Activities at the flagship store of Park ‘n’ Shop located on Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island, Lagos, is on top gear. The hot March sun did not help matters as shoppers queue on the busy road to get a suitable parking space. Everyone had to wait. Traffic is moving slowly into the compact parking lot, as the overwhelmed security men are trying to make the road passable.
Park ‘n’ Shop, a subsidiary of the Artee Group, redefined the shopping experience of both the middle and upper classes in the country when it opened its doors some years ago. Then, it was the superstore of choice (and still is even as competition becomes higher) for everyone who wants to have an upscale shopping experience.
Sitting behind a desk in a glass cubicle on the third floor of Park ‘n’ Shop is Karan Keswani, son of Kharesh Keswani, chairman of the Artee Group. He heads the high electronic division of the superstore in its entire outlet across the country. “Welcome, Funke. It’s nice to finally meet you,” he tells me, as he points to the seat opposite him.
Park ‘n’ Shop is a family business started by Karan’s father 25 years ago, incidentally the company is celebrating its 25 years anniversary in August, to kick off with some promos in March. “His first shop actually opened here in Victoria Island at Eko Port on the 8/8/88; that is on August 8, 1988,” Karan tells me, at the start of the interview. “It was a very small store located on about 200 by 150 square metres. From there over the years, we have been building little by little stores. That is what essentially evolved to Park ‘n’ Shop. After the store opened, when my father wanted to work on another shop, he invited his brother, who is my uncle to join him.”
As the manager of the electronic division of Park ‘n’ Shop, Karan supervises the supply chain for procurement, logistics, distribution, discussing with vendors, pricing, promotions, putting the prices, merchandising, interacting with the staff and retail buyers. Karan says he enjoys his work and does not feel he is missing out anything for not working with someone before he settled to work with his father.
“Everybody working for your family can be the best and can be the worst thing ever,” he says, “but practically speaking, you are your own boss, you work for your own company, you can come and go as you like, doesn’t really make a difference, you are the Oga’s son. But for me, it is a question of the mindset and how you look at it. From one point of view, yes, you are actually right to say well you are the Oga’s son so you can do whatever you like. You are the Oga’s son so you can do as you like, but at the same time this is my business. I can do as I like, I can equally lose that opportunity over night. The question then is: how do I take it upon myself, why should I take more responsibility to work for somebody else rather than work for myself? I am the son, a lot more is expected of me.”
With this kind of mindset and being the eldest son among three, Karan knows so much responsibility lies on his shoulders, even as the next successor of the family business. “If I am to be the next predecessor,” he says, “I have to prove myself to be capable to manage the business. It’s not just because I share the same last name with my father. If it is based on the fact that I share his name that means by default I happen to be the heir to the throne. It has been very clearly told me to be in that position, you have the right to be in that position first, but if you are not worthy you are not worthy. Hence, I will make a mockery of the sweat and blood that was put into establishing the business. I am sure my father will not want to give the business to someone who is not capable to run it. Hence, I have to show that I can build on his legacy.”
Karan’s two younger brother, Rahul and Sahil, are still in school. The youngest, Sahil is still an undergraduate while Rahul is currently doing his MBA in New York, United States. Overtime, Karan says they will join the family business and provision is already being made for them to fit in.
“Their roles will likely be based on their strength. Everybody has their different strength. When I first joined the company, I had a different idea but I later realised what you learn in a book is theory and it is different from practical. One of my brothers is a whiz kid when it comes to marketing and creativity. So, I see him coming in and handling the whole issues about our brand and creating the buss around the company. In the end, the more hands the better. Yesterday, it was just my dad then it became him and his brother. Today, I am fortunate to be one of the three persons. So, if my two brothers join the business, we can handle different facet of the company and together we can grow it.”
With almost 12 outlets opened and more to be opened across different states, the Park ‘n’ Shop brand is fast expanding, meaning more work for Karan. Yet he remains undaunted and resolute to surmount the challenges as they come, including staying ahead of competitive brands like the South African brand – Shoprite – that is equally expanding fast in the retail business.
“We have a lot of plans,” explains Karan, “as a company, we also are forging forward. We pride ourselves of being a Nigerian company, with local business ideas and intelligence. I don’t believe that any other company in Nigeria can host that long and survive the challenging environment like we have done. We provided a minimum standard that people require and we have been able to give back.
“We are looking to bringing international brands, international standards, and international quality into Nigeria and prominently establish ourselves in Nigeria. We have looked into our business model to say what would be good for us today may or may not be good for us tomorrow, and most likely not be enough for tomorrow. The only thing constant in life is change, so knowing that things are going to change into those worlds. We too need to evolve ourselves; we too need to change ourselves in other to bring out the best in our time. So, we have looked into our business model; what it is that we want to do? How do we want to do it? And improvising and improving on that.”
In the next five years, Karan sees Park ‘n’ Shop becomes the Tesco of Nigeria. “When you think of retail in America or England, what’s the name that comes to mind in America – Walmart, and in England – Tesco. That is what I want in Nigeria by the next 10 years, when you think of retail the Nigerian Park ‘n’ Shop is the shop name that comes out of your head. That’s right, that’s where I see it; that’s my goal for my lifetime. I want to take the brand to the next level, whereby Park ‘n’ Shop is not only known in Lagos, Abuja and Port harcourt, where we are today, but across the country.”
Even though Karan is not married, yet he hopes to pass the baton on to the next generation.