Away from the millions of shillings that top retail chains like Tuskys, Naivas and Choppies have splurged on 2018 end-year sale promotional campaigns, there is an old crop of supermarkets that appears unshaken.
These old outlets issue no loyalty cards and the list of customers established over the years appear too conservative to be swayed by any quick sale gimmicks.
They stand in contradiction of the business textbook theory that suggests nearly all firms have to exist in a predictable four-phase life journey that runs through expansion, peak, contraction and finally, a trough.
Here is a sample of old shopping outlets, arguably among the oldest in Kenya, that appear to have played outside the rule book to retain their numbers through years of political upheavals, stiff competition and erratic economic growth:
The shopping outlet on Nairobi’s Moi Avenue neither has a free parking lot nor fancy shopping space yet it appears to have withstood the test of time. Apart from the picturesque models of laptop computers on its front windows, nothing else readily seems remarkable about the small retail outlet.
Established in 1944 as a supermarket with electronics and computer distribution unit, Ebrahim comes across as one of the oldest retail outlets in Nairobi. Last year, when constitutional lawyer-cum consumer right activist Apollo Mboya wanted to illustrate how fast flour price has outpaced growth in household incomes, a newspaper cutting of Ebrahim’s pre-Budget Day ad became handy.
The advert, booked on June 3, 1991 that Mr Mboya shared on his twitter handle, shows a two-kilogramme packet of flour retailing at Sh9 at Ebrahim or 12 times less the Sh108 that the commodity sells for today at the same store.
At the time, the supermarket had operations in Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru and Mombasa. Today, only the Moi Avenue outlet is known even though there are two electronic outlets on Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street.
“Ebrahim was already an established shopping outlet by 1977 when I joined the University of Nairobi as a first year student,” recalls journalist Emman Omari. “You can’t really talk about old supermarkets in Kenya without mentioning it.” [Note: Ebrahim Supermarkets finally closed on February 2019, barely a month after this article was written]
When the family patriarch Shantilal Mulji Thakkar started this shopping outlet in 1964, is was a single grocery store targeting the Asian community. And to this day, it is still associated with Indian foods and spices, an aspect that has helped it to retain a niche market.
From the mid 1980s, however, Chandarana has expanded its offering to appeal to a national clientele.
These days, Chandarana stores stock almost everything from wine and spirits to sushi, sandwiches, fresh vegetables and juices. The stores also feature bakeries, butcheries and delicatessens.
Speaking to the Business Daily in February, the firm’s operations director Hanif Rajan attributed the supply chain’s longevity to a cautious, conservative expansion policy “that has saved us from making irrational, emotional decisions.”
He was apparently referring to the supply chain’s conservative growth strategy that has seen it open only 14 branches countrywide throughout its more than 54 years of existence.
This shopping outlet on Nakuru’s Club Road has been serving customers since 1974. With a floor space of 58,000 square feet, the supermarket is easily recognisable in the town.
Under its motto, “The highest quality lowest prices guaranteed or money back”, the supermarket chain has somewhat managed to personalise its relations with customers in its 44 years of existence.
What started as a single shop more than four decades ago has since morphed into a shopping complex featuring wholesale unit and a food restaurant division that offers Asian, English and African cuisine.
The business also has a real estate division that develops and lets commercial buildings in Nakuru town. The Tower 1, which at 14 floors is one of the tallest buildings in Nakuru today, is one such commercial buildings.
In Kisumu City
The adage “old is gold” appears to have eluded Kisumu’s retail arena as nearly all its former giants shopping outlets have been edged out by new entrants.
For people who grew up in the 90s, Format, Yatin and Big Buys supermarkets were the major players in the lakeside city as they were known to stock an assortment of products.
Big Buys and Format supermarkets operated on the busy Oginga Odinga Street while Yatin was located on Jomo Kenyatta Highway.
Kentons Supermarket later acquired Big Buys Supermarket and operated until early 2000 when it was dissolved.
On the other hand, Format closed shop and left space for Ukwala Supermarket which took over the store and operated for over a decade before it was bought by Botswana retailer, Choppies.
By the time of its acquisition, Ukwala had five chains of supermarket in Kisumu; three on Oginga Odinga Street, one in Nyamasaria and another one in Kondele.
And in Mombasa, A1 Supermarket at the junction of Hospital Street and Digo Road is one of the oldest shopping outlets on the Island that are still going strong.
The chain is always abuzz with activity as hordes of locals still stream in daily, attracted by what they see as relatively lower prices of a conveniently located store on the Island.
Mr Sammy Muge a resident of Mshomoroni, for instance, believes he saves a lot of cash by shopping at the supermarket which is at the heart of the city and closer to public transport on his way home.
“Most of evenings you may miss walking space as the store is usually packed. Its fair prices are another big win for them compared to other big supermarkets.” Mr Muge said.
The location of the store within the CBD makes it very accessible to shoppers. Mr Kassim Ali who came to the island 32 years ago says he found the store there and has since become its frequent customer.
“This store is usually well stocked and their prices and affordable to mwananchi. Services are fast and its location makes you feel secure unlike the other shopping stores,” he said.
Additional reporting by Victor Raballa and Wachira Mwangi.
This story was published before Ebrahim Supermarket closed. The 75-year old retailer has since closed for undisclosed reasons.