- Various factors are driving these stores’ resilience in a rather tough business environment.
- Kenyans are also creating occasions to celebrate which require either a new dress, bag, or jewellery.
After many months in pandemic-induced captivity and living in uncertainty, Esther Njeri decided to live a little. Together with her daughter and niece, they booked a holiday. Normally, they would employ frugality with finances, but not this time.
“I’ve been home, stuck with my furniture and spending considerably less. Why not spoil myself a little more this time,” she says.
Their unexpected escape from the city afforded them an unmasked week at a secluded beach, with expensive bottles of wine by a sunbathing chair.
Ms Njeri is only one of the many Kenyans who have switched from frugal living to splurging on luxuries.
Overspending in a pandemic is driven by two things, says Jade Gichuri, a counsellor.
“First is the fear of uncertainty making people go into preservation mode and end up shopping excessively. Second, some are shopping to relieve stress,” she says.
Initially, many people held on to their purses as they waited out the crisis, opting to buy necessities. But with rising anxiety and a resetting of priorities, people are now buying luxury jewellery, clothing and household furniture; items that they deemed unnecessary pre-Covid.
Patrick Mavros, a family business that creates luxury jewellery and sculpture pieces is one of the Nairobi stores that is counting its gains.
Lucy Freemantle, the regional manager says their Nairobi store defied retail expectations as consumers emerged from their homes with money and reason to spend.
The luxury store saw its footfall and sales fall by up to 75 percent between March and August.
“We decided not to close the store and adopt instead. As restrictions eased and the economy opened up albeit slowly, sales, new customers, footfall, and conversions grew by 110 percent between October 2020 and February 2021 with earrings, bracelets and cufflinks being the most popular products,” Ms Freemantle says.
At odAOMO, a fashion design house owned by Dr Sophia Aomo, it has also been business unusual. Located in Nairobi’s Village Market, they opted to keep their store’s lights on.
“Sales dropped by 70 percent but beginning August, we started noticing sales taking an upward trajectory,” says Esther Ngatia, the operations manager. odAOMO sells locally, handmade fashionable couture dresses, jewellery, shoes and bags.
Various factors are driving these stores’ resilience in a rather tough business environment.
“Being holed up at home is straining and for some of my clients, shopping is therapeutic; a sort of stress reliever,” Ms Ngatia says.
“Therefore, when they got an opportunity to get out, they did and they needed to look good while at it.”
She notes that her clients were looking to “shower love on themselves and their loved ones.”
They also “want to look and feel good” thus buying new, fashionable clothing and adorning items to match their post-pandemic look. Late last year, she had a client who spent Sh125,000 on herself and in January this year, a woman walked in and bought a bag worth Sh54,000. It “barely lasted a week on the display.” The bag was made of suede, bedecked with Maasai beads, brass and water pearls.
Kenyans are also creating occasions to celebrate which require either a new dress, bag, or jewellery. It is now common for women to walk in and buy a dress just for “lunch with the girls,” Ms Ngatia says. Prices of jewellery at her shop begin at Sh12,500, dresses from Sh7,500, and bags from Sh6,000.
But it was not only the women spoiling themselves. Men were too. Ms Njuguna describes a purchase made of their sterling silver cheetah trio which costs Sh986,000 during the Christmas period when sales were the highest.
“The client had been eyeing them for almost a year. When he found them in stock, he bought them as a holiday gift to himself.”
Reduction in foreign travel is also pumping up luxury spending. Normally, people would travel abroad and buy gifts from places like Dubai, South Africa or London. “With travel being reduced to a naught, people began seeking out locally stored luxury products. Lucky for us, we are in a position to cater to this kind of clientele,” says Ashley Njuguna, who has been with Patrick Mavros for six years working as a sales assistant. They met and grew their sales target by 10 percent from 2019.
Our interview is interrupted twice by buyers who leave the store with gift boxes carrying earrings and pendants crafted by a member of the Mavros family. One is a birthday gift and the other is an anniversary celebration gift.
Limited spending opportunities also stirred up an affinity for luxury as it resulted in increased disposable incomes. This has seen shoppers gravitate towards premium products.
“There’s a great desire for luxury items especially among middle to affluent Kenyan women and men. For women, they save then come and buy something that makes their heart sing,” Ms Freemantle says. The Pangolin, Sea urchin and petite sea urchin earring collection which costs Sh19,000, Sh24,000 and Sh15,000 respectively lead to the sales charge.
For the men, they want to wear something more than cufflinks whose price range is between Sh17,000 and Sh23,000. “We’re receiving requests for sterling silver chains and bespoke pieces,” Ms Njuguna says.
Patrick Mavros has also had to expand its product offerings. Known to make pieces from mostly silver, the collection now includes gold and stone cut pieces to cater to the Kenyan-Indians.
While all the above factors help explain the pandemic splurge on luxury products, social media played a big role in ensuring businesses kept in touch with their clients. At odAOMO, which also has a store in New Orleans, US, they organised a virtual fashion show, showcasing an upcoming collection in Nairobi.
“This laid a good foundation for the following months’ sales,” reveals Ms Ngatia, who adds that online sales in the American store did “very well”. Additionally, they hosted virtual shopping experiences.
At Patrick Mavros, social media tools do more than engage clients. They lead to major conversions. Ms Freemantle has noted an increase in online sales via their social media pages.
Besides this, businesses are evolving. For example, the clients can book appointments where they have the store to themselves. OdAOMO charges Sh1,000 per hour for a personalised appointment.
To appeal to the local clientele, and promote buy local, Patrick Mavros chose to have their local sales assistance as models for their jewellery. The response was “amazing”. Ms Freemantle says that this led to a 15 percent increase in local clients compared to the previous year. Spending was not only limited to items that make people look and feel good but also to household pieces that turned their houses into homes, creating a pleasant space to hide from the virus.
Nairobi Persian Bazaar is the only store in Nairobi that sells handmade Persian carpets imported from Iran. Prices for such carpets range from Sh50,000 to Sh150,000 and sales have been improving steadily since July.
“People had more time at home and decided to remodel and upgrade their houses,” Majid Khosro, the director says.
“They not only bought carpets but also chandeliers, lampstands, and bespoke mirrors.”
Most of the clients who walked in knew exactly what they were looking for.
“One of our clients was a woman from Karen, Nairobi. She came in, told us the size, colour, and style of the carpet she wanted. We had it and within 15 minutes, she was out the door. No bargaining, no nothing,” he says.
Other clients walked in with money they had saved over the year.
“Persian carpets are expensive because they are labour expensive, taking six to 30 months to make. When someone comes in, excited, to have finally put together enough money to buy one, you know that they understand the quality and value of the carpet,” he says.
The 22-year-old business has also witnessed an increased number of walk-in clients, who through social media have discovered the store.
“People are spending so much time on social media and had time to call and inquire about the products. This translated to sales on our end,” he says, adding that the reopening of restaurants also grew their footfall by at least 20 percent because people would walk in after lunch and buy something.