…by Tajudeen O. Ahmed
Kano is the commercial hub of Nigeria north of the Niger, a fact known throughout the world. Its trading activities estimated in billions if not trillions of Naira annually dates way back beyond a millennium or so ago, when Arab traders use to make Kano City a major stop-over point along their trans-Sahara trade route to rest, sell their goods, exchange information and educate the local populace after inviting them to the religion of Islam.
People came from all the neighboring towns and cities both within the country like Maiduguri, Katsina, Zaria, Bauchi etc and outside such as Niger, Cameroon, Benin, Mali and many others, to purchase products or render services of all kinds. Such visitors not only engage in commerce, but also in exchange of information about trends and latest developments in their individual destinations as well. Consequent to these high volume transactions, the old ancient city of Kano assumed an important status as a successful business center not just for its commercial prowess, but as a center of advancement, academics and spiritual learning.
This enviable reputation and position has survived through the centuries till the present day, with each and every company, corporate organization, product manufacturer, service provider etc in Nigeria and the rest of the world, who knows its business worth wanting a piece of Kano by establishing a presence in the old-meets-digital commercial city. Corporate names like First Bank, MTN, PZ, DHL, Samsung, Oando, Honda, Microsoft and several other business entities have their main offices, branches, warehouses, outlets, dealers etc firmly rooted in the state capital or its suburbs.
Business can be very rewarding for corporate players in Kano, especially those who are prudent and have a define mission and vision. Certain outfits like banks, beverage manufacturers, entrepreneurs have thus been seen maintaining their presence for decades, while others have come, been seen and eventually folded up. Anyway, that’s the way the cookie crumbles, right? This brings to mind an interesting development that is currently happening to a particular sector of the consumables in the commercial center.
In the 70s, 80s and early 90s i.e. the close of the second millennium, there was the presence of many supermarkets such as Leventis Stores, Kingsway, Challerams, UTC and many other shopping malls, which provided an alternative market for the middle class and elites in society to visit and do their daily, weekly or monthly shopping in their neat, clean, air-conditioned, calm and serene environment. Such buy and sell points, though with their products slightly more expensive than the typical conventional markets visited by the rest of the people, served a very important role in the economy of all city centers, Kano inclusive.
They were devoid of the usual price hagglings obtainable between sellers and buyers, the sweating which results from the sun heat, the smelly stench of variety of goods on offer, possibility of theft by pick-pockets and vagabonds, getting one’s clothes smeared by loaders carrying all kinds of goods to and from different locations of the market and also getting their feet dirty from the muddy market streets, most of which are hard to keep free from dirt and moisture. Then there is harassment by all kinds of hawkers as well as annoying buzzes from flies and other insects. Oops, not forgetting the display of humans in different kinds of unsightly sicknesses and diseases, some even infectious, begging for alms. Add to all these a few mad man or woman and the market mix becomes picture perfect.
As a result of all the afore mentioned disadvantages associated with going to open air markets, many, especially those who are in the then society’s middle and upper class preferred to go to supermarkets, pay a little more over and above the conventional market prices for their needed goods, products and services. Initially, there were many of them, strategically located in the central business district of Kano. Leventis Store and UTC were all located close to the famous Bata Roundabout, which was bordering the equally famous Sabon Gari Market. Chellarams was about 150 meters away along Bello Road. Kingsway could be found on Murtala Muhammad Way, about a kilometer away from the Singer Market. But with time one by one they all fizzled out due to certain circumstances that were beyond their corporate control.
One of the major factors that saw to their ruin was the collapse of the power sector in Nigeria. Electricity which ensured the powering of the cooling systems such as central air-conditions, powering refrigerators and deep freezers, fans etc crucial to running a successful supermall was nowhere to be found in the required quantity. Power supply from the national grid became erratic, forcing many businesses to slow down and ultimately come to a standstill. This unfortunate development initiated their extinction, since many of their products, especially the foods and cold products units could not be sustained without a constant and steady power supply. Customers to such supermarkets were often disappointed not to find what they went to purchase at whatever price and gradually stopped visiting them.
By the late 80s, beginning of the 90s, there were only one or two of such supermalls existing, even those, barely. When the last one closed, no one actually registered the sad demise of the conglomerate supermarkets. Thus, their names became part of tales of the past, many of them just vaguely referred to or remembered by those who once patronized them with nostalgia. All purchases for daily essentials and other household or organizational requirements returned to the open air markets like Kurmi, Kofar Wambai, Sabon Gari, Singer and several others shops and retail outlets scattered across the nook and crannies of the city.
And so things remained for such big, cosy and conducive roofed-over shopping venues for almost 2 decades, except for semi or celebrated little efforts on the part of some business men and women, which at least kept the memories of similar but bigger outfit refreshed in the minds of the populace. But not for long as the business spirit of the ancient historic and commercial city of Kano refused to remain comatose. Bigger and better shopping malls and centers are staging a huge and even more vibrant comeback. How did that come about?
