Luxury firm eyes East Africa's ultra wealthy

Saturday February 11 2017

Zachary Chanou, founder and owner of UUU.

Zachary Chanou, founder and owner of UUU. Centre, a Louis XIII Remy Martin cognac; and right, a timepiece by Black Toro Perpetual. PHOTOS | COURTESY 

By Maryanne Maina

There has been a sharp increase in the number of wealthy Africans with massive spending power — who are now driving the market for luxury goods and services on the continent.

These wealthy individuals have made it possible for luxury concierge service providers like Zakary Chanou and his Paris-based company UUU to step in.

Chanou founded UUU in 2003, and currently has a global client base, with a good number of them residing in Africa.

Earlier this year, Knight Frank published its Wealth Report 2016 on the spending trends of ultra high net-worth individuals (UHNWI) globally and the data on Kenya was significant in driving Chanou’s decision to paying attention to the country’s potential.

Chanou defines his profession as people who provide the desires of the wealthy in a “tasteful, discreet and elegant manner.”

According to the Knight Frank report, luxury goods are an exception outside South Africa, but the growing numbers of wealthy individuals means a growing presence of a few luxury businesses in Kenya, Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire.

The absence of widespread trade in luxury goods can be traced to various challenges such as distribution channels, infrastructure, human resources and transportation. Many of the wealthy in the region desire services of various forms such as butlers, bodyguards, sourcing of emeralds, wealth management and family offices to art portfolio management.

UHNWIs in Africa and Latin America show a much stronger propensity for private jet ownership than the global average. Poor commercial travel infrastructure combined with global luxury spending patterns and significant travel distances between business hubs on each continent has, contributed to this high demand.

Within Africa, the number of UHNWIs with a luxury automobile is 1.55x the global average. Although wealth in Africa is extremely concentrated in certain countries, there is a growing potential for luxury brands including high-end auto marques. Despite ongoing difficult economic conditions in many emerging markets, the appetite of wealthy collectors hasn’t diminished.

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What is a luxury concierge firm and what kind of services do you offer?

This is the art of catering to the desires of the ultra high net-worth individuals in a very tasteful, discreet and elegant manner.

Some of our clients want to be picked up from and dropped off at the Charles de Gaulle airport in France or at Le Bourget, the airport that caters to private jets in France. We offer seamless luggage handling at the airport from check-in to arrivals, manage airport taxes and offer escort and chauffeured services to the premier and private jet lounge.

We get front row seat tickets during the fashion week to watch shows by Chanel, Hermes, Bottega Venetta and other exclusive brands; arrange private fittings for couture wedding dresses and hats by top couture brands from Ralph & Russo, Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad and Valentino.

For lifestyle, our clients require private Michelin chefs flown to their countries; wish to attend events with famous football teams; go shopping in luxury stores after shopping hours; dine in private palaces (chateaus), and get exclusive schools in Europe for their children; want to hire butlers and buy private jets. We provide the solutions to every request from our clients.

African clients prefer bespoke and individualised products. We advise and make contact with suppliers or stores.

What is the size of your company, UUU and its operations?

The company has more than 20,000 partners globally, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, irrespective of the location and the time zone.

Currently UUU has more than 8,000 private customers and 200 corporate clients from chief executive officers, entrepreneurs, private banks, families, office management companies, financial institutions and oil and gas companies from all over the world. People who are time poor are a crucial part of our client portfolio.

The lack of luxury retail in most African countries, means our services are in great demand.

Do you feel there is a need for luxury concierge services in Kenya?

The 2016 report by Knight Frank portrayed the phenomenal rise of the Kenyan market. There at least 77 ultra high net-worth individuals (UHNWI), meaning that these individuals have at least $30 million in investable assets excluding personal assets and property.

Abuja, in Nigeria has 14 UHNWI, while Johannesburg, South Africa, has 320 UHNWI. Therefore, Kenya has the second highest numbers of these extremely wealthy individuals.

East Africa is generally wealthy. Ethiopia, for example, has 11 UHNWI. The capital Addis Ababa has 700 millionaires and 40 multimillionaires. Dar es Salaam has 1,200 millionaires, 40 multimillionaires and 36 UHNWI. Therefore, it is crucial to structure the luxury concierge services in Nairobi to cater for the country and its immediate neighbours.

In addition, a number of foreign nationals from around the continent bring their children to study in Kenya in schools such as St Andrews, Turi; Brookhouse, Kenton and other international schools. Many of these parents are from Angola, Nigeria, the UK, Tanzania and Ethiopia. This is an important target market too.

What is your strategy for the Kenyan market?

We are looking to partner with companies that cater to wealthy individuals and are in the luxury sector, such as private members’ clubs, premier and private banks, luxury marketing companies and other market relevant firms.

We partner with companies that cater to the wealthy individuals to provide them with services.

Are there many Kenyans travelling to France to purchase French luxury brands?

Yes, many Kenyans come to France for business and holiday in Paris, the south of France and the principality of Monaco. These are the same people who purchase a lot of French luxury brands from Paris, London, New York, Dubai, Johannesburg and other cities.

These brands include Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Cartier, Rolex, Patek Philippe, French champagnes, Hennessey and designer cosmetics, while others enjoy eating at Michelin star restaurants in Paris and Europe. There are Kenyans who also fly Michelin star chefs from Paris into the country to cater at private parties.

Are there certain preferences particular to wealthy individuals in Kenya?

Yes, the men collect timepieces, rare whiskeys and cigars. They also like private tailoring sessions. This is part of our job. We take personalised tailors such as Brioni and Savile Row to clients. For such gentlemen, we also organise tours to vineyards for bespoke experience with cognacs or champagnes.

The women like leather goods from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and other luxury brands. They also purchase a lot of skincare, clothes and jewellery. We locate jewellers to source the diamond or ruby and the designers for the client to create designs of their choice.

There are a lot of luxury preferences among wealthy individuals and the role of the concierge is to provide these desires in a tasteful, discreet and elegant manner.

What are other countries in Africa do you plan to expand into?
Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria and South Africa are on our radar.