What you need to know:
- Most people shop in the evening as they head home from work, and simply want to dash in and out with their purchases. As a result, many end up shopping at TRM, which is few hundred meters away from Garden City.
Mr George Oketch sits still behind the counter of his snacks shop, ‘Milyas’ Popcorns, staring intently at the entrance of Garden City Mall.
The shop’s location, about 10 metres from the entrance, gives him a perfect view of all visitors entering the mall from the main parking lot.
It is about 12.30pm on a Thursday, but no one has headed his way. Not that there are many people visiting the mall, anyway.
A time like this year, clients would line up, waiting to be served, his business, he says, never disappointed anytime between noon and the fall of dusk.
“But as you can see right now, there is absolutely no one. I am here waiting for clients I am no longer sure will come. When business was good, clients would have formed very long queues here and work would flow all the way to evening,” the shop attendant says.
Even though hopeful that things will start looking bright for the business soon, his figures disagree. He is operating at half the business’s capacity, he says.
“Business started doing badly last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before we recovered from the terrible impact of the disease, the exit of Shoprite Supermarket which drew a lot of buyers has also hit us hard since the number of customers to the mall has immensely reduced,” Mr Oketch says.
The poor state of business within the mall, the trader adds, has affected quite a number of tenants, many of whom have closed down or relocated.
“For those of us who have remained, we had to engage the mall’s management when we could not raise rent and they allowed us to continue operating as we settled arrears,” he says.
The Nation made more than three visits at the mall last week, observing the state of operations around various businesses that have rented space within, as well as talking to the business people.
Walking around the three-floor mall, the clearly low number of visitors shopping or spending their time was negligible.
This is the sad story of the struggle businesses within the Garden City Mall are enduring. At the ground and first floors which are primarily the core of business operations, we are met with locked doors and opaque blinds covering the empty rental spaces after businesses that have since moved out.
We counted more than 30 such shops. The number could be higher.
The mall’s first floor is beleaguered with more than a dozen shops that have been closed down, most of them still bearing names and brands of the businesses that occupied the spaces, while others with tags ‘closed’ on the door. On this floor, closed businesses are almost overpowering the ones in operation and the beautiful sight of varieties of products on display at every store is no longer a thing.
Among the closed shops we identified was a Huduma Centre, where the government offers various services to the public, Brick town, Persian Carpet, Waksi for you, Newx, Premium boutiques, Art caffe, Bath & Body works and The Bepomag among others.
At restaurants that would normally be holding hundreds of customers, there were only attendants in many, while the few which seemed to have clients had merely a handful.
At the far right end entering the mall straight through the main gate, the giant hall which was until last month occupied by international supermarket chain retailer, Shoprite, was a deserted corner. The black shutter doors that have now engulfed the space the supermarket occupied has left a cold feeling and lifelessness for neighbouring businesses.
Shoprite Supermarket was the anchor tenant at the mall, the tenant taking up most space and controlling movement of most clients, and its presence had a huge impact on the operations of other businesses. The supermarket occupied 3,572 square metres of space at the mall.
Its exit has left many businesses in an orphaned state, just when they thought they would start recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We've realised that the problem isn't Covid-19. It’s the exit of Shoprite which has reduced the number of clients flowing to other businesses. There were many customers who would come here for further shopping after visiting Shoprite,” said an attendant at Clinique, a beauty and skincare products shop located at the mall’s first floor.
Shoprite, a giant retailer with a strong footprint and capital muscle around the continent, left the mall less than two years since it launched its operations in 2019. Last year, it announced its plans to close down business operations in Kenya after its investments failed to make business sense, making losses of over Sh3 billion. In January, it closed its doors at Garden City Mall.
“Kenya, with three stores at year-end, has continued to underperform relative to our return requirements,” the retailer said in its financial statements last year.
The space the retailer operated in was formerly occupied by Nakumatt Supermarket, the mall’s anchor tenant between 2015 and 2017, taking up 40,000 square feet space.
When Garden City owner (GC Retail) chased the retailer away over failing to pay Sh48 million rent, it referred to the supermarket as a failed anchor tenant.
“We have received complaints from virtually all the tenants in relation to significant losses suffered as a result of reduced footfall caused by Nakumatt’s insolvency. Nakumatt is effectively a failed anchor tenant,” GC Retail centre manager Edward Mugambi said in court documents as the company sought to eject Nakumatt then.
