Inside the Village Market, an iconic mega shopping centre in Nairobi, every business person wants to catch the eye of a customer.
All shops here are permanent but three entrepreneurs are determined to change the rules of the game. They are using pop-up shops, a term used to refer to short term sales spaces where businesses rent space for a short period, usually less than a month, before moving to other outlets. The pop-up shop is a great way to give shoppers a bit of variety in the mall, while helping to introduce talented designers. “The idea of the pop-up shop, from the beginning, was for Village Market to curate a collection of Kenyan products that would appeal to the 20-35 year old creative community. This came up because of the success of the Kitenge Festival a number of years ago and the vibe it created. It also gives small emerging designers, who don’t have much product, a variable amount of space to get started,” said Mr Hamed Ehsani, Managing Director of The Village Market. Since opening its doors in 1995, Village Market has revolutionised the shopping experience and has become a leader in retail, entertainment and attractions. Village Market is one of the top tourist destinations in the country as well as one of the most recognizable brands. Village Market opened its doors to three talented exhibitors, who offer a wide range of fashion jewellery that include necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings at affordable prices. As I walked into the shop, I was ushered in by the lovely, Abeba Sirak, an Ethiopian woman who found love in making jewellery. And it was this passion that pushed her not to renew her contract with United Nations because she wanted time with family and jewels. But to save on costs, Ms Abeba makes beads from her home and uses pop-up shops to sell. She says renting a shop would drive up her operational costs. Therefore, when the Village Market opened its doors for a splash shop, she liked the idea.
“I do not have a shop and I see this as a way of introducing my products to new customers. I am always on the move. I will be here for a month and move to another exhibition,” she says. At the market, her products range from Sh2,500 to Sh10,000. She says that since the products are slightly expensive, she picks on malls and exhibition centres which are secure. Operating under the name Meskel Abeba, her focus is on hand crafted jewellery that combines Ethiopian, West African and Kenyan beads. Meskel, which is an Amharic term meaning ‘cross’ is a cultural icon in Ethiopia. All her jewellery has this feature. She also makes clothes and sells them using the same model. She follows up with customers and sometimes makes home deliveries. Another entrepreneur, Lucille Atiamuga, has also embraced this model. Eight years ago she founded Lukagwa African Art & Jewellers and now makes a fortune through pop-up shops. “Every month, we have different things to sell. This month, we are selling jewellery and next month it could be clothes,” says Ms Atiamuga. According to her, since the concept is new in Kenya, she combines pop-up sales with online shops. She adds that having a brick and mortar store is expensive and eats into the returns of the business. “We may be here (The Village Market) for a short time but the network one creates is enough. One should not only focus on sales alone but look at the networks fostered,” she says. Overhead costs Her company specialises in making high end afro-centric fashion jewellery from recycled glass and bones. Most of her products such as necklace, bracelets, broaches, cufflinks and wedding souvenirs are imported. Within the same shop, another business, Kipato Unbranded is also selling jewellery. But to any customer, noticing that those are three different entrepreneurs in one shop would be hard. Sonia Iraguha, the Operations Manager at Kipato Unbranded, has only been in this business for a year but she says pop-up shops have helped the business a lot. “We use exhibitions a lot since we do not own any physical shop. We also organise events of our own and also do events in partnerships with restaurants,” says Ms Iraguha. In some events, she says, they spend about Sh15,000 on registration, transport and labour. To maximise on returns, the startup saves on registration fee by partnering with restaurants that in turn benefit from the walk-in customers. This way, the cost of exhibition drops to about Sh5,000. This arrangement, she adds, saves them from paying money to county governments since the owners of the premises are already paying.
Marta Krajnik, the startup’s director said 50 per cent of the revenue goes to artists who design and make the products. Their products are made from local materials such as brass, beads and recycled bones. The three entrepreneurs agree that utilizing pop-up stores, keeping a database of customers together with having an online presence are the few key things that can move a business to the next level.