One on one with Abdirashid Hussein, the CEO of HashMart, a fast-growing online retailer in the region.
Who is Abdirashid Hussein?
I am a 43-year-old Kenyan of Somali origin, currently living and working in Nairobi.I am a merchant, in the electronics business. I sell what we call Plug and Play electronics like TV, home theatre systems, cameras, digital watches, video recorders, phones all of it. And I have been doing this for the last 20 years. 20 years is a long time to be doing the same thing…
Yes, it is. After finishing high school, I decided to go into business, unlike most of my peers who sought formal employment. I have been on streets, doing business since then, my shop was located along Luthuli Avenue here in Nairobi.
Why and at what point did you decide to leave Luthuli Avenue and set up the successful online based HashMart shop?
From 2013 to 2014 to 2015, market challenges arose since more and more businessmen got into the electronics selling business in Nairobi. The market was shrinking; we had pricing issues and a whole lot of difficulties as businessmen focusing on electronics.
So, I decided to reach out to a larger market on the internet, like Amazon or Jumia. In 2015, I lunched an online platform, selling electronics digitally, but by October 2016, the online shop was struggling, we couldn’t keep up with the cost of doing business, I was in debt. There was no money coming in, and by the end of 2016, I quit.
What went wrong, why did the shop struggle to keep running?
I realized that most people weren’t comfortable shopping online. It was as if only 5% of the market was ready to buy things from the internet, and of this 5%, Jumia and Kilimall and a few other established local online shops held most if not all of the market.
So how long did it take you to get back to your feet?
Not long. In January 2017, I launched HashMart. Hash as in #while Mart stands for retail. I wanted something that could stand out, a brand name that is welcoming to everyone despite their religious or political affiliations.
I began working from the office of a friend of mine, with a $ 250 catalogue website (this only shows the images of the products and their prices). One year later, we moved out of my friend’s office to the office we occupy at the moment.
That is definitely good growth… Our sales moved from one sale a day, to 25-35 orders a day. I can confidently say that we have been doing quite well for some time now. Our orders are in the range of $ 10,000-$15,000 per day.
How exactly does HashMart, as an online shop work?
We are an e-commerce platform: A middle man between the consumers (customers) and the retailers and businessmen with electronic products to sell. We are a direct selling e-commerce platform. We get orders from the consumers and match their needs to the suppliers that have the goods that the particular customer wants. This way, our suppliers do not meet the customers, and the customers to don’t meet the suppliers too… but HashMart knows both the supplier and the customers. We also sell our own products. Branded and owned by HashMart.
Why did you choose this model… being the middle man between the customers and the suppliers, isn’t it easier to just let the two transact on their own?
This model works best for us. It puts us in the position where we can safeguard both the customer and the supplier. This is a quality control measure. It also helps us maintain high ethical standards and protect our reputation as a company by ensuring that the two parties both get what they need from each other.
What or who is your target market?
Our market is the middle class. These are people who have a taste for the good things in life, and are willing to spend some money to acquire those things.
The Kenyan middle class is not an easy market… how is the experience so far?
It is hectic dealing with the Kenyan market. Sometimes we have had to give them new products when they complained about the one that was delivered. We have also had top refund the cash that had been paid. All these we do because we are building a certain bond, trust, with our customers and suppliers.
What happens when someone enquires about a product that you do not have in your store?
This has happened before, and the way that we handle such situations is by sourcing for the item that they have requested for from other online retailers like Amazon, add a service fee and then we send the link to them.
There is the question of logistics and delivery problems when online shops are discussed. Is HashMart any different?
Of course, we are different. We work with established international logistics companies like Wells Fargo to deliver our goods from the suppliers to the customers. Our process is secure and reliable. As at now, we do same day deliveries in Nairobi, next day deliveries in all parts of Kenya, overnight service, where any item purchased before 3:00pm is delivered to the customer by 11:00 am – 12: 00 pm the following day. We also do deliveries to Kismayo and Mogadishu in a period of three days.
What would you say is the secret of the success you’ve had with HashMart?
One thing; client satisfaction… from customers, to suppliers and even employees, our core business is to deal with each person in a way that leaves them confident and satisfied with our service provision and way of doing business.
What are your future plans?
The first thing to say here is that our policy of putting the customer first will remain the same. Our standards will remain as it is, if not get better. The goal of making our customers, suppliers and employees happy with our services will remain. In terms of market cover, in the long term, we hope to move to at least 10 African nations.
In the next two years, I would like us to perfect what we are doing here in Kenya and then replicate it in Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia.