Obsolete in the digital era: Nakuru's movie shops and cyber cafés struggle to survive

Kevin Karani, a Nakuru resident who runs a film shop in Nakuru Central Business District

Kevin Karani, a Nakuru resident who runs a film shop in Nakuru Central Business District, during an interview where he shared the challenges they face in the digital age to keep the business afloat.

Photo credit: Mercy Koskei | Nation Media Group

Nakuru's once bustling movie shops are facing an existential threat as the advent of streaming technology casts a dark shadow over the once-popular establishments, leaving them grappling with dwindling clientele and low sales.

Kevin Karani, an alumnus of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat), is one such owner facing the challenges of adapting to the digital revolution.

Karani's video store in Nakuru's central business district was once the go-to place for locals looking for the latest blockbusters and classics.

He ventured into the movie shop business in 2014, while pursuing his Bachelor's degree in community health and development.

With Sh50,000 in savings and parental support, he bought a desktop, TV screen and other essentials and rented a single house in Juja, which he converted into a movie shop.

The densely populated student community made Juja an ideal location, and within a month Karani's business was gaining traction, raking in an impressive Sh5,000 a day.

Kelvin Nginge who runs a film shop in Nakuru Central Business District attends to a customer during the interview.

Kelvin Nginge who runs a film shop in Nakuru Central Business District attends to a customer during the interview.

Photo credit: Mercy Koskei | Nation Media Group

"In 2014, the equipment was not expensive. I was able to attend my classes and later opened my shop. I had a lot of customers because many students like to watch movies," he said in an interview.

Challenge of finding employment

After graduating, Karanai returned home to Nakuru, but faced with the daunting challenge of finding employment, he thought of getting back into the movie business.

"After returning home, I applied for a job without success. I couldn't just sit around, so I decided to do what I was good at," he said in an interview. He needed more than Sh100,000 to start a movie shop in Nakuru's Central Business District (CBD).

After consulting his parents and using another Sh50,000 from his savings, he secured the remaining funds to open his new shop in Sokoni Plaza in 2018.

But a year later, the business took an unexpected turn in 2019 with the advent of the digital age.

Where he once earned Sh5,000 a day, the landscape changed.

Streaming services and widespread internet access changed consumer behaviour and daily earnings now fluctuate between Sh1,000 and Sh1,200 daily, depending on customer traffic.

He has embraced technology by setting up a WhatsApp group to disseminate information about newly released movies and series, creating a rapport with his clientele who willingly join.

Busiest days

Serving customers mainly between the ages of 22 and 40, his busiest days are Fridays and Saturdays when he sees 20-30 customers, and weekdays, when he sees 15-20 customers.

"A lot of people have internet in their homes, streaming services like Netflix are cheap, and they can also download movies and series. We now take advantage of the fact that not all movies are on Netflix. I have repeat customers and walk-ins. Business picks up when students are on holiday," he explains.

Despite the challenges, he maintains a cheerful demeanour and aims to keep customers happy and coming back for more.

Salam Gichuki, another movie shop owner, is in a similar predicament.

Operating in the CBD for the past five years, Gichuki admits that his daily earnings have dropped significantly from Sh7,000 to less than Sh3,000.

WhatsApp group

He too relies on a WhatsApp group to connect with customers, discuss preferences and share updates on new releases.

"There was no competition when we started. The business has dropped by more than half. The sales we made two or three years ago are now a quarter of that. Even the number of returning customers is decreasing every day. But I have potential customers who keep coming back," Gichuki told Nation.africa.

For Erick Cheruiyot, owner of a cyber café along Moi Road in Nakuru, the business has been challenging for the past four years.

The evolution of technology and the increased accessibility of the internet have had a negative impact on his business.

Although the number of cyber cafés has dwindled, Cheruiyot's establishment still serves those who do not have internet access at home or those who want a different environment to work or socialise.

The business has gone from serving at least 50 customers a day to barely 10.

But Cheruyoit continues to provide essential services such as document printing, scanning and photocopying.

"People have gone digital, which has affected our business. Those who do not have smartphones are our biggest customers," he said, reflecting on the evolution of technology.