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Uchumi Supermarket is back. But are they ready?

By XN Iraki | June 29th 2021

Last week, I shopped at the Uchumi supermarket on Nairobi's Lang’ata road. It was a nostalgic visit knowing all too well the ups and downs the chain has faced. The economy is likely to rebound after Covid-19, and once vaccinations are done. And maybe this is what the board is counting on. There are two other Uchumi branches that have reopened. Reviving Uchumi is a bold experiment and I am willing to write a case study about it. Why is it bold?

Uchumi Supermarket along Agakhan walk in Nairobi. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

One, when Uchumi was closed down, other supermarkets filled in the gap left. I would love to know how Uchumi intends to win back that market. One of the things they should have done was continue advertising during the closure to ensure customers did not forget what they were about.

I also believe that Uchumi is taking a bold approach because in competitive fields like supermarket chains, the market is very unforgiving. It rarely gives you a second chance. Some firms change their names to get a new lease of life. Should Uchumi have done the same?

Uchumi should learn from political parties where once gone, they rarely get a second chance. Our politicians know that and keep founding new parties. You will likely witness a flurry of new parties as we head to 2022.

Additionally, the key to revival of Uchumi is attracting talent in all functional areas; from accounting, finance, operations, marketing to supply chain. You need to give such employees good incentives. Luckily, high unemployment rates means such talents could be easily available.

Uchumi should better operate like a startup with minimal costs. Closely related to new talents is suppliers. Will they nurture and patiently guide Uchumi to recovery or demand payment in advance for their wares? 

Uchumi’s shareholders should also inject more capital. Being a listed company, that is a good option but few shareholders would invest their money amidst a pandemic. Is the government, as a shareholder, ready to bear the risk on behalf of other shareholders? Did the old supermarket learn from its past mistakes?

If not, they are bound to repeat them. Would they also consider reviving Uchumi then 'fattening' it for sale? The distilled truth is that reviving Uchumi will tax its shareholders, the managers and scholars. It’s an interesting experiment to watch from the periphery and in good faith. 

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