Want to open a shop? Here are tips to thrive

It is a popular first choice for many Kenyans looking for a side hustle

In Summary

• Factors ranging from where you open it to what times you operate determine success

• Ensure that you also stock the most in-demand goods and diversify your offerings

Shops in a residential area
Shops in a residential area

Kenyans love opening shops for commonly used consumer goods, such as flour, soap, cooking oil, milk and bread. Looking at the many shops in our residential areas, one wonders whether any of them is making a profit.

There are so many shops, there’s probably one for every 10 homes. In parts of Nairobi where flats are prevalent, some tenants have started shops on the middle floors. Tenants in those flats no longer have to climb down several flights of stairs just to get a packet of salt.

Whenever a new building is completed, the first tenants will be those wanting to start a shop. The business remains a popular first choice for many Kenyans looking for a side hustle. The secret, it seems, is to develop several streams of income to make the business sustainable.


John Karimi is one such shop-preneur. He started his retail shop at the Coast in 2019 after a stint at a now-defunct supermarket chain that had a branch at Mtwapa. He began with fast-moving items such as milk, bread, flour, sugar and toiletries. He has since expanded into cereals, muguka and mobile money services.

“I make a profit of about Sh600 a day,” Karimi says. “Consumer items, muguka and Mpesa cannot sustain a business by themselves, but when combined, the shop can give you good income."

As Karimi explains, muguka is very popular with young men in his area. When they buy muguka, they also buy cigarettes and sodas. Other customers coming to deposit or withdraw money through MPesa end up buying a few consumer items before leaving the shop. In that way, the three lines of business complement each other.


Lack of consistent operating hours can drive away customers. They don’t like it when they go to a shop only to find it closed. Karimi opens his shop each day from 6am to 9.30pm, except on Sundays, when he opens a bit later after attending early morning mass. “Before the Covid-19 curfews, I used to close the shop at midnight. I don’t know if I will resume those hours now that we no longer have a curfew. I got used to going home early,” he says.

  1. 3. LOCATION

Want to turn part of your compound into a shop? Seems a great idea because you wouldn’t be paying rent for the business. However, there’s more to a successful shop than not paying rent. Location is a key factor. If your compound is in a quiet part of your residential area, you probably won’t get enough customers to sustain the business.

  1. 4. THE BASICS

A shop should not lack basic commodities, such as milk, bread, mobile phone scratch cards, flour, sugar, soap, cooking oil and detergents. Other items in a shopkeeper’s must-have list include sweets, buns, biscuits, dry foods such as rice and beans, and toiletries (soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and sanitary pads). For a start, stock only the popular brands.


Though Karimi is not a regular consumer of muguka, he sits with his muguka customers on a bench outside the shop as they slowly chew the stimulant. Sharing stories with his youthful clientele encourages them to return to the shop.