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What has kept Gilani’s Supermarket going for the last 47 years

By Kennedy Gachuhi | June 8th 2021
Gilani's Supermarket in Nakuru town. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Nakuru is considered the birthplace of supermarkets in Kenya. Naivas Supermarket as well as the collapsed Nakumatt and the struggling Tuskys all started in Nakuru before setting up branches in other parts of the country.

Gilani’s Supermarket, the iconic retail store, also started in Nakuru where it has been in operation for the last 47 years. The supermarket stands tall even as some major stores shut down.

Gilani’s, located along Club Road off Kenyatta Avenue, is a family business. The store was started as a grocery store by Ghulam Hussein, then located along Pandit Nehru Road. Ghulam would later be joined in the business by his two sons, Salim and Nazmi. The supermarket is currently under the leadership of the family’s third generation.

The current CEO, Faiz Gilani, attributes their success to a strategy where members of the family take over its management

“Almost every member of the family has worked in the supermarket. Even those who have gone ahead to establish their own businesses started by working for the family business. We have all been encouraged to do this. The younger members of the family are taken through everything they need to know about the business way before they are allowed to take over,” said Faiz. 

He added: “One of the things we emphasise is hard work. Each family member is expected to work just like everyone else. We discourage them from abusing the privilege of being family members, and therefore owners of the supermarket, to mistreat other members of staff or customers. They are deployed just like everyone else.”

“The family has ensured there is a steady supply of manpower. Each member is deployed according to their capabilities and qualifications. Some are good in supply chain management, others are in marketing, administration and customer relations, among others.”

Gilani’s started in 1972 as Gilani’s Agencies. It was based along Pandit Nehru Road in Nakuru town and operated in the mom-and-pop style. 

The building, where the supermarket is housed, has maintained its original architectural design of the 70s with a clock tower spire and palm trees in front of the building.

One may feel the supermarket has not expanded. However, there has been growth. The building has several extensions which have provided extra storage spaces for increased stocks.

Faiz said the good working relationship between family members has contributed immensely to the growth and stability of the business.

“We never try to outdo one another. Our focus is on the growth of the business and satisfaction of customers. We believe in supporting one another as well as the other members of staff,” he said.  

He said the previous directors took time to train the current managers on how to drive the business, especially in the dynamic business environment. Faiz said they were expected to come up with a strategy on how the business will survive in future.

And with all their wealth, one expects opulence when visiting their offices. However, the opposite is true. The family discourages extravagant living to save costs and grow the business. No lavish lifestyles. All the parking slots at the supermarket are reserved for suppliers and customers. You cannot easily identify cars they drive; they don’t stand out. 

Gilani’s started in 1972 as Gilani’s Agencies. It was based along Pandit Nehru Road in Nakuru town and operated in the mom-and-pop style. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

One of the directors, Zahir Gilani, said cost-cutting has been at the centre of their operations.

The success of the business that today has 800 employees has been boosted by cutting out unnecessary spending, he said.

Their offices have the simplest of the furniture. “You will not find leather seats, huge TV screens in our offices. No luxury. We only come here to work with a special focus on our customers who we know deserve good service from all of us,” said Zahir. “It is our tradition to switch off lights even when someone is going out of office just for a few minutes to help us cut down on the costs of electricity. Some of these costs may go unnoticed but they impact the business negatively in the long run.”

One of the things that attracts customers to the supermarket is its relatively low prices. 

“’Lowest Prices Possible’ is the supermarket’s motto. It was passed on from its founder Ghulam. “This has helped us to define our target market and has been at the core of our business. We have made sure that we remain true to this motto,” said Zahir.

He, however, said their endeavour to offer low prices does not mean they sell low quality products. “We always ensure the customer gets value for money. We offer low prices for our goods because we work hard to ensure we get great deals from our suppliers.”

Zahir added: “We ensure the effects of the good bargains trickle down to customers who enjoy low prices. These good bargains are as a result of the good working relationships we have with our suppliers, which includes timely payment for goods delivered, integrity and a high regard for business ethics. We have also emphasised on discipline among our staff.”

Many supermarkets are known to open branches all over the place to tap into new markets, which has been considered a sign of growth. Gilani’s Supermarket does not have any branches. However, the store has taken other measures to ensure it is not disadvantaged by its strategy not to open branches.

It has invested heavily in technology. This has enhanced monitoring of its operations. The store has a system that detects products that are out of stock. This ensures restocking is done way before a customer asks for a product.  

At the same time, the supermarket has taken its business online. Customers are able to make orders through the website or their mobile phone app and have the goods delivered at their doorsteps at no extra cost. 

“That is why you see our trucks all over the country, distributing goods to our customers,” said Zahir. “Expansion is not all about opening branches. Apart from being a retail store, we have diversified into wholesale.”

Nine years ago, the family opened a restaurant and recently ventured into real estate, setting up Nakuru’s tallest building - Tower One.

“We moved from a cash and carry store to wholesale. We have also ventured into distribution and opened a diversified restaurant,” he said.

“We ventured into real estate two years ago. Tower One has already been opened. We have commercial spaces for renting. We have invested in technology to monitor all of our operations in real-time,” said Zahir.

The supermarket’s Chief Communication Officer Fayaz Khan said their close interaction with the business has also boosted its growth.

“The CEO, directors and other managers are never away from the business and staff. Their offices are designed in such a way that they have to go through the supermarket when they report or leave. This way, they are always interacting with staff and customers, to know their needs and this has helped us grow the business,” said Khan.

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