Which are these supermarkets businesses to hit Kano? Who are their owners as some are owned by single individuals, others by corporate organizations? How did they overcome the stagnancy to bring back the much needed super shopping alternatives to Kano citizens? What are the challenges they faced to achieve this? Which obstacles are they facing at the moment? And how do they plan to keep alive and going, with the prevailing setbacks in the economic sphere of the north? Is the future rosy or bleak for these bold and brave commercial entrepreneurs and corporate entities? So many questions begging for answers, but the good news is the fact that they are back; The Return of the Supermalls!
Their names come in various exotic coinages, sounds and meanings. Some are in the local dialects for example Sahad Store along Zoo Road, Jifatu Departmental Store on Zaria Road, Juji Labu Supermarket on the way to BUK New Site, Dankoli Store situated at Tarauni on Sabo BakinZuwo Road etc. While others have their names in English like WellCare on Hadejia Road, Country Mall that is situated at City Center, Grand Square sits on Bompai Road, ShopTime which is located inside Giginyu Quarters and the still under construction Shoprite, but recently opened and reputed to be one of the biggest of such a venture in the metropolis. One cannot help but wonder, what could have motivated or inspire such a huge comeback by supermarkets to the cityscape of Kano?
A new dawn is being witnessed in this phenomenon which is quite encouraging to those who firmly believe in the corporate existence of one indivisible Nigeria and its future for centuries to come. It goes to show clearly that, where others are migrating out of different cities and regions of the country back to their home towns, some even back to their remote villages, out of fear for unpredictable happenings, there are those whose human spirit cannot be vanquished under any circumstance, not to talk of being easily intimidated or cowered.
In the spirit of true profitable pursuit, instead of keeping off or away from a viable commercial terrain, which will bring to these entrepreneurs and organizations life, progress and prosperity, while enriching the places of their business interactions in a win-win situation, these supermarket owners have set-up shops despite the discouragement being peddled to strangulate the economy of a certain part of the country. We salute their courage and wish them success in their business enterprises.
DesignWorld INTERNATIONAL’s staff went in search of answers to the above posed questions from some of the supermall managers and representatives. Our findings are quite interesting and indeed revealing….
COUNTRY MALL – Waleed Mohammed
When Country Mall debuted in Kano during the 3rd Quarter 2008, most people could not keep down their excitements. Some, because it instantly refreshed with nostalgia their memory of the good old days when supermalls were supermalls. Others, because it was something they have never seen the like of before. Yet, for some few it gave the impression of the genie of Aladdin has moved one of the shop in Dubai down to the old ancient commercial city. Fully owned and managed by its CEO Abdulfatah Mohammed, the supermarket is located at Farm Center along Guda Abdullahi Way. It is sprawled on 2 floors (1st &2nd), with the roof floor providing a 1000 guests capacity Banquet Hall. Inspired by the market potential of Kano and the desire to fill a long overdue vacuum, Country Mall immediately carved a niche and inspired others to follow suit.
DANKOLI STORES – Yusuf Dankoli
Dankoli Stores franchise which originated and grew from a small time business selling electronic products, then kitchen wares and utencils at Kantin Kwari market started in Gwammaja Quarters of Kano about 30 years ago. The supermall located at No. 96 Sabo Bakin Zuwo Road is solely owned by Alhaji Nazifi Umar Dankoli, a Kano business man. His initial incorporated name Nazif Combined Business Limited (NCBL) that eventually transformed into Dankoli Stores had a chain of stores across the entire Northern states of Nigeria selling all kinds of day to day products, sourced locally from wholesale companies and manufacturers to those imported directly from different countries of the world. With 2 similar branches now opened in Kubwa and Gwarimpa of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, Dankoli Stores looks confident into the future as a shoppers haven.
SHOPPING TIME – Idris Sulaiman
Alhaji Abdulkadir Anas Babashi is the entrepreneur behind the Shopping Time name. He started his commecial activities selling materials at the Kantin Kwari Market, where he distribute goods he imported to various dealers and outlets within and outside the materials market through his BBS Investments outfit.The whole idea of opening a big shopping facility came from his various trips abroad, where he noticed such supermalls serving a very important role in the lives of the populace and visitors. And so as a pilot project, the international business mogul opened Number One store on IBB Way in 2009, the success of which led to opening the bigger and much more stocked Shopping Time in 2012 situated at Kawo Bus-stop by Lamido Crescent. The choice of this location was a strategy to provide such a shopping facility to middle class as well as other families surrounding the area.
SAHAD STORES – Mustapha Habib Abbas
Sahad Stores located at No. 2/3 Zoo Road Kano is owned by Alhaji Ibrahim Mijinyawa, an indigene
who started the business from a single shop selling provisons at Daneji in Mandawari Quarters of Kano City about 20 years ago. Transforming the small shop into a supermall formally known as Sahad Stores Limited was due to its gradual success and was inspired by the desire to provide a large conducive atmosphere for individuals and families to buy their daily, weekly and monthly needs. With a branch located at the famous Kantin Kwari market that strictly deals in textile materials, it brings to 3 the number of Sahad Stores in Kano. There are 3 other branches of the store outside Kano. One is located in Dutse Jigawa State capital, the remaining 2 are based in Abuja, one in Garki Area and their latest branch still underconstruction in the Central Area of the Federal Capital Territory. With such expansion projects, need more be said.
