In Summary
  • They have built on the county government’s efforts to promote the county as an alternative business and investment destination of choice, with some pooling resources to invest in areas that cater for the fast-growing middle class.
  • But perhaps the most notable development is the five-star Gelian Hotel, whose owner, Mr Alphonse Kioko, says that he had foreseen the town’s growth three years earlier.
  • With class comes fashion and style. And to serve this market, Catherine Mwende Nyumu, a Dubai-based businesswoman, opened Fashion Theatre in Machakos in April 2015. Unlike other fashion outlets and clothing stores, Fashion Theatre stocks high-end ladies’ and men’s clothing and shoes, children’s clothing and shoes, cosmetics and beauty products.

It is about 6pm and dusk is falling in Machakos Town. The usual heat that marked the better part of the day is waning and most people are heading home.

However, there are those who have been waiting for nightfall so that they can go shopping. They are happy that shops now remain open until 8.30 pm, which allows them to avoid crowds and visit supermarkets between 6pm and 8.30 pm, unlike in the past when shops closed at 6pm.  

Most of these evening shoppers are young and classy, the growing middle class in Machakos with disposable incomes. They are either single or young couples with one or two children, drive the latest cars and have love the finer things in life. They prefer shopping in the evenings when there is less traffic at the malls, enabling them to enjoy peace and a sense of security.

It is this class of people, among the town’s estimated one million dwellers, who are redefining Machakos Town and its economic fortunes. This is the niche that upcoming modern shopping malls, prestigious estates within the town such as Muthini and Vota target, and the potential is huge.

Aware of this potential, new investors are flocking to Machakos Town and setting up shopping malls, coffee shops, lounges, bars and entertainment joints, urban- wear boutiques, restaurants and supermarkets. This has seen Mulleys Supermarkets open three outlets, Naivas two outlets, and the setting up of The Sartaj Mall (which is owned by a group of local investors), among other developments.

But perhaps the most notable development is the five-star Gelian Hotel, whose owner, Mr Alphonse Kioko, says that he had foreseen the town’s growth three years earlier.  “I knew that business would move to the counties, and Machakos was challenged since it did not have enough accommodation facilities,” he says. So he built Gelian Hotel, which boasts 75 rooms, two presidential suites, five conferencing halls with modern teleconferencing technologies, and three bars, including a roof-top one, among other features.

“The facilities and service had to be comparable to what patrons will find in other five-star hotels,”  Kioko says.

With a state-of-the-art gym, massage spa, sauna and steam bath, the hotel has brought luxury living to Machakos.

“Some of these facilities took long to take off, but we are now seeing a growing number of business people and professionals, especially the younger generation, becoming regular clients,” Kioko says.

MALL FOR THE MIDDLE CLASS

The proximity of Machakos Town to Nairobi — about 64 kilometres — was another factor that informed the location of the five-star hotel. “It takes an hour to drive time from Nairobi to Machakos, so it is the ideal place for a weekend get-away from the city but in an urban setting,” Kioko offers.

As a result, Machakos has become an alternative for those who previously spent their weekends in Naivasha or Embu.

With class comes fashion and style. And to serve this market, Catherine Mwende Nyumu, a Dubai-based businesswoman, opened Fashion Theatre in Machakos in April 2015. Unlike other fashion outlets and clothing stores, Fashion Theatre stocks high-end ladies’ and men’s clothing and shoes, children’s clothing and shoes, cosmetics and beauty products.

Ms Nyumu’s target market is the middle-class shopper who would travel to Nairobi to get quality stuff. “I select the finest quality and ship directly from Dubai, Turkey, the US, UK and India,” she offers.

The prices too, are competitive. “Machakos is growing at a very fast rate and everyone needs quality. But quality comes at a price even though we try to be more affordable compared with similar shops in Nairobi,” explains Ms Mwende. She dresses the who is who in Machakos Town, from the elite business people to bankers, teachers, and visitors. Business has been good in the last one year and the outlook is promising, she says.

Of the new malls, Sartaj is an ultra-modern, five-storey, mixed-use commercial complex. It stands out, not because of its size, but because it houses a classy and modern retail store, Massmart Supermarket, which targets middle-class clients who drive and allows them to access many services in one place.

“Because of our location, we know that the driving client who does not want to shop in congestion and wants an exquisite place will easily find us, says the owner of the supermarket, Mr Peter Leparachao.

Sartaj Mall has an underground parking lot that can accommodate 700 cars. Amenities at the mall include: a 100-bed capacity hospital, a chemist, a deli cafe, bakery, liquor store, butchery, grocery, children’s play area, and an ATM lobby, among others.

But Massmart will have to face fierce competition from established retailers such as Naivas and Mulleys Supermarket, which have been in the town longer.

“We are not worried. So far, business has been good,” says an undaunted Leparachao, who has vast retail experience, having worked at Tuskys Supermarkets. He is already thinking of opening another outlet.

“Machakos town has the fastest-growing middle class in Kenya due to its proximity to Nairobi,” Leparachao says, adding that this  makes the town a promising market, which has attracted investors, pushing up the demand for space and housing.

But it is the peace and low level of crime in the area that has attracted many “outsiders” to settle in the town. “Besides, Machakos is generally perceived as the cleanest town in Kenya. People recognise these small efforts,” Leparachao says.

Another notable development is Ebony Coffee House, which opened last October. Located not far from Massmart, it is the place where he young and classy meet to catch up and talk business.  The owners, Solomon Musia, John Kioko and Job Solomon, say there was an ugent need for an exclusive coffee shop in the town to respond to the urban culture that has come with the middle-class.

“This market wants an exclusive place, complete with Internet connection, where they can hang out and sip cappuccino as they talk business,” says Musia. The coffee shop has found a niche market in bank employees and universities setting up base in the town, which is also the county’s headquarters.

To ensure that their patrons enjoy the same quality of coffee as that served in Nairobi, they hired a qualified barista to train their staff for the first three weeks. They now make a variety of coffee drinks, milkshakes, pastries, pizza, and fresh juices. This has seen a good market response, as a coffee culture is growing in the town. “The business broke even right from the first month. We are thinking of opening a second coffee shop within the town centre,” says Mr Kioko.

PERKS OF DEVOLUTION

The main challenge is the many licences that small business owners have to obtain from the county government. They include one for solid waste management, a service that Kioko says they pay for but the county government does not provide.

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