NewsSouthern AfricaRetail: Keeping an old tradition alive


Posted on Tuesday, 23 June 2015 17:54

Retail: Keeping an old tradition alive

By Crystal Orderson in Port Louis

the stores that work in Mauritius share some of the values found at Port louis’s famous bazaar. Photo©SamueL Zuder/LAIF-REAFamily-owned shops are going strong and fending off the advances of big chains and retailers, including newer arrivals from South Africa.

The pavements in downtown Port Louis are abuzz with traders selling everything from tasty pineapple with spices to cookware and women's clothing.

But off the street there is a steady stream of people to a retailing institution, Tulsidas.

They know we offer a loyal and personalised service, and generations keep coming back

Since the 1940s, people from all walks of life have bought their saris and kurtas at the Tulsidas shops across the island.

At the main store in Port Louis, representatives of three generations – a grandmother, a mother and a daughter – discuss the latest fashions and colours, with their male relatives keeping a watchful eye.

Staffers share their opinion about the quality of fabric, the intricate stitching and the payment options available.

A recent study on shopping behaviour in the country shows that the Mauritian retail sector is dominated by such traditional outlets.

Personalised service

"They have big volumes and variety here. My grandmother and mom shoppedhereandithasdecentprices," says shopper Sweetine Buldawy.

Fourth-generation owner Dinesh Tulsidas says it is an emphasis on service that has ensured the Tulsidas brand is alive and booming in the tough retail environment on the island: "Everyone knows us," he says.

"We are the first stop shop for any bride and her family in Mauritius. They know we offer a loyal and personalised service, and generations keep coming back."

The store has an average daily footfall of 1,000 customers, with the average client spending R2,000-3,000 ($57-86) on an outfit.

Dinesh says Tulsidas has invested heavily in the 10 shops, including four specialised bridal outlets.

Dinesh says that Tulsidas has a turnover of a few million rupees and it imports clothing from India with the help of incentives from the Mauritian government.

The company imports the clothes duty free because the government recognises that they cannot be produced locally.

Despite a strong textile industry in Mauritius, Tulsidas opts to import from India and not China due to the intricate nature of the fabrics and the quality and huge volumes required.

The retail sector is a tough one to crack. Mauritians are fickle about brands and their wardrobe choices.

"There's decent purchasing power here, but the growth aspect is very challenging," says Dinesh.

The retail and wholesale sector rose by just more than 3% in 2014, a decrease from the previous year.

At the top-end Bagatelle shopping mall, a steady stream of shoppers are buying goods at locally-owned stores, while South African clothing outlets like Aca Joe, Jenni Button and shops like Benetton and Guess are empty.

"The past 10 years has seen an explosion of shopping malls, but not everyone has survived. Most of the malls are having a tough time, and retailers located at the malls, including the South African ones, are struggling," says Dinesh.

Bargain hunters

Across town at the local Winners supermarket, the company's dynamic chief operating officer, Nicolas Merven, says the retail market is competitive and small.

"Although competition is tough we are keeping close to our customer base," he says, adding that people are always looking for a bargain.

A 2014 study shows that nearly 40% of people surveyed had visited at least one of the 20 Winners stores that year.

The local retail giant is part of the IBL Group, which had a turnover of R17.5bn in 2011/2012 and employs more than 7,000 people.

The conglomerate operates in six majors sectors including commerce, logistics and re- tail. Winners had a turnover of R6bn in 2014.

Several South African stores, including ShopRite and Spar, have opened operations in Mauritius.

Others, like Pick n Pay and Game, lost millions of rupees in unsuccessful ventures.

"It's a difficult retail environment, but we know our market and Winners is a brand name on the island," says Merven.

He plans on opening three more stores in the next year and a half. ●

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