Garden City Marketing Manager Ruth Wako on The State Of Malls In Kenya and How Garden City Has Been Able To Stay Ahead Of The Curve In The Retail Sector

Over the past few years, Nairobi has been named as one of the top 5 cities in Sub-Saharan Africa with the largest shopping malls, with the largest retail market in East Africa, Nairobi’s retail space in malls stands at about 500,000 square meters according to a report from Knight Frank Africa. Shopping malls have sprung up in Nairobi faster than ever before with developers coming up with new city hubs where people can live, work, shop and play, all under the same roof.

However, of late, the rate at which malls are coming up compared to the rate at which retailers are selling space or even getting regular visitors is dwindling. So, how exactly is a mall like the Garden City Mall able to keep taking strides to become a leading multicultural and multi-purpose mall over the course of its 2 years in existence?

I spoke to Ruth Wako, Marketing Manager at Garden City Mall to find out the retail mall’s performance and how it has been able to stay ahead of the curve in the country’s dynamic consumer sector.


Ruth Wako is responsible for Marketing, Communication and Commercialization at Garden City since it opened its doors in September 2015. With an MBA in General business from Jacksonville State University US (2005) and over 10 years of experience in Marketing and Communication gained from the Insurance and Retail industry, she shed some light on how the 35,000 square metre mall has been able to establish one of the highest footfall figures in the market (approximately 400,000 visitors a month) and how they have kept their doors open and business facilities rented out despite stiff competition from new and upcoming malls in the city:

In the past few years, we have noticed a boom in Kenya’s growth of malls with some regions still building these retail malls. In your opinion, what prompted this Inclusion in the retail sector?

We have a new level of urbanisation; Kenya has a growing consumer base with greater disposable income; a lack of formal retail space, and an increase in investment capital were the key ingredients towards the mall sector boom in Kenya. This landscape is rapidly evolving and we expect to see the expansion of retail hubs into rural areas and cities outside Nairobi in the near future.

What are some of the trends you’ve noticed in Kenyan consumers’ shopping habits?

Over the last five years the growth of the middle income class coupled with rising per-capita has triggered a change in consumer shopping habits with the evolution of more sophisticated shoppers.
Kenyans are increasingly purchasing items from formal retailers like supermarkets.

Meanwhile, increasing formalisation of the economy means that more branded goods are consumed. Foreign retailers such as Carrefour and Choppies have penetrated the market, and are steadily gaining popularity amongst local consumers. Nonetheless, a sense of brand loyalty has also been observed, particularly in the food items category as most shoppers prefer to buy local produce and established local brands, whilst a growing appetite for international brands within the clothing and lifestyle segment is evident. Price points remain sensitive for these consumers, thus promotional offers and discounts are received well.

The fast-changing consumer trends are forcing the retailers to rethink the positioning and composition of their outlets, which are increasingly found within shopping malls, and large towns. Some of the key factors pegging the success of these retail centres include: adequate parking, security, location, and selection of outlets with a reference for a mix of local and medium-end international brands.

The mall has been East Africa’s first integrated residential, retail and office development, making it a very unique space from what we’ve seen from other malls. Apart from these features, what makes the mall stand out from the rest?

We offer a 3 pronged package: Food, Retail and Entertainment. Our portfolio of diverse tenants targets every level of Kenya’s socioeconomic chain. We believe that everyone is welcome and strive to ensure that all needs are met under one roof. We are also well-renowned for being the mall of choice for families as we want the whole family to be able to come here and have fun together and also separately, should they wish to do so.

Customers can visit the 1st ATMOS 3D cinema in East Africa and the biggest IMAX screen in Kenya at this mall. Foodies can take their pick from our 16 restaurants.

Kids can play at their own dedicated areas of attraction which includes both a water park and a play park. We have also been the mall of choice of tenants entering the Kenyan market, including Walmart owned GAME supermarket, Chinese menswear store ZOPO and locally, Kenyan online marketplace NewX is opening its first physical store at the mall later this month.

We are proud that the mall is a part of the heart and soul of the community; a key driver of the retail economy and a social sanctuary. As we continue to grow both in terms of our identity and our offering, we are confident that the mall is well on its way to becoming a destination mall for all of Kenya, the region and beyond.

We’ve also noticed a decline in businesses renting out space in malls in the country, leading to a large fall out in people visiting malls. How has Garden City still been able to attract and maintain clients?

Without a doubt, there is stiff competition amongst all the malls to attract and retain tenants. At Garden City Mall, we’ve been able to hold an occupancy rate of 98% and would attribute this success to our ongoing working relationship with our retailers. For examples, we provide training and workshops on customer care and best business practices with the ultimate aim of enabling our tenants attract more customers and increase sales. Our tenants are the backbone of the mall’s entire retail experience and we ensure we support them, their success is our success.

What about the cut-throat competition? We have over 50 malls in Kenya alone. How has Garden City been able to raise above the competition? How have you been able to get over 400,000 visitors per month? How does the mall intend to capture more customers and expand your market?

We know that there is a perception out there, that malls in Kenya are struggling and that there are too many of us. Our own experience at Garden City Mall challenges that view. We have some of the most loyal customers in this city and we have already surpassed welcoming 8 million customers. We continue to record solid growth as a centre, and because of this our long term prospects are far from uncertain.

We are delighted with our healthy growth rate in spite of the growing competition. This is testament to our sharp focus and consistent dedication towards tenants and our customer service.

In addition, despite our short history of 2 years, we are confident that we’ve built a sense of consumer understanding and recognition around the idea that we are a destination mall that caters towards everybody vis-à-vis our competitors.

This is the second year that you’ve been in operation. How has the journey been and what ups and downs have you faced? What have you learnt so far and what can we expect from Garden City in the near future?

We are proud to be host to over 100 retailers that cater to a cross section of society. We are humbled to be part of Kenya’s economy and have played a notable role in job creation for this city, having employed over 1,000 full time employees at the mall.

We are also a mall of some incredible firsts. The mall is a part of the first integrated mixed use development in East Africa to gain International LEED’s Green Certification. We were also the first mall to embrace green retailing via the installation of our solar panelled carports – the first of its kind in Kenya. We are also an award winning business and were recently named the Best Green Building in Sub-Saharan Africa by the Africa Property Investment Awards, which recognizes innovation and outstanding achievement across the entire property industry.

Our biggest challenge to date has been in positioning a new concept of shopping mall in the East African market, but we have a made a concerted effort to educate and enhance the shopper experience at the mall, and we continue to go from strength to strength.



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