On what was once a coffee farm now stands a high-end shopping centre in Nairobi.
Armed with Sh90 million in 1992, the Ehsami brothers, bought land and started setting up shops. Their dream was to build an African market centre, where people would meet and shop.
Twenty years down the line, however, the brothers’ idea of setting up between 10 and 30 shops as well as a supermarket has turned out to host over 200 shops and the Tribe Hotel.
Money met with one of the brothers Hamed Ehsani, who said the growing business has been sustained by the primary focus of simply creating a ‘village market.’
“We were just driving around when my brothers and I saw this place and thought we could set up a few shops and create a shopping centre that captures the concept of an African village, a market that brings people together and creates a setting for socioeconomic interrelations. We bought the seven-acre piece of land that was full of coffee bushes. My elder brother designed it and three years later, we had 60 shops,” said Mr Ehsani.
And for the three brothers — Abbas, the eldest, Mehraz an architect, and Hamed, the youngest — unity has seen them weather the storm in steering the enterprise.
The Sh12 billion worth of shopping complex is now expanding. It is developing 75 new shops, a supermarket, and a hotel with a capacity of 215 rooms as well as a conference centre. The plan also includes 1,000 new parking spaces set to be completed next year.
The brothers strategised well to get customers back in the day when Gigiri was considered far away from the city.
A 12-lane bowling alley, a Nu-Metro cinema hall, nine hi-tide waterslides among other recreational facilities made the entertainment aspect of Village Market attractive.
Gigiri, as a location, turned to be a favour as well. Many diplomatic residences and the United Nations offices around it made the mall a preferred shopping centre for foreign dignitaries, whose taste is premium. Mr Hamed says they have kept abreast with changing shopping trends as another investor, the Shah family, joined them as partners. “Trends in shopping have changed because Kenyans travel and are exposed to modern shopping concepts. We had to keep up with the expectations of our customers, which played an important role in creating our expansion from the original 60 to over 200 shops we have today,” says the Village Market boss.
Surprisingly, he says, ongoing tourism slump has not affected the hotel business since Tribe attracts business travellers.
Mr Ehsami is, however, concerned that insecurity has the potential of affecting mall business. According to him, the government has a lot to do to protect investments.
“We have invested heavily in securing the Village Market. The market is very rumour sensitive though. An SMS or a social media post is enough to scare away shoppers and reduce traffic. I hope the government will find a long lasting solution to these threats,” he told Money.
Asked whether they have achieved the vision to create a village market, the youngest of the Ehsani trio says the village has lived to its true spirit of providing a one-stop-shop that brings different people to exchange ideas; just like in an African market set up.
He is not worried by many malls coming up in the neighbourhood to challenge the Village Market’s position, saying that is just a sign that Kenya will soon become a shopping destination.
“We have responded to the needs of the city residents and developed what is modern and all inclusive. Our Sh5.6 billion expansion plan will double the size of Village Market to over 500,000-square-feet of shopping space. Demand is high and we undertake due diligence before we accept applicants for business premises,” the soft spoken trader said.
The entrepreneur believes that Kenya has the potential to take advantage of the current global and regional market trends to take off.
“There are some very easy ways for Kenya to get a lot of investments. Europe is still depressed. Russia has issues with Ukraine. South Africa, with its Xenophobia attacks, has scared people. North Africa is yet to recover from the Arab spring while West Africa is yet to fully recover from the Ebola scare. This leaves East Africa as the destination of choice and Kenya is the best place,” he said.
He believes the government should also ensure that there are easier steps in enabling one to start a new business as well as strengthen integrity of records, especially on land with a view to making it fool proof. This would see investors feel secure.
His greatest joy, he says, is seeing shoppers, who were introduced to the Village Market as teenagers come to visit with their children. He says the longer the business stays; the longer it attracts customers, who pass loyalty to their children.
His take on wrangles that characterise family businesses in Kenya today?
“The most important thing, in my opinion is respect that you must show to your family members and partners. The other thing is to put the interest of the business ahead of the interest of the individuals. And finally to consult on all matters to make sure everyone supports the ideas and the actions. That way, everything will work smoothly,’’ advised Mr Ehsani.
The Village Market, which hosts over 300 events each year usually has its busiest days being the religious holidays of both for the Muslims and Christians. The centre has also played scene to documentaries on business, recreation and entertainment.
Originally posted 2015-07-01 11:00:44.