With a master-plan for expansion well and truly underway, The Sarit Centre is firmly cementing its position in Nairobi and further afield as the number one shopping destination
Writer: Phoebe Calver
Project Manager: Kane Weller
It’s been nearly four years since Africa Outlook last spoke to The Sarit Centre, where big changes have taken place in the development of this family-run shopping mall.
New investments have been worked on in abundance, with phase three of its major expansion underway. This part of the development has been designed with three main factors in mind; to enhance the retail and entertainment offering - adding 130 new retail brands, cinemas, restaurants, a gym, and children’s play area - investing in the road infrastructure which surrounds the mall and the complete overhaul and rehabilitation of the existing building.
“We are a unique entity amongst Kenyan malls in the fact that the Owner, Developer, Landlord and Property Manager are all one of the same,” explains Nitin Shah, CEO of The Sarit Centre. “In our industry, you will often see the Owner outsourcing the aforementioned to third party companies, which is not how we want our business to operate.”
It is this structure that has continued to provide The Sarit Centre with a competitive advantage for the past 34 years of operations, preventing other developers from causing a threat to business.
Another key facet in the success-story that is The Sarit Centre is its long-lasting relationships with its tenants and customers, relationships that have been incredibly important to the Mall since opening on 27 April, 1983.
“When we were just eight months prior to our opening in August, 1982, Kenya suffered an attempted coup, at which point we were fully financed and pre-let,” continues Shah. “Unfortunately for us at the time, the attempted coup scared away all bar two of our tenants - leaving us with Uchumi and Text Book Centre - so in order to attract tenants we offered them a refund on any business losses experienced in their first 12 months of operations.”
Slowly but surely the Mall began to gain traction in the country and by the end of 1984, it was fully let and a thriving business. The vast majority of tenants that opened in the early days of The Sarit Centre have stayed with the Mall to this day, and many of the Companies that went on their first foray in retail with the Centre have gone onto become successful with multiple branches of their stores throughout the region.
“Having such a close relationship with our tenants has created an environment in which we have aligned interests with all parties involved,” describes Shah. “Of course, it is in the Centre’s best interests to generate long-term value for shareholders and tenants, meaning we can also deal with issues in a consultative manner.”
When you take into account that the retail market in Kenya is still developing - which does often make for volatile trading - subsequent good relations mean that problems can be easily overcome when goodwill exists between stakeholders.
Shah adds: “Alongside our loyal tenants, we have developed a 34-year long base of loyal customers who are attracted to our convenient location, homely environment and mix of retailers and service providers, as well as our continued focus on customer service.”
Throughout its time in the industry, The Sarit Centre has made a conscious effort to remain ahead of the industry curve. It was the first mall in Kenya to introduce a loyalty card scheme for its shoppers, a programme which now has 15,000 shoppers to its name.
“We have also developed a VIP scheme for our most loyal shoppers,” explains Shah. “In addition to the benefits offered by the loyalty scheme, we are able to offer our VIP members access to their own car park.
“Recently a concierge service has also been introduced as part of the experience at the Centre, where dedicated staff are on hand to assist our shoppers.”
Over the years - both globally and locally in Kenya - the concept of a shopping mall and what it means to customers has drastically changed.
“When we first started in this industry, malls were a place that served as a collection of retailers that would come together to offer a complimentary shopping experience,” describes Shah. “Today, Centres such as our own are serving multiple purposes in society, providing customers with a place to shop, interact with people, eat, watch movies and attend a gym.
“At The Sarit Centre, we have been able to successfully react to this through the periodic expansion of our offering, enabling us to meet our customers’ expectations.”
Over the years the Centre has undergone numerous expansions in order to meet the needs of the market, and in 1997 the Mall was expanded to include Kenya’s first hypermarket, first food-court, cinema and health club. This proved to be a fundamental catalyst in changing the way that Kenyans view shopping malls.
Currently the Company is working on what will be an iconic master-plan, developed by Broadway Malyan, a global practice focusing on architecture, urbanism and design.
“Our master-plan is set to be built over the next 15 years, with the aim of creating a city within a city,” explains Shah. “This harks back to earlier discussions about the services that shopping malls now have to provide. We will combine all of the key elements that a city should have including retail, residential, commercial, exhibition, conferencing, entertainment, eateries, a hotel, water features and trees.”
In the immediate future, the Centre will focus on construction of the main retail, parking, exhibition, conferencing and entertainment areas. Named phase three, it will provide the market with a series of firsts, adding 330,000 square feet of retail space to an already extensive area and providing the Centre with the largest retail footprint in the region.
“To accommodate the needs of this additional retail space, we are building a nine-storey parking silo,” states Shah. “Plans for these parking facilities are drastically different from the original and will provide parking assistance technology and capacity for 1,000 vehicles.
“Excitingly we will also be creating a rooftop garden, comprising 15 restaurants for our shoppers to fully enjoy Nairobi’s year-round beautiful weather after shopping. We will be adapting innovative construction techniques in order to create this, being the first large-scale development in the region to use post-tensioned construction technology.”
The Company has a surprisingly low staff count, standing at 25 in-house staff and outsourcing the majority of services, including security, housekeeping, parking management and waste management.
“The entirety of our staff-base is Kenyan and unlike many companies, the vast majority of those employees have been with us for more than 15 years,” affirms Shah. “Having worked closely together for many years, we have become a close-knit family that has gone though expansions and market evolution together.
“To date we are very pleased to be able to say that staff retention has never been an issue. We strive to create an environment that fosters loyalty, progression opportunities and a sense of pride when working for The Sarit Centre. Even as we expand, we will still be looking to hire from within Kenya as we know there is an incredibly strong talent pool in the country.”
The Sarit Centre has a long and illustrious history in the region and for many Nairobians, they have developed a strong personal affection towards it. Moving forward it is the Company’s hope to be able to maintain that feeling, while also developing what it can offer to old and new customers alike.
“In just three short years, we will have completed the next phase of our master plan - phase three - firmly cementing our reputation as the place to be in Nairobi,” concludes Shah. “With that drive of a strong consultant and contractor team behind us, there is no doubt that the expansion will be a great success and excite our customers for many years to come.”