This has been a tough year for everyone. From the drought that ravaged our country and made the prices of maize floor and sugar shoot through the roof. To the prolonged electioneering period that made budgeting and estimates go way off the mark. From the banks that had to grapple with rate caps, increase in bad debts and a no-nonsense regulator.
From the election losers in all the positions who are counting campaign resources poured down the drain, to the students who have had to do their exams under a cloud of acrimony and tension. From the ban on plastic bags that rendered some manufacturers redundant to the shake ups in the retail sector and supermarkets.
But the good news is that everyone is trying to move on and improve. For instance, banks are embracing technology to cut costs, while polythene manufacturers are adapting their production lines to produce acceptable bags.
Uchumi Supermarket is no different. Though it has had more than its fair share of challenges, it is now time it rose and embarked on a more positive narrative. Recent developments have shaken up the sector. They include the entrance of foreign based supermarkets, the newfound confidence of the suppliers, the woes affecting Nakumatt, the government’s recent interest in the sector and the emergence of online shopping sites to name a few.
Whereas these challenges are not affecting Uchumi alone, it is in a unique position to survive and thrive. There are many factors that favour Uchumi and its time it rose up to reclaim its proper position. First, it has a history. Though recent news about Uchumi have been all gloomy, there was a time when Uchumi was the go to place for any shopping.
It also has a competent and experienced management led by Dr Julius Kipngetich and has put in place sound management procedures. The penalising and sacking of former managers shows Uchumi is willing to take responsibility for its business malpractices.
It is also the only supermarket that is listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange. This grants it more visibility and the benefits that accrue to companies listed in the stock exchange. Its profits are shared more through dividends and thus more people root for its success.
The government is also willing to chip in when required. Through taxes, dividends and employment opportunities, it is in the government’s interests that Uchumi prospers. The regulatory framework put in place by the Trade ministry also provides a good environment for all retail stakeholders Uchumi included to grow sustainably.
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Suppliers including farmers once assured of timely payments are willing to restock Uchumi shelves. Uchumi can set itself apart as an outlet for local, quality goods and services. It can go online and allow people to shop online and find their goods packed at the nearest branch. It can partner with courier service providers to take goods for a fee to their clients especially corporate, regular customers. It can work with Postal Corporation to ensure that the clients throughout the country who order online can pick them at the nearest post office.
The possibilities are endless. But Uchumi must be aggressive and take charge of its narrative. Though strategic investors and consultants are invaluable, the fire still is in Uchumi’s belly. It has risen from the ashes once. It can rise again and stay up there.