GRAND SQUARE – Raphael O. Bamiteko
Fast becoming popular for its ice-cream joint, Grand Square is a sprawled departmental store that sits at the mouth of Bompai Road, directly opposite the famous Kano Club sporting center and the fast-food outlet More & More in Bompai Quarter of Kano’s Central Business District. It is partly owned by Indians who first establish a similar supermarket located on Mohammadu Buhari Way in Abuja. Still relatively unknown, the ultra-modern shopping center has a pharmacy, bakery and a restaurant apart from having the usual household and office items unit. They commenced operation in early 2012, adding to the list of newcomers in the supermall activities in Kano.
At one point, almost the only and the most popular shopping outlet in Kano metropolis. Wellcare, a Lebanese owned shop started on a lucky note not so long ago. And it is said as partners of former Kafal Pharmacy, a medical outlet of repute on Beirut Road. They commenced business next to Daula Hotel on Murtala Mohammed Way and grew rapidly selling the best and original drugs, albeit at very expensive prices, of various pharmaceutical companies from all over the world, in a polity that was saturated with fake and adulterated drugs and medications due to lack of proper control and monitoring of their productions by the responsible agencies of the government. The success of the pharmacy led to diversification into a full supermarket business, selling other household products and items. But eventually, the return of other supermalls, diluted their monopolistic hold upon the Kano shoppers market.
JIFATU DEPARTMENTAL STORE
Upon visiting this supermart, though we were able to meet with its management staff, we were given an appointment only for us to return on the appointed date and our personnel were told that we would be furnished with the necessary information to properly and accurately represent the corporate focus of the business entity and till the time we were going to publication, we were not sent any details.
SHOPRITE ADO BAYERO MALL
Shoprite, a South African business entity just like MTN, is the latest addition to the growing shopping centers in the old ancient city of Kano. With a successful 6,000m2 supermall sprawled in Lagos, they were set to open shop on November 7, 2013 at the Kano International Trade Fair Complex, off Zoo Road, but could not until March 20th 2014, where they are reputed to have built one of the biggest shopping in West Africa. Many have been asking “Why Kano?”, despite all the negative publicity it has been hit with, both in the print and electronic media as of late. A simple answer to that question is the fact that, north of the Niger, both with and outside Nigeria, Kano is the mecca of sort of all commercial transactions.
So it does make a wise business decision for any management of such national and multi-national organizations to choose Kano as the hub of their commercial activities at the dawn of this 21st century. It goes to say, without mincing words that, if the risk is worth taking, a sound business entity has to be bold and take the risk it must to grow and operate at the next level.
We there welcome more of such supermalls to Kano and wish that the profit arrows on their graph charts point upward and outward for always.
It is never a smooth sailing for any business to grow and sustain such growth without facing some daunting hurdles in form of challenges. The shopping malls return is not exempted. Here are some of the issues raised by the few among the supermall managements we were able to discuss with.
Some of the major challenges these super stores are currently facing include among others, the lack of steady and stable electricity which makes it necessary for operators of such shopping business to generate their own power supply at very high cost. This according to Idris Sulaiman of Shopping Time causes a huge setback in their operations. The purchase of diesel for their generating plants to ensure steady electric supply, an important factor of the business, seriously intimidates their profit margin.
Clearly, the establishment of an independent power generating station by the Kano State Government, to compliment the supply from the national grid as being done in other regions of the country, would not only transform the economic fortunes of the state, but will also completely change the way people conduct their activities in the commercial and historic city, most especially in this e-era.
Then there is the issue of shop-lifting by some customers who would come in, steal some items like clothing materials or exchange their old, sometimes damaged shoes with new ones and leave without paying for them. This development when discovered apart from being disgraceful to the persons caught, (and in some instances they are well-to-do and can clearly afford what they have stolen), but is also embarrassing to both the management who detest subjecting their customers to detention and in extreme cases handing them over to the authorities.
Yusuf Ibrahim of Dankoli Stores on his part included competition from rival stores as a major source of concern for the business. He said there are some of the shopping outlets who would often cut down their prices to an incredibly low rate in an effort to attract shoppers even if they would sell at a loss, which though is good for the customers, but is bad for the business. Despite that, optimism about sales can be seen registering on his face.
There is also the issue of high and multiple taxing of the business by government and its various organs. Though the supermarkets may enjoy government support and protection since they are a major source of revenue as they are subjected to paying Federal, State as well as Local Government imposed taxes, many of them hyped upon the high tax charges by the agencies and parastatals, which the operators unanimously agreed upon are quite daunting and discouraging.