Muchiri Wahome, Deacon’s CEO has grown with the firm. He started as a sales assistant in 1987 and rose through the ranks to his current position
When Deacon’s Chief Executive Officer, Muchiri Wahome tells you he has stood by the company through the good and bad times, he means it.
Wahome now sitting at the apex of the clothing brand, started off as a sales assistant in one of the shops along Aga Khan Walk in 1987. He has served as sales supervisor, stalls manager, sales operations manager, assistant general manager, general manager, managing director until he was appointed the CEO in 2003.
To him, retail and fashion are his first love despite having done side hustles over the years, including hosting a TV show, Up Close and Candid.
Currently trading 11 brands primarily in fashion and operating 42 stores in the East African region, Deacons East Africa is considered the single largest fashion retail chains of stores in the region.
Deacons’ major business is to run retail establishments including franchise and department stores selling women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, footwear, accessories, toiletries, gifts, home furnishings, cosmetics and sporting goods.
In order to diversify its product offerings, Deacons ventured into developing its own brands, including 4U2, which sells discounted internationally branded clothes and the Angelo brand launched in 2008, selling shoes, bags and accessories.
The other brands include: Adidas, Reebok, Truworths, Bossini, Babyshop, Mr Price Home, Mr Price and Life Fitness. However, the retail shop largely patronised by the middle class was on the spotlight when the Nairobi Stock Exchange reported that it had made a loss of Sh278 million last year.
People Daily caught up with Wahome to know what led to the loss, how the business has picked up and its current position in the market.
Wahome acknowledges that the fashion industry faces a lot of challenges and as a CEO, the hardest and personal among them all has been letting go of employees, when push comes to shove.
From an economic outlook though, Wahome is quick to note that biggest challenge for retailers currently is the increasing number of malls and retail spaces in urban areas. Wahome says that what has driven the development of the malls is the high rate of rural to urban migration, a notion that he believes is misleading.
“Before these malls came into the market, there was a big narrative around the market place that Africa was rising and that the middle class was driving this growth. Looking at population growth in urban centres and the quality of people coming into the cities and their lifestyles, they live a basic life and not the middle-class life.
This has informed the development of malls, but the customer base has remained the same, especially in an environment of unemployment, retrenchments and redundancies ,” says Wahome. Wahome’s 14 years of experience has seen him bring in a success story in the company since his tenure as CEO.
When he was elevated to the rank, there were only 98 employees and nine stores with a revenue of Sh400 million. Currently, there are 44 stores with 342 employees with a revenue of Sh2.3 billion.
Wahome says his main aim as CEO of the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) listed firm is to make sure revenue is growing. Wahome, who is not shy to talk about the NSE listing explained that the Board of Directors had projections of figures of three malls they were investing in before they were completed.
The business had invested Sh180 million in an outlet at The Hub in Karen, but its completion was delayed by six months, another Sh80 million in Rwanda’s Kigali Heights, but there was an eight-month delay and another Sh700 million at two Rivers Mall, which was delayed by more than a year.
In regard to the clothing sector, he says increase in malls and retail space has fragmented the market as customers go to different locations, thus impacting customer spending patterns.
The fashion industry, however, faces a lot of competition from second-hand clothes, the likes of EPZ that hold mega affordable sales and also the entry of LC Waikiki into the market.
“Second hand clothes are one of the biggest challenges we have to deal with. However, we have successfully managed to achieve growth in sales of our products because we have focused on creating a unique product of superior quality at affordable prices.
Our competitive advantage is that we strive to maintain high standards in quality and services for our customers,” explained Wahome. Away from business, Wahome is a father of two children.
His son is currently completing his masters at the University of Manchester while his daughter recently graduated with a Bachelor in Psychology and his wife Nancy is a public relations practictioner. According to Wahome, his family is his backbone and what he lives for.