May 22, 2008
Kikuubo changes face to marshall competition
By Moses Talemwa

Julius Mugisha has been a trader in Kikuubo for 15 years, but is now not sure how much longer he will stay business here.

Mugisha, who deals in groceries, says that he has been buying goods from Kenya, China, Hongo Kong and Dubai in bulk at wholesale prices, a move that made it possible for him to sell at comparatively cheaper prices than the competition.

“ Now the Supermarkets are buying from the same sources that we had, which has put us on the same level, but their advantage is that the Supermarkets are clean and spacious, which is attractive to customers,” he said.
Recent changes in the business climate appear to be working against Kikuubo, Kampala’s traditional business hub.

Emerging supermarkets and hawkers are providing effective competition to the small shops that have been Kikuubo’s mainstay by taking goods nearer the consumers.
The change follows continuing efforts by supermarkets to attract not just the up market shopper, but even the often thrifty low budget customers. Moreover, supermarkets are able to provide a one-stop shopping centre; offering variety under glitzier conditions than the small shops sandwiched in mud and traffic jam in down town.

According to Mugisha, in the past he made net profit of Shs 100,000 per day, but now we only made Shs 30,000 or less when it rains in Kampala.
Said Mugisha: “Which customer can pass by a nice supermarket and come to buy from this mess?”
Kikuubo gained prominence following the collapse of Uganda’s manufacturing industry in the 1970 as the place to go for cheap essential commodities for both traders and consumers.

Everything from smuggled sugar and soap to soda was to be found here and with time, Kikuubo became the centre of wholesale trade in Uganda.
By 1990 Kikuubo traders who initially imported goods only from Kenya, had extended their trade to Dubai, Taiwan and Hong Kong, before the Chinese goods entered town in 2004.
But since then recent developments in Kikuubo have meant that things are taking a turn for the worse. And traders are upset at the pace at which Dott Services, the company contracted to repair lane, is executing the job.

They claim that construction workers are often off duty, slowing down the pace of the work after they dug up a trench to take care of the drainage, but the place muddy.
Mugisha’s concerns mirror those of his business neighbours like John Mukiibi.

According to Mukiibi, Kikuubo had lost most of its customers to supermarkets, due to the mud.
“No customer is willing to come and buy from us, with all this mud here. People just take one look and go away. As a result our businesses are collapsing,” he said.
Resty Namyalo, who deals in underwear, socks and handkerchiefs, has had to move her business into the middle of the lane so that her customers not have to walk far.

“We are wondering when the construction work will come to an end, as our profits have gone down,” she said.
According to her, profits had fallen to about Shs 30,000 per day from the previous Shs 80,000.
Maggie Mbowa, who deals in polythene paper bags, says she is not sure if she will be able to restock once her current stock is sold.

“I used to sell a carton of paper bags daily, but now if I don’t know if I will be able to afford to buy the next batch of bags”.
Officials at Dott Services, who were contracted to repair the road at Shs 80million declined to comment.

Changing face

Kampala City Council finally agreed to repair the lane and Kikuubo traders, under their association—the Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA) raised Shs 47million of their own money for the purpose in 2003.
KACITA spokesman, Issa Sekitto says work on the lane should be completed by December and after this no vehicles will use it during the day.

He says heavy trucks will be strictly permitted to pass through only at night to offload goods.
“These trucks will access it from Namirembe Road and exit from Kyaggwe Road. During the day only pedestrians will be able to use it, to access the shops, and buy their goods,” he said.

He hopes that by December, even the numerous shopping arcades now under construction will be complete to provide a more organised and attractive shopping environment to customers.
Kikuubo is struggling to shade off the image of a small road with tiny and ugly shacks for shops by replacing them with airy shopping arcades.

Over the last two years, Kikuubo developers have been in transition, building glitzy malls to replace the small shops in a bid to entice a customer who is looking for a decent shopping experience.

However, the times may be changing too fast for Kikuubo, as the changes there have not stopped customers from walking away into the grand supermarkets.

The arrival on the scene of the grand supermarkets like Metro in 2003 followed by Shoprite, Uchumi and Game meant that customers could access the same groceries they were getting from Kikuubo at more or less the same prices. And since the supermarkets were buying from the same suppliers as the Kikuubo traders, it was not surprising that customers have retreated to supermarkets.

In order to fight for their business survival, Kikuubo landlords have started building shopping malls that can accommodate more than 30 shops, where only 5 or six had stood.

To a casual observer, the new shops are bigger and better, but in-fact these shops are even smaller but with a more airy and lighter feel due to the corridors and stairs that appeal to shoppers.

“Many of our customers have been abandoning our small dukas and going out to the shopping arcades and supermarkets, affecting our business negatively,” said Sekitto.