Kiko Romeo: To New Beginnings

A cursory search for Kiko Romeo on Google reveals how hugely popular the brand is. For the last 20 years, the company has been the poster child of the ‘Made in Kenya/Made in Africa’ conversation.

In recent months, the brand has been going through some major changes, one of which was the closing down of their retail store at Yaya Center, an uptown mall in Nairobi.

28 April 2017 marked the last day of operations, ‘celebrating the end of an era and the beginning a new one’ as described on their Facebook page.

But this move was not entirely unexpected. In this article dated July 2013, Ann hinted at the challenges of running her retail store specifically, the high rental charges. “It takes far too high [of a] turnover to manage,” she said, going on to add that she was looking at “e-commerce and other ways of reaching customers.”

So what were those 10 years like? And what advice would she give to those thinking of investing in a brick and mortar location?

CA: Ann, thanks for making time for us. For how many years did you operate your retail store at Yaya?

AM: 10 years

CA: What prompted you to open this store in the first place?

AM: In 2007 – which was when we opened the store – , the local market was booming both with local customers and tourists. A group of business friends and I decided to take up a shop to present contemporary Kenyan fashion in formal retail. Many of Kenya’s top designers were difficult to find and many of our would-be customers were in Kilimani, so it made sense to open a designers collective in this location.

CA: About 2 months ago, you closed this outlet. What led to this decision?

AM: It became very difficult to do everything. Research, design a cutting edge collection, show it, photo-shoots, manufacture … and doing it in a way that was creative and fun. It was becoming more than a full time job. I realized it wasn’t working and so decided to take a step back, re-look the brand positioning and restructure our proposition.

Secondly, although we were a destination shop, the traffic in Nairobi meant that only those living in the surrounding area found our location convenient. People shop at the nearest possible location to avoid sitting in traffic. So because ultimately our customers wanted convenience, we  knew that we needed to be more mobile and go to them, not the other way around.

CA: What does your new distribution model look like?

AM: We would like to focus on wholesale (sell through other retailers) to be able to reach a wider range of locations in Kenya, markets across Africa and beyond. One of our lines Kikoti, will be sold through this model as well as direct to consumers at fairs, markets and festivals. It is a young, fun and affordable line.

KikoRomeo on the other hand will be sold direct to our existing customers through appointment.  In addition, we will host special collection presentations to our clientele on a regular basis.

We are also in the process of setting up an *e-commerce site for specialized one-of-a-kind KikoRomeo classics to sell globally by September. Locally we are exploring other online options, whether direct or in partnership with Jumia, which has a new initiative aimed at designers like us.

Globally we would like to be involved in selling in the US through the platform.

CA: Why did you choose these strategies?

AM: Times have changed, we must change. We need to be more flexible, more open to customization, and generally disrupt ourselves into a new way of doing things. These strategies are versatile. They allow me to concentrate more on outstanding product creation and the innovation around that. It gives me more time to travel and research what’s coming next.

CA: What advice would you give to someone thinking of investing in a storefront?

AM: Location location location – who is your target market and where do they really shop? Sit in a cafe and count the number of people in a given location with bags other than supermarket bags. Do your own research. Look out for people who would buy your brand…their age, dress style, build etc

Number 2, will you have enough money to support your store? Making a shop look good can cost a lot of money, for example lighting. Lighting in the window to attract them in, and lighting on the products inside the shop, to enable them to see your products well.

Three, understand your consumer’s shopping habits. The Kenyan retail market is notorious for slumping around election time and then picking up again. And this affects both locals and tourists.

CA: Ann, thanks once again for making time.

*For more on e-commerce, see this White Paper on the future of e-commerce in Kenya.

{image courtesy: Kiko Romeo}