Two corporations going in different directions:
Going up is Kenya Airways, which has too much business and is at maximum capacity on some routes. Even before Regional Air stopped flights, KQ to Mombasa was always difficult to find seats. Now it is virtually impossible, and travel agents are calling people with Mombasa tickets to see if they will surrender them to others with more urgent travel plans. The airline, which routinely bumps passengers off flights, has just received its new 322 seat Boeing 777. Their stock price has tripled in the last year from 8 shillings to 25 shillings and – only the blip is its poor human resource management: while low morale as signified by numerous drug trafficking cases involving airline staff, the notoriously unprofessional hiring and placement of staff have not been addressed.
Also, success is not without difficulty. At the 777 launch on Monday, KQ management appealed to the Government to provide Visa’s for West African (Nigerian) travellers who connect at Jomo Kenyatta Airport (Nairobi) for flights to Dubai and Asia. Last year, it was the Nigerian High Commissioner to Kenya who lamented the poor treatment of his citizens and requested KQ and the Kenya government to treat them better. The Government has however not been very helpful in this regard, and is still reluctant to issue even emergency visas – and most of these transit passengers have to sleep in the airport on uncomfortable plastic chairs. A new hotel is being built at the airport, hopefully, that will settle the matter and prevent this from becoming a full-blown diplomatic incident.
Going down is Uchumi, who yesterday Uchumi announced that they had hired a new Finance and Strategy Director, Richard Henry. Uchumi shares have lost half their value (now 14 down from 30) and they have closed almost half their stores. Staff at most of the remaining open stores are an unhelpful, de-moralized lot, and their shelves are bare – while rival Nakumatt have opened new lines of home products, restaurants, book shops, which Uchumi doesn’t have – they probably can’t entice new suppliers with their poor payment record. And except for the Ngong Road Hyper store, most of the others are just lifeless, with staff seeming unsure about their jobs (some don’t even wear uniforms). Uchumi needs a whole new re-birth, and to update their blood red colours which don’t scream “cool supermarket with great products.” They didn’t have sugar yesterday, so I bought a kilo at the neighbourhood police canteen.
Meanwhile, the new Nakumatt Lifestyle (in downtown Nairobi) doesn’t appear to have caught the public’s attention yet. Nakumatt has now launched a blitz of television advertisements, something I can’t recall them doing for any of their other stores, that have found successes by wowing Nairobians with their product and service range. I suspect the problem is the location of the store, which is near one corner of the city in the University Area. Because of the proximity of the very busy (in a good way) Koinange Street, driving to the new store through the endless traffic jams in the area is a hassle that many motorists are not ready to go through. Even though they have basement parking, shoppers have shown a preference for avoiding shopping within the city especially on weekends – also the store doesn’t have the eateries, amusement and entertainment shops that have made other Nakumatt’s very popular.