China Square: We seek to serve both ends of the marke

Sections of the newly opened China Square outlet at The Waterfront Karen, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

The dust seems to have settled for China Square, the giant retail store that was at the centre of a storm a few months ago.

At the time, even the then cabinet secretary (CS) in charge of the ministerial docket, where the business fell under, did not have a liking of China Square operating in the country.

And he did not hide it. “I’ve today given an offer to Prof Wainaina, the VC (vice chancellor) of Kenyatta University to buy out the lease for China Square, Unicity Mall and hand it over to the Gikomba, Nyamakima, Muthurwa and Eastleigh Traders Association,” said Moses Kuria, then CS Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry in a series of tweets which were later deleted.

His argument was that foreigners are welcome in the country as investors, not traders.

Protests were held, and calls were made to high places that roped in Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

Meetings were called but minutes were never made public, which led to a truce of some sort and, China Square was reopened.

And seven months down the line, a second store is up at The Waterfront Karen.

It was opened in January and this expansion has come with an additional 150 direct jobs.

“We had the first store opened in Kenya in January this year (2023) and now in November, we have our second store at The Waterfront Karen. I think the Kenyan customer really loves us,” China Square owner Lei Cheng said during an interview.

Mr Cheng, Director of China Square, who is also fondly known as Charlie, added that he now has his eyes on every city in the country.

“We are looking forward to next year. If it goes well, we might may expand to two or three more stores countrywide to finalise our planning in Kenya. But that is just a plan,” says Cheng.

He points out that he is not in a hurry either to expand in a similar way supermarkets do. He cites Kenya as an attractive market saying, "We are doing very well," hence the plans to expand in the future.

“This is the vision of China Square because we are not a grocery store, so our size is quite big for a single store.

"We might not have as many (branches) as the supermarkets but let’s say we need to cover all the major cities in Kenya. That is our strategy.”

Unlike the UniCity branch that caused ripples with other Jua Kali (informal) traders in the country who also sell Chinese products, preferred by the masses because of their price points, the Karen outlet is a little different, largely because of its location.

When asked if this is the strategy, to now target the upper-middle and high-class markets, Cheng noted that it should not be necessarily interpreted that way.

“I think we are covering both markets at the moment because we have over 20,000 varieties. Actually, anybody can buy anything they want here."

The two stores are different though. Each has items specifically targeting the traffic visiting its floors.

He explains that while both stores are China Square, they do have slightly different strategies when it comes to customers.

“For example, for electronics, in Karen we keep more high-end models like LG or Samsung kind of products. But at Thika Road, we are looking at value for money products so we are dealing with examples Von or Synix and those types of items which will be more suitable for that market,” he says.

Mr Cheng says China Square’s business model, of having everything you may need at home under one roof, is unique in the country and this has been a key attraction to Kenyans.

“We also have a better environment and clear prices, so you pay for what you look at and, of course, our customer services are up to standard,” he adds. 


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