Interview with Tusker Mattresses Ltd Group CEO, Mr. Dan Githua

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Tusker Mattresses Limited, popularly known as ‘Tuskys’, is a leading Kenyan retail chain. It is one of the largest supermarket chains in the Great Lakes Area, employing nearly 7,000 people in select parts of East Africa. Tusker Mattresses Group CEO, Mr. Dan Githua explains how the franchise has maintained its clout and influence in the region amidst strong competition from rival brands.

Tuskys is one of the biggest and leading supermarket chains in Kenya. Are there any plans for further expansion in the near or distant future?

Looking back from our humble beginnings in the early 80’s there’s no doubt Tusker Mattresses has scaled the heights of entrepreneurial success. However, inspired by the vision of our Founder, the late Mr. Joram Kamau, who was a prolific businessman in Nakuru, we still hold the vision to be Africa’s leading retail solutions provider. Today, we are East Africa’s largest formal trade player with 64 branches in Kenya and Uganda. We are alive to the fact that we cannot afford to be complacent or rest on our laurels. For this reason, we have plans to enhance our service offering, redouble our customer experience and also expand our footprint to more than 100 stores in the next 3 years.

We have also hived off our textile business to play in the market under the brand mavazi. So far, we have 15 mavazi stores in the country and will continue to explore opportunities in textiles and footwear retail.

Tuskys reportedly has partnership deals with other retailers like Jumia. Are these partnerships part of a larger marketing strategy or are they just a seasonal trend?

These partnerships are part of our growth strategy. We have developed a sound strategy that focuses on meeting the retail needs across different touchpoints. The strategy is also founded on a diversification pillar which will allow us to diversify our revenue streams. E-commerce therefore becomes a very key delivery channel to complement our existing brick and mortar outlets. As you are well aware, e-commerce delivery is largely centred on partnerships with infrastructure and solution providers such as Jumia who have a very robust platform and engine across key markets.

Our own e-commerce play www.tuskysonline.com has also gained lots of traction and we see that complementing our revenues from Jumia partnership.

A number of retailers are known to target certain key demographics. Some fast food outlets cater to Kenya’s middle-class while others serve a different variety of customers. What would you say is Tuskys’ target market?

Yesteryear, retailers focused on specific demographics. However, as a contemporary player, we have taken the decision to focus on the latter day consumer. The latter-day consumer cannot be easily boxed into a demographic. The consumer today is aspirational, globally inspired, quality conscious and value driven. This is the consumer we are out to service.

What would you say is one of the biggest problems facing supermarket chains in Kenya today? 

The biggest drawback to formal trade development in sub-Sahara Africa today is not the lack of market. The formal retail penetration is too low to an extent that we believe that this market can still accommodate five more retailers of our size. However, Governments will need to urgently formulate retail development policies. I’ve seen a lot of talk on regulation and I hold the humble opinion that regulation comes on the back of solid policies. Policies that firstly provide recognition to formal and informal retailers and hopefully also outline incentives for the wider ecosystem that supports retail growth. Such an ecosystem includes property developers, supply chain operators, training institutions and finance institutions among others.

Of course, retailers’ development follow infrastructure roll out and vice versa. We need the smaller towns in Kenya and informal settlements in Nairobi to be opened up by roads, and that will incentivize more retail businesses to open there. We aren’t able to create efficiency by doing nighttime deliveries to our stores most because of security-related issues. Its issues that we see the government has opportunities to help retailers become more efficient and create more jobs.

Some retailers in Kenya are unable to contend with stiff competition. How has Tuskys managed to stay ahead despite an increase in new and emerging retailers?

We manage to stay ahead of the curve by focusing on a clinical execution of our operating strategy. The strategy has various oversight mechanisms, checks, and balances that allow us to prudently grow the business and deliver against set targets. Our corporate governance standards and partnerships with our ecosystem partners have also played a key role in our success. We are heavily reliant on enhanced supplier partnerships, human resource development initiatives and extensive information technology adoption to guarantee a superior customer experience while cutting down operating costs including loss control.

Tuskys is planning to roll out as many as 25 of its Mavazi stores countrywide. What is Mavazi and how is it related to the Tuskys brand?

Mavazi is our lifestyle retail brand.  At Mavazi, our customers enjoy an exceptional shopping experience for all their clothing, footwear, and toys among other household items. All the products at Mavazi are carefully selected to meet the needs of a discerning clientele at the most affordable cost. At Tuskys, we are moving to plug existing market opportunities in various categories including the lifestyle clothing segment. Backed by extensive feasibility studies and the pilot rollout of the first few Mavazi stores, we remain confident that the new stores will provide much-needed leverage to secure our market position.

Many large franchises are known for their development initiatives that seek to help local communities. Does Tuskys engage in such programmes and if so, what are they?

We in engage in various social investment programmes. However, our flagship initiative remains the Tuskys Internship Programme. Launched in October 2015, Tuskys is the first and only supermarket chain that offers training for the Retail sector through an internship programme. The initiative is part of our efforts to seal a gaping hole in the local retail sector due to lack of a formal retail management training. The initiative also provides Tuskys with a pool of passionate trainees to support its expansion plans.

At Tuskys, we are committed to providing a solution to the human resource challenge faced by formal retailers through the provision of hands-on training opportunities for local youth. Trainees picked for the internship programme are enrolled at the Tusker Mattresses Sponsored Joram Kamau Leadership School. The School provides academic and practical skills training for entry-level students wishing to pursue formal retail careers. Studies at the Joram Kamau Leadership School cover both elementary and management level retail studies. Already, plans are underway to certify the school’s training curriculum with Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development at certificate, diploma and degree levels. Now in its 3rd year, the Tuskys Internship programme, supported by the KCB Foundation, Ministry of Trade Industry seeks to enlist 10,000 trainees by 2020.

You must have heard about Tuskys Wareng Road Race. This is a cross-country race that we started 15 years ago in Eldoret town and we have supported it ever since. The event happens every year in November and is part of the official Athletics Kenya calendar. Big names that have gone on to win medals have been discovered at this event. Champions like Vivian Cheruiyot, Mercy Cherono and others, were first discovered in that race.

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