Speaking during the recently concluded East Africa Property Investment (EAPI) Summit, Mr Paul Philips, the MD of Buffalo Mall was of the opinion that we now have probably too many malls in the country. Statistics from a Broll report indicate that mall visitors are generally weekend visitors. So what do we do with malls the rest of the week? Should we rethink tenants? Should we repurpose the spaces? Should malls become destinations rather than a collection of retail outlets with some “entertainment” in the form of mostly food and “fun arcades” that are largely ghost towns most of the week?

Image result for two rivers mall swimming pool

The newly opened Two Rivers Mall in Ruaka

The general consensus seems to be that we have an issue with malls in this country. Two parties are suffering silently – the owners who are not attracting sufficient long term tenants and the tenants who are not getting sufficient paying footfall.  Are the malls too many? Are they too close to each other? Are they ahead of their time? Is this relying on the “growing middle class” a fallacy? The jury is still out on most of these questions and those are many topics for many other days. Not today. Today, let me spend a little time asking you to forget the malls as currently conceptualised and consider an alternative model.

I miss having roasted maize within arms reach, roasted by that guy who uses a dust bin cover and whose fire never seems to die down; whose hands are as black as sin but you somehow never get a running stomach. I miss that watch repair man who works out of a box, literally, being at the corner next to the shoe repair guy who is always busy but never gets your shoes fixed on time. I miss that tailor under a small shade who never seems to finish an outfit or pull off a repair right. I miss that little shop where you could get credit with no collateral for a packet of milk. I miss that neighbourhood camaraderie and warmth where business was not conducted like a business. I miss mama mboga delivering to the doorstep and the “marikwamari” (barter trade) guy coming to exchange all sorts of used stuff for glossy plastic containers you usually admired from a distance. I miss simple “stand up fish and chips” as much as we actually do have fish and chicken in this market – the fish is never fresh!

I must not be living in Kenya. But I am living in Kenya.

Where is the mall that puts together all these Kenyan experiences? We need more malls in Kenya.  We need more simple malls in Kenya.

Tune in for part two next week….

Article by Tom Sitati, Partner, Brand Integrated Consulting LLP