Only dust, memories linger on in Tuskys last outlet as retailer limps to its deathbed
What you need to know:
- Tuskys only remaining outlet is on Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi (Tuskys Imara) branch — the last branch standing following the closure of the Kenyatta Avenue outlet this week.
Right at the entrance, an oddity sticks out like a sore thumb. There are no security guards to frisk shoppers as they enter the retail outlet, a major departure from the past when contingents of sentries manned the facility.
Inside, patches of broken and missing floor tiles welcome you as well as streaks of empty till counters and dust-covered non-operational CCTV cameras.
Some unkempt commodities such as cooking oil whose containers are dusty, products that have started wearing out on the shelves, missing price tags, and the notably few numbers of attendants across different floors underscore the fact that this supermarket is limping.
Welcome to Tuskys remaining outlet on Tom Mboya Street, Nairobi (Tuskys Imara) branch — the last branch standing following the closure of the Kenyatta Avenue outlet this week.
It is the last of 63 others the once-giant retailer had opened across various cities and towns in East Africa during its heydays.
“Due to unavoidable circumstances, we have had to close this branch. Kindly support our Tom Mboya St Branch, which remains operational. Any inconvenience caused is highly regretted,” a notice left outside the shuttered Kenyatta Avenue outlet reads.
But even at the Moi Avenue branch, there are signs galore of a shop surviving by sheer luck, with only one out of the four floors that are stocked having fast-moving consumer goods, ideally the backbone of a supermarket’s operations.
Only four of the 10 cashier points are working, some shelves are largely empty and many products have been brought by a handful of suppliers. For instance, in the bakery section, the only bread supplied from outside is Festive, only Tuzo and Ilara have supplied milk and many flour brands are missing.
In the shoe section, some pairs have already started aging on the shelves, as have some chairs lined up on the stairs from the second to the third floor. It is the drab, sad, and shabby look of a has-been in Kenya’s vibrant but treacherous retail industry.
There is hopelessness in the faces of the few workers here. Less than 20 of them remain for a retailer that once employed about 6,000. As the giant sinks to its knees, capitulates, and finally bites the dust, many are the dreams that will die along with it. Among the stock at Tuskys Imara are Nakumatt-branded disposable gloves, a further indication of how the two collapsed retailers were joined at the hip.
Both had their humble beginnings in Nakuru City. Both grew into retail behemoths. Both were accused of money laundering through collapsed Charterhouse Bank. And both went under with billions owed to hundreds of creditors.
In brighter days, Tuskys could afford to pay millions on security, spying on competitors and rogue staffers. Today, it cannot even afford to keep CCTV cameras operational at the Imara branch, or even repair damaged tiles that pose a safety threat to shoppers.
Two years ago as the retailer was barely crawling, CEO Chadwick Okumu announced a weekend sale whose proceeds he hoped to use to jump-start Tuskys by focusing on fast-moving consumer goods.
Just as fossils in Turkana County are proof that the Homo Erectus once walked these lands, the Imara branch along Tom Mboya Street now stands as the only evidence that an elephant with green tusks once ruled the roost in East and Central Africa.
The building that hosts Imara, possibly the only asset that is directly owned by the collapsed retailer, has been a target of Equity Bank, which seeks to recover a Sh650 million debt. Mr Okumu’s plans did not pan out.
A handful of people now walk the aisles that were once chock-a-block with shoppers whose money fattened Tuskys’ bank accounts. The little that is left of Tuskys rests on a judge’s decision as dozens of creditors in the form of suppliers, landlords, banks, and ex-workers support a petition to liquidate the retailer.
The insolvency petition filed by Hotpoint Appliances in 2020 is still pending determination before the High Court in Milimani, Nairobi. Interestingly, Hotpoint products like television sets are on sale at Imara. The appliances are, however, stock that was supplied before the two entities fell out in 2020.
Unsecured creditors such as suppliers, landlords, and ex-employees are owed at least Sh19.6 billion, court disclosures have revealed.
“Manufacturers and suppliers are yet to receive pending payments to date, following the insolvency cases that were filed in the High Court in Nairobi,” the Kenya Association of Manufacturers told Nation yesterday.
Tuskys’ assets are estimated to be worth just over Sh6.6 billion.
This means liquidation will see creditors taken to the cleaners for Sh13 billion, exclusive of the legal fees they have burnt in seeking to put the retailer out of its misery. In 2021, there was a glimmer of hope when Tuskys announced that a mystery foreign investor was looking to inject Sh2.1 billion into its operations.
But a Sh500 million initial cash release is all that ever came of it. Not even a court order issued by Justice Francis Tuiyott could convince its owners to reveal the mystery investor’s identity.
Whichever the case, the investment deal appears to have collapsed. In hindsight, the Sh2.1 billion promise would not have done much.
At the time, suppliers whose due debts were at Sh6 billion did not want to negotiate an extension on repayment and most landlords had already resolved to kick Tuskys out of their properties regardless of whether pending rent would be paid in full.
As of February 2021, Tuskys only had Sh41 million in a single bank account, but even that was frozen on account of four court cases seeking payment of debts.