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Former scribe swaps pen for thrilling rides

Gerald Kiari, owner of Nyamavilla Park, saw a business opportunity when parents brought their children along during weekends.The little ones were bored because they had nothing to do. So he started an amusement park to keep them entertained

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

Many laughed when Gerald Kiari told them of his dream to set up an amusement park at Umoja, Nairobi county, in 2003. At the time the concept was far from established among the general population.

However, Kiari sensed that something was about to happen. His club Nyamavilla, which he had started a few years back, was receiving a lot of customers during weekends. Children accompanying their parents had little to do and the club had a hard time containing them.

“By then Nyamavilla was the most visited club in Umoja and during weekends we used to receive so many parents, but there we no activities for their children. That is how I realised that there was a gap,” he says.

So, he started researching on how he could let children enjoy their parents’ outings without feeling that they have been left out. As he was doing his research he came across an article about amusements parks and how they were transforming the entertainment world. To him, this was a welcome idea. The only challenge was he did not know where to buy the thrilling rides.

No-go zone

Armed with Sh1 million from his retirement package, he approached someone from Turkey who was also in the same business in Kenya and he agreed to sell to him one of his thrilling rides, which was later fixed in his club at Umoja.

Since it was a new thing, the business picked up in a short time. In less than a year he had bought other machines. “At first, none of my family members supported my idea and they thought that I was risking too much money since by then Eastland was a no-go zone, but I managed to succeed because the business was well secured,” he says.

Kiari, a former public relations and marketing director at Cooperative Bank, says his family was a bit reluctant because he had opted for an early retirement so he could venture into business. He had tried two other businesses; a weekly journal, which only operated for 13 months before folding up and a consultancy firm with no success.

His amusement park business did not suffer the same fate. It grew bigger and bigger and he started receiving invitations from bigger clubs in Kenya offering him space to set up thrilling rides to spur other businesses in that area. This is how he secured space at Nairobi Railways Club where he set up Nairobi NV Lunar Park five years ago.

Pick up the pieces

“It took me a few years to settle here and since I couldn’t import all machines at once. I decided to start with one machine, but currently through loans I have bought more machines, which can accommodate all family segments,” he adds.

It has been one big roller coaster ride. He once lost almost half of his investment to heavy rains. When he was preparing the grounds to set up Lunar Park, there was a heavy downpour and trees, which were in that compound fell, destroying all the buildings they had put up. This did not demoralise him. He picked up the pieces and moved on.

Unlike today when we have so many amusement parks, by then competition was minimal and this helped his business to survive and currently Lunar Park is one of the most sought-after places when it comes to children’s entertainment.

“We are where we are because we have managed to drive our business according to your customers’ demand and this has been our secret. If you want your business to succeed always ensure that you respond to the needs of your customers,” he says. Breakdown of the machines has been a major challenge because all his machines are imported.

He says that they have customised the machines so that they are fit for the local environment. His future plan is to start a Disney World and plans are underway. “This business also has challenges and you need to understand the challenges for you to survive. You also need to do your research well and you will be successful,” he says.

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