evolved immensely from the basic, uncomplicated but functional structures into these magnificent, complex structures that integrate finely tuned architecture with industrial technical textiles. As we are famously known to be ahead of the game, we are keeping up with it all and have been heavily involved in a substantial amount of tensile shade projects. The growing popularity of these types of projects also inspired Asim, who also acts as a design consultant in most of our projects, to enrol in an MEng/Archineer degree, which he is currently pursuing at the Institute for Membrane Structures, Germany.

Throughout our history, we have been able to support all types of clients from far and wide across 4 continents. In addition to our humanitarian relief support in the aftermath of the Rwanda 1994 Genocide, we have been humbled to serve and supply to the aid organisations that handled major humanitarian emergencies such as the Kenya Famine of 2011 and the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Our products continue to function in mining and oil drilling camps in the regions of Zambia, Liberia, Tanzania, and Northern Kenya. We are also an accredited supplier to AMISON, ENDF, and ACOTA programmes funded by the U.S. State Department.

Even with our tremendous success, we remain a business that still inextricably links family and business. While Asim is presently our CEO and handles all of TARPO Kenya operations, Nilesh remains a valuable participant and asset to the company and is currently the Chairman of the TARPO Group. Nilesh’s experience is not only in founding but growing the company from its humble beginnings to where it is today.

We started with just one tarpaulin to what we are now, a full-fledged, state-of-the-art modern manufacturing company that is synonymous with exceptional products and world class customer service. Now, we not only make your custom projects but have a whole portfolio of TARPO standard products and a trading division that sells industrial textiles and fittings.

We have always been more than just manufacturers. Our client's success has and will always be our biggest driver and motivation. Our proudest moments are when our client's project goals have been achieved, their expectations have been exceeded, and they walk away happy and satisfied.

We have been an industry leader for the last 4 decades, and we show no signs of slowing down.

Tarpo's CEO, Asim