Last week, three siblings — Anil, Sanjay and Dipan Thakkar — cut a ceremonial ribbon to officially open the Chandarana Foodplus 24th store.
It has taken 63 years to get here through grit that fuelled the multi-generational story of an enterprising family. What started as a small grocery shop has since expanded into a thriving family empire.
Now, the second generation of the business is taking it to the next level and plans to open grand convenience stores in Kenya’s affluent neighbourhoods.
Enterprise tells this story.
The story begins in 1959 when Shantilal Mulji Thakkar (father to the three siblings) and his late brother, Nanulal Mulji Thakkar, opened a small shop at a busy corner in Nairobi’s Highridge area.
The layout was that of an over the counter convenience shop and it mostly sold groceries. Shopping was different from browsing aisles and picking items off shelves.
The business pioneer carved out a niche for personalised service in the retail space.
Until his demise in March 2000, he served his customers personally from across the counter, selling grains, Indian powders and spices in brown bags.
The personal attention and seven days a week job was proof of his hard work, dedication and leadership skills.
“His leadership taught us discipline, diligence and determination. To be humble and helpful and always put the customer first,” Dipan told Enterprise.
The company has evolved in the last decade transforming from a family-owned traditional grocery business that had a single store into one of Kenya’s most affluent and niche supermarket brands.
In recent years, the company rebranded its “Chandarana Supermarkets” logo from the traditional blue and white to green and white, so it could be integrated with the “Chandarana Foodplus” concept.
The three brothers are now directors of Chandarana Foodplus and they manage the business together as a team to ensure the overall smooth running of the organisation, which is now a modern self-service chain of supermarkets from what their uncle and father left behind.
Their roles include but are not limited to product listing and analysis, finance, marketing, purchasing and maintenance.
Dipan recalls that one of the key things that they picked from their dad is personalised customers service.
“The memory we hold and cherish is the personalised customer service dad showed. He knew everyone and everyone knew him,” he said.
The siblings were incorporated into the business early and were tasked with some duties for which they were later rewarded.
“As kids, we were always expected to help him and learn the daily operations of the business and in return get rewarded with a soda,” recalled Dipan.
Dipan adds that growing up in the business instilled discipline in them.
They were expected to contribute in every stage of the business, whether small or big.
Some of the duties they undertook at the store included receiving goods, stocking shelves, cleaning, tilling, packing and taking goods to customers’ cars.
“It was all about service and with a smile,” said Dipan.
Another key thing their dad taught them was to respect suppliers and ensure timely payments.
“Respecting the supplier and timely payments was another must in his books. The legacy continues, through learning from his leadership skills,” said Dipan.
“Done correctly, it is a reinvention process — the mindset, new emerging skills and aptitudes. Mastering the fundamentals which guide in greater clarity for better communication styles,” Dipan added on the fundamentals of managing the business.
Build slowly and ethically
Unlike other local players, Chandarana has not expanded aggressively since starting operations 63 years ago.
With a total of 24 stores, the three brothers want to change the outlook but with a different strategy.
They plan to open three more stores in the next three to four months; at Riverside, General Mathenge and Thigiri.
Although they have not specified how they plan to fund the expansion, they are categorical the business will remain family-owned.
“The key elements that hold a family together; respect, trust, integrity and teamwork have been quite essential in running the business successfully,” said Dipan.
“We continue growing steadily but with caution, keeping in mind our ancestors’ strategy- the best customer service with great variety, correct pricing and choice,” he added.
The retailer’s newest branch is on Rhapta Road smack in the middle of Parklands and Westlands. What stands out there are the high-end apartments.
These are, perhaps, the perfect clientele for the new branch which has a wine cellar stocked with bottles from Spain, South Africa, Portugal and Israel. The store also has imported meat products, cheeses and sauces.
“For us, Rhapta Road is a great destination and greatly underestimated. The demographics and population density easily justify our decision. They blend in perfectly with our business model,” said Chandarana Foodplus marketing manager Moses Njoroge.
“For the customer, it is a convenient location close to so many homes and away from the busy highway. For someone who lives around there, you can just walk in; no traffic or parking hassle”.
In Nairobi, there are at least 13 such stores in upmarket areas such as Karen, Kilimani and Muthaiga.
Speaking about strategy, Njoroge said that owing to their good reputation, they have received many offers on locations.
“At this point, we have established a very good reputation and many offers come on the table — both for new sites and also for business diversification.” However, they first analyse each offer and choose what works best for them and their customers.
“We are always open and will continue to invest in viable locations. We also invest a lot in strengthening our supply chains to stay ahead of the curve and not get caught up with product deficits,” Njoroge said.