It told the court that Nakumatt’s poor performance had reduced pedestrian traffic at the mall to less than 10 per cent, saying previously figures were rising by 22 per cent per month, when the retailer was performing.
The exit of Shoprite has now effectively left the mall without an anchor tenant, a critical magnet to pull shoppers, and now the other businesses operating within the mall are feeling the pinch.
Few people would be willing to travel to a mall with the only intention of purchasing a product they can access at other places, but with the presence of a strong supermarket offering a variety under one roof, many end up buying other products they may have needed at shops neighbouring the supermarket. It is this gap that has now led to further suffering by other traders within the mall, now selling to a mere fraction of their usual clients.
And even though another international retailer, game supermarket, is still in operation at the mall’s first floor, traders feel that the brand is still unrecognisable among many shoppers, thus unable to pull trade.
We strolled around Game supermarket on Wednesday evening. It was minutes past 4pm and inside the supermarket, there were no shoppers as the huge hall with its neatly arranged shelves, products on display perfectly untouched and trolleys folded and reserved around the cashiers’ point. Most of the cashier desks where attendants would be sitting receiving payments from clients were empty, as there was no client to be served.
The attendants at Clinique, which is just on the opposite of Game Supermarket said their hope was that the mall gets a powerful anchor tenant who will boost business.
“We have been operating this shop since 2015 when the mall opened, we were growing since more clients were getting to know about this brand, but Shoprite’s exit again seems to have affected the flow of clients,” one attendant said.
The parking area holds just a few vehicles parked closely to the mall entrance, leaving a huge empty field of dark tarmac. Security officers who man the parking lot sat idle.
“At a time like this, we would be having more than 100 customers waiting for us to serve them since we always have offers on Thursdays, as you can see, it’s an empty space,” Timothy Kiplagat, who works at Chicken Inn on the mall’s first floor says.
He attributed the poor business to the closure of iMax Cinema which neighbours the restaurant. He said the restaurant has lost about 20 per cent of its normal clients so far.
“I have noticed that sales for this month have gone down. We are waiting to compute figures at the end of the month to have a clearer picture,” a shop attendant at the mall’s ground floor says, observing that even when Covid-19 was at the peak last year, and January this year, business had been resilient, only to begin flagging at the beginning of February.
When asked how business was fairing, the mall’s management said it would comment “at a later date”.
Among the issues we sought clarification on were the effect the closing down of Shoprite had on the mall and feedback from their tenants with regard to this. We had also sought to know how many tenants had been unable to pay rent due to poor business and subsequent arrangements made by the mall as a facilitatory role and how Covid-19 has impacted its operations.
When it entered the market back in 2015, Garden City sold itself as a mall that would cater for all the needs of the city resident, integrating the residential, retail, and office needs of the current client.
Over 100 stores
In its website, the mall states that it has over 100 stores, houses 215 home owners and residential tenants and has let office space to many, including brewer, East African Breweries Limited (EABL).
Developed by United Kingdom (UK’s) Private Equity firm, Actis, the mall cost well over Sh54 billion to put it up, with subsequent developments still on course. Actis puts the mall’s retail centre space at 50,000 square metres. The developer obtained the 32-acre land on which the mall and its surrounding establishments sit on from EABL in 2011.
In 2018, Actis director Koome Gikunda indicated that the mall was receiving close to half a million visitors per month.
Some argue that the mall got everything but location right. Garden City is located on the right side of Thika Superhighway on your way from Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD). This means that a person coming from town and interested in shopping at the mall has to take a turn at the Allsops roundabout, which is often clogged with traffic, or go up to the Thika Road Mall (TRM) to make a turn.
Most people shop during evening hours as they head home from work, a time many are pressed for time, and simply want to dash in and out with their purchases. As a result, most of the residents of the Thika Road route end up shopping at TRM, which is few hundred meters away from Garden City.
Competing retailers, Naivas and Quickmart supermarkets have also established their shops on the opposite side of the road to where Garden City is.
Its beautiful gardens, neatly kept lawns, aesthetic design and large free space maybe an appealing trait, but it is the flow of customers into the mall that counts for the many business people.