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Why were giant supermarkets named 'Something Mattresses'?

How mattresses could make small shops grow into erstwhile retail chain giants is a puzzle. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

What do erstwhile retail giants Tuskys and Nakumatt have in common?

They trace their roots to Nakuru County, where they used to sell mattresses, hence the “mattresses” in their trading names.

Mr Joram Kamau Kago founded Tusker Mattresses back in the 80s as a simple shop originally known as Magic Store in Nakuru town, selling mattresses. 

And Nakuru Mattresses, which started from two stores in Nakuru town in 1978, initially specialised in mattresses and clothing.

Mr Kamau had a good working relationship with Nakuru Mattresses’ founder, Mr Mangalal Shah, with the latter supplying Tusker Mattresses with goods that were nearing expiry. Mr Kamau would buy the goods on credit, then sell at low prices.

The partnership saw the Tusker brand grow exponentially to expand to Nairobi’s OTC area, with Mr Kamau’s brother, Mr Peter Mukuha Kago, taking over the Nakuru premises to start the Naivasha Self Service Stores (now Naivas).

Nakuru Mattresses was founded by Mangalal Shah. [David Njaaga, Standard]

How mattresses could make small shops grow into erstwhile retail chain giants is a puzzle.

Retail Trade Association of Kenya (Retrak) Chief Executive Wambui Mbarire says back in the day, Nakuru Mattresses and Tusker Mattresses were generally the only places you could buy mattresses in Nakuru town.

“They used to specifically sell mattresses, knitting wool, needles and crochets,” says Ms Mbarire.

But how did mattresses propel the small shops to become retail giants considering that they are not fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG)?

“Mattresses are not in the FMCG line, but it is an essential commodity because people need to sleep,” says Mr Jayesh Patel, the Jumbo Foam Mattresses Managing Director and Kenya Association of Manufacturers Chairman for Nyanza and Western region.

The necessity of a mattress cannot be gainsaid considering that whenever one moves into a new place or starts life on their own, especially in the city, it is the first key item on the budget.

“It is one of those items that you keep replacing, especially if you look at the low-income and slightly middle-income earners who go for the quality that needs replacing more often,” says Association of Suppliers Kenya Chief Executive Ishmael Bett.

For high-income earners, however, replacement of mattresses is not a regular thing because they go for quality.

To break it down, if two fresh graduates in the city go for a low-quality mattress at the age of 25 after landing new jobs, it means they might have to buy a new mattress annually.

By the time they get married and start a family, at say the age of 30, they would have bought 10 mattresses between them if they replaced them yearly.

Naivas Supermarket, Nakuru. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

Once they start a family, with the average fertility rate being at 3.3 children per woman last year, the household would need four mattresses within a few years of marriage.

These should again be replaced annually or every two years. This excludes when the children move to college or high school, where they will be required to buy mattresses, which also have to be replaced periodically.

Add hotels, hospitals and other facilities that offer boarding facilities into the mix.

Mr Patel looks at the growth of these supermarkets as any other in the retail sector.

“With Nakumatt, it is like you would start a business and your first line of product is mattresses and then you realise there is good money in it,” he says.

“Nakumatt basically started selling mattresses then slowly went into retail. But mattresses per se have nothing to do with how they have grown,” he says. “Retail business is lucrative.”

He gives an example of a kiosk that can make a margin of 15 to 30 per cent depending on the items sold.

“The good part is it sells cash,” adds Mr Patel.