Why East African supermarket chain Nakumatt launched a cosmetics division

Earlier this year East African retailer Nakumatt announced an exclusive deal with global cosmetics firm Revlon. The deal made Nakumatt the only supermarket chain in Africa allowed to sell the full range of Revlon products. Nakumatt lifestyle category manager, Sonali Shah, told How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi more about the deal and why the group established a new cosmetics division.

Sonali Shah

Sonali Shah

What were the reasons behind the deal with Revlon?

I came into Kenya about a year ago and I realised that there was not really a formal market to buy cosmetics. There was not really a place where you could buy the cosmetics and go there a second time and get the same product… so, I approached Nakumatt… I joined them to launch a cosmetics division.

We started with Revlon because it is a brand that is very well known to Kenyans and it is also a brand that has come and gone out of Kenya. It is also the number one selling brand in Africa; it’s a very affordable and quality product. We decided to launch our division with Revlon, but Revlon is just one of the brands that are going to be within our entire cosmetics division. Revlon is just the beginning.

What other foreign brands do you intend to bring into this market?

I won’t be able to tell you that right now, but you will see them coming into the stores very soon. Revlon was very good to us; they believed in us and they believed in the Kenyan market and they took the first step. Now, after Revlon, all other brands want to come on board.

For this year we want to focus on Kenya. We will be looking at the rest of East Africa in 2014.

How has the new cosmetics division performed since the launch?

It has done remarkable. It has really surpassed all our expectations. Although we have only launched in two stores in Nairobi, we will be launching in four more stores in the next couple of months.

Why are you so confident that Nakumatt’s new cosmetics division will work?

One, we are Nakumatt; our customers expect to find everything under one roof. So, it is perfect when you go into a store and you are able to buy your bread and your milk but you are also able to buy your lipstick just before you go on a night out.

Secondly, we have the best locations… and we are the anchor tenants in all the locations that we are in. I think locations play a big part; it’s all about convenience and going into one store and finding everything there.

Thirdly, whatever [brands] we bring in, we bring it in through a legitimate source. We would never ever bring it in through a third party… Because we are dealing with Revlon directly our customers have that trust that it is not a counterfeit product. Kenyans are very scared of counterfeits coming into the market and the government has therefore really tightened the barriers to entry for cosmetics brands, but rightly so because [people] were worried about all these fake brands coming from Thailand and China and all over the world.

How does the division fit in with Nakumatt’s overall strategy?

It fits in very well with our whole set-up and strategy for the next ten years. We are moving into the departmental store phase; so we want to make sure that we are not just looked at as a supermarket. I think it was the one division we were not exceeding customers’ expectations and now we have customers thanking us every day that they can come and buy the products and get beauty advice.

Describe the challenges you face running this division.

Our biggest challenge is human resources; finding qualified individuals in this particular field is very difficult. It is very difficult to find the right calibre of people.