Kijabe Street’s rise to a lighting hubTuesday February 07 2023
In the early 90s, Kijabe Street in Nairobi would not have been the most strategic spot for investors looking to set up businesses, especially enterprises with expensive goods retailing at Sh800,000 a piece.
It made headlines as one of the lanes with the highest crime rates in the city centre. In the last quarter of 1990, for instance, Moi Avenue, Kijabe Street, and three others were considered the most dangerous places in the Central Business District (CBD).
Besides shops selling seeds and agro vet products, there was not much investment life. Gradually, ceramics shops started setting up shop.
About five years ago, companies went big. Now there are tens of home fixtures and fittings shops almost end-to-end on the street, turning Kijabe into a one-stop spot for those looking for lighting, bathroom, kitchen, and toilet fixtures.
Chandeliers have become the ultimate interior dressing in homes of the not-only-wealthy and each day buyers frequent the street to pick out the fixtures.
Diamond Lighting and Interiors, is one of the biggest stores on Kijabe Street. At the store, exquisite chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and bathtubs sit at the corner, staged in a mock bathroom. Workers park small to huge boxes. Business is booming.
Esther Kamau, the general manager says they moved their interior décor shop from Industrial Area to Kijabe Street in 2018.
Thirteen years ago, Ms Kamau made a drastic scale-up from selling tiles only in Nairobi’s Industrial Area to light fixtures, a change she says was driven by high demand from customers.
Then, shops stocking top-range home fixtures were few or the ones selling them priced their products so high, beyond the reach of many middle-class buyers.
“We had a feeling that people were not satisfied with what was available in the market, so we decided to change people’s perspectives of ‘you cannot get a good product along Kijabe Street,” she says.
“Kijabe Street was such a dull place. Apart from the famous Text Book Centre building, the area was dominated by ceramic tiles. We were just three shops selling lights and fixtures. As you can see now, the shops are now surrounded with glasses and look elegant,” she adds.
The shops were also selling the same item and the same design.
“We had customers complaining that they could not find quality tiles along the street,” Mr Kamau adds.
With an increase in the number of shops currently selling lighting, bathroom, toilet, garden, and kitchen fixtures on Kijabe Street, customers have choices, depending on how much they want to spend.
The sellers source the wares from as far as Italy, Spain, Germany, India, and China’s Grade One market, serving both commercial and residential customers in Kenya and the East African region.
In an age of Pinterest and Houzz apps and increased travel, only money can now stop homeowners and interior designers of commercial spaces from decorating like the ultra-rich.
Kenyans no longer have to travel to Dubai, China or Turkey to buy items, as they are now available on Kijabe Street.
“If you walk into our shop, with Sh100, you will not leave empty-handed, however, the chandeliers cost up to Sh1 million. The highest we ever sold was Sh800,000. We also have locally-made ones like the Masai decorated ones costing Sh350,” Ms Kamau says.
Another retailer on the street is Eagle Eye Lighting.
Evelyne Mugo, the director of the company says it started as an electric shop called Costwise Electricals in 2022 before they decided to join the thriving lighting business in February of the same year.
“We had issues getting parking space for customers at our Nyamakima shop, so most of our clients could not go there. When we decided to expand, we got a space on Kijabe Street which was ideal,” she says.
Prime spaces in the CBD attract goodwill amounting to millions of shillings, depending on the location. The more prime the location, the more money an investor pays.
“Of course, we paid goodwill. It’s like a ‘compulsory’ thing in Nairobi,” says Ms Mugo.
The shop stocks a wide variety of chandeliers and lighting solutions for homes, institutions, and indoor and outdoor spaces.
“Our prices range from Sh1,500 to Sh100,000,” she says.
They now run both shops, one at Nyamakima and the one at Kijabe Street.
James Kaberu is the owner of Lumi Lighting Company also on the same street. He has been in the business for seven years. He used to run it with his sister at the heart of CBD, then moved it to Kijabe Street.
“I moved to Kijabe three years ago when the lighting venture had at least gained traction. The place is now high-end for any kind of chandelier you would wish to have. We are among the cheapest sellers around here with our prices ranging from Sh6,000 to Sh200,000,” he says.
“Chandeliers will never go out of style because they look good in almost any room. Traditionally, a chandelier would be installed in the foyer or dining room. A chandelier can now be installed in small rooms such as a bedroom or even a bathroom,” he adds.
A majority of the shop owners on this street are looking to expand as business thrives. Diamond Lighting and Interiors has grown from three employees to 22 currently, Eagle Eye Lighting has six from three and Lumi Lighting Company has four employees.
But behind every business that relies on imports in Kenya, there is the thorny issue of high taxes and learning to stay ahead of copy-cats.
“We have to pay the high import duties and again struggle with the government's high taxes. A lot of money just goes on taxes. The government should look into the issue and help business people,” Ms Kamau says.
There is also the pain of a high dollar exchange rate which is threatening to eat into their profits.
Globally, the luxury chandeliers market is expected to record a 6.61 percent year-on-year growth rate, according to a Fashion Chandelier Market Insights 2023 report.
One of the key factors driving the global luxury chandelier industry growth is the evolving design concept. "Most luxurious and designer chandeliers come from the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the US," the report notes.