Village Market, in Nairobi, Kenya, is the first shopping centre in Africa to offer its customers a FEC (Family Entertainment Centre) with a playground for all ages. It is “Under The Sea”, a leisure area with two spaces, one for children from 2 to 12 years old, and another for children from 12 years and up. A project designed and themed by Amusement Logic, surrounded by corals and sea creatures, with a submarine, a giant octopus, a workshop area, a stage for shows and various spaces destined for the celebration of birthdays and parties. And all this in a city that is far from the sea.
We offer you the interview we did with its Director, Mr. Hamed Ehsani:
Amusement Logic: What brought you to Kenya?
Mr. Hamed Ehsani: When I arrived in Kenya with my family in 1979, business was the last thing on my mind. At the time, we were visiting my brother Mehraz Ehsani who was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and thereafter we would travel to Australia which was our ultimate destination. However, as fate would have it we fell in love with the beautiful country and decided to stay and make it our home.
A.L.: How did Village Market come to be?
H.E.: In 1992, as my brother Mehraz and I drove to a golf course through Gigiri, we got
the idea of constructing a shopping and recreation facility in the area which was largely under a coffee plantation. Our vision was to provide a shopping and recreation experience for residents, diplomats, expatriates and tourists who lived and worked in the newly zoned Diplomatic District and its immediate environs. Construction began in April 1992 with a proposed 10 shops. The mall concept was still very new to Kenya. Three years later we opened Village Market’s gates to the public, and as they say the rest is history.
A.L.: Can you please share some general figures of Village Market?
H.E.: Today the complex covers over 700,000 square feet of lettable space, with more than 250 shops, restaurants and services and has seen over 7 phases of expansion, making it a vibrant lifestyle centre in the region. The recently completed new retail section of the mall added 230,000 square feet of lettable retail space to the development’s footprint, yielding an additional 100 new shops to the complex. Also included in the new phase is a 215-room urban business and 500 pax conferencing hotel, and a 30,000 square foot gym – the largest in the region. Other pioneering new concepts include a first of its kind Food Market, an Outdoor lounge, 11 lane Brunswick Village Bowl facility, Glitch virtual reality gaming arena, Ballpoint social club, an ultra modern medical centre and the award winning Tribe Hotel, a luxury boutique Hotel. The shopping complex provides employment to over 6000 people, both directly and indirectly.
A.L.: The retail market in Nairobi has experienced an important growth lately. How do you defend yourself in this competitive environment?
H.E.: Over the last 25 years, we have maintained a brand our shoppers and visitors have grown to expect. Just like in a bustling city, our shoppers appreciate change or else they get bored of having the same experience over and over. That is why Village Market is committed to innovation and the advancement of the retail and real estate sectors in Kenya. We achieve this by constantly improving the shopping centre’s overall offering and keeping up with the times and trends in the global space. These have been the key elements that have formed Village Market’s evolution from the city’s first food court, to the introduction of several firsts, for instance: a variety of dining experiences at the Foodmarket and Courtyard; local and foreign fashion brands; and family friendly entertainment and recreation facilities.
A.L.: How different is the retail market in Kenya in comparison to other parts of the world?
H.E.: Kenya is on the verge of an economic renaissance, with the discovery of significant resources, the growth of the technology and mobile sectors, and the expansion of the country’s industrial base. With this growth, the appetite for lifestyle centres offering quality consumer goods, luxury products and entertainment options has also increased – our vision is to continue growing with Kenya. The current evolution in tourism for Kenya is in Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) – there is massive potential for Kenya to develop this sector and become a regional hub for conferencing and as a result we have built and continue to build the infrastructure to support this advancement including world class accommodation.
A.L.: What are the main reasons for your visitors to come to Village Market?
H.E.: Shoppers are assured of access to variety and choice in every aspect be it food, shopping, leisure, fun, health, fitness, financial and other services that they may require in their day to day life.
A.L.: Why did you add the “Under the Sea” entertainment centre?
H.E.: This was an idea that aptly gave the mall an opportunity to take care of the entertainment and educational needs of the very young. The concept was also a first in Africa. Under The Sea Children’s Indoor theme park was a great addition to Village Market’s recreation centre. The indoor playground attracts a younger demographic group and offers activities that are very unique and different to what is in the Kenyan market.
A.L.: What is the greatest difficulty in operating such an entertainment centre for children?
H.E.: Under the Sea theme park is both educational and entertaining with magical and memorable moments for both kids and adults. The greatest challenge is managing larger crowds while maintaining the state-of-the-art ambiance, as well as ending kids play time when their time is over to allow others in. Our rates are 3 hours-based, but we always end up allowing the kids to play and leave at their pleasure. For us, family moments come first.
A.L.: What are the main challenges you expect for the near future?
H.E.: Kenya’s political landscape is pretty unpredictable, and other issues that affect businesses at macroeconomic levels such as the recent removal of the cap on bank interest rates to borrowers, the reduction of the Central Bank of Kenya’s prime lending rate from 9% to 8.5%, and the Government’s commitment to meet its financial obligations. Once these challenges are resolved, we expect to see a rise in the consumer-spending confidence level this year, as well as improved disposable incomes that are primarily responsible drivers for such luxury spending. There is also the element of terror alerts that warn the public to keep away from busy public areas including shopping malls, which we have to occasionally grapple with. We are however confident in Kenya’s future; we want to be a positive force in the retail and entertainment sectors of this economy and its development as an economic power-house in Africa.