Mike Mwai brings The Luxury Network to Kenya

Saturday April 16 2016

The Luxury Network Kenya chief executive officer Michael Mwai.  PHOTO | SALATON NJAU

The Luxury Network Kenya chief executive officer Michael Mwai. TLN is on the hunt for local high-end products and services to cater for a niche market of high-net-worth individuals. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU 

By Kari Mutu

The luxury market in Kenya is about to grow exponentially following the recent launch of The Luxury Network Kenya (TLN Kenya) franchise. TLN is now on the hunt for local high-end products and services to cater for a niche market of high-net-worth individuals.

“TLN is an exclusive organisation that brings together luxury brands and premium service providers,” said Michael Mwai, the chief executive of TLN Kenya.
By luxury and premium, he means “anything that a high-net-worth individual uses and any company that services them exclusively.”

“We have 13 sectors including private wealth management, travel, jewellery, auto, sports, entertainment, health and wellness. In every sector of business there is a high-end side,” said Mwai.

Mwai said that his goal in Kenya is to sign up “some 30-70 of the region’s top luxury brands and high-end service providers.” Membership of the network is between $10,000 and $20,000, depending on the partnership deal, and is renewed annually. Mwai is confident that the network will attract businesses to offer products and service to premium customers.

TLN Kenya arranges unique, exclusive events for a limited number of invitation-only clients of the member companies. At each event these ultra-wealthy invitees are presented with a luxury brand alongside complimentary premium products. “Let’s say we’re launching a new car, it will be an opportunity to showcase a jewellery brand, a holiday home or bespoke legal services,” explained Mwai. In this way, each brand benefits from access to a new list of luxury consumers.

Quoting statistics, Mwai said, “There are over 8,500 high-net-worth individuals in Kenya and these are conservative figures. Think about any luxury brands and what they could do with even 5,000 dollar millionaires who can afford anything at any time. And in the next three to five years, there will be even more people.”

TLN Kenya is a franchise of the UK-based The Luxury Network (TLN), the leading events and affinity marketing company for luxury goods and services around the world. The network works to create business-to-business (B2B) partnerships between providers of luxury goods and services, enabling them to benefit from each other.

TLN was founded in 2007 by Kevin Rose, a luxury books publisher and former proprietor of high-end beauty salons. “He realised that there was a need for luxury brands to collaborate, to bring together their databases and high-net-worth clients, and to create unique events for businesses to share customers,” said Mwai.

The global financial crisis at the time notwithstanding, the concept proved to be a great success. “Rose then involved the British government to help him open it up in new markets,” Mwai said. Membership now stands at over 500 companies worldwide but there is still much unexplored territory in Africa.

TLN has over 30 country offices worldwide, and Kenya is the second country in Africa to join the network after South Africa. TLN Kenya was established in November 2015 and already has 15 members including Little Red, Karibu Italy, Africabs Platinum, Elite Digital Solutions, Bombardier air transporters, and English Point Marina (in Mombasa), the luxury hotel and residences in Mombasa that was officially opened in January 2016.

How it works

At TLN’s quarterly B2B seminars, member companies present their products and services to each other and discuss the affinity marketing opportunities they would like to pursue. According to Val Jiwa of the English Point Marina, “The Luxury Network creates platforms for dealing with compatible brands, thereby giving us access to the partners’ customer base.”

Solomon Wangwe, founder of Goshen Acquisitions, a premium real estate service provider, said the B2B events are a win-win for all stakeholders. “It is a unique opportunity for us to add value to our customer base by exposing them to more of the kinds of services that they have become accustomed to from us.”

Away from the glamour of showrooms and events, TLN Kenya keeps an intensive schedule of meetings with individual member companies where they plan new marketing gigs. “The key thing that I’d like to deliver is that by the end of this year every member has a lot more people that can buy from them than they had before they joined the network,” said Mwai.

Creating new business opportunities among high-end clientele takes a long time. Affinity marketing enables organisations with similar business interests to establish partnerships and to tap into a broader customer base that is otherwise unavailable to an individual establishment. “And the cost of partnering is lower than if it just your company marketing alone,” said Mwai.

Luxury brands typically have annual marketing plans and teams to implement them, but affinity marketing may not be their core strength or part of their strategy to create new demand. “We hope to create partnerships with companies that share the same interests and values. This should help us achieve our corporate goals with less effort,” says Jiwa.

TLN Kenya’s marketing style takes into account the buying habits of the super wealthy. “A high-net-worth individual does not consume media in the same way as the rest of us,” explained Mwai adding, “There are a lot of people who are not visible but are extremely wealthy. Reaching them is not as easy as you would imagine. We’re not a mass market network and you don’t want to hard sell to this crowd,” he added. “They will not buy if you hard-sell. It has to be a conversation.”

Chandni Parmar is the marketing and communications executive at SHK Consultant, a TLN Kenya member. “Our ethos is connecting to clients through word-of-mouth,” she said. “TLN opens up a good channel for us to showcase to an audience that is already inclined towards bespoke offering.”

Furthermore, there is very little collaboration happening among luxury brands. “Locally, many brands tend to operate in a vacuum,” observes Parmar. “There is a genuine absence of channels and cross-marketing when talking to the high-net-worth segment. TLN Kenya will be a great opportunity to leverage on synergy across its members.”

TLN Kenya is a platform for business to business partnerships and does not offer individual memberships, but it does open up channels of contact. Wangwe of Goshen Acquisitions points to this as a reason for joining the network. “Through exclusive memberships, TLN grants us access to a pre-qualified pool of consumers who are clients of fellow members.”

Wangwe’s company relies exclusively on the referral approach to drive sales and he views the network as, “a natural and logical progression of our outreach activity.”

Mwai notes that the Kenyan customer exhibits more conservative buying habits and lifestyles compared with customers in countries like South Africa or Nigeria who consume more luxury goods. In this regard, he acknowledges the need to educate and grow the next generation of luxury product consumers. “I honestly believe that the consumer in Kenya is far ahead of the retailer,” he said.

“There is a growing middle class in Kenya and they’re very aspirational,” he said and goes on to explain that, while they are not yet millionaires and therefore not consumers of luxury products and goods, the middle class are already sampling finer products and saving up to buy pricier items.

“You need to get them into your database now as they grow into millionaires because they will stay with you if the relationship began when they were receptive to your products and services,” he said.

The journey of growing potential luxury consumers will involve creating awareness. “There are a lot of people who think they are driving luxury cars but what they are driving are just premium cars,” said Mwai.

Low understanding of the marketing model means some local businesses have been sceptical about coming on board TLN Kenya. “Some feel they have enough clients in their database,” said Mwai. “It’s never true because the consumption levels of people fluctuate and to keep the business running you need a pipeline of new customers.

“So there is a lot of education and re-learning that needs to happen with luxury service providers to accept that unique partnerships will create better business opportunities,” he added.

Being part of a global network, TLN Kenya members can tap into opportunities beyond their normal territories of operation. As Parmar of SHK Consultant sees it, “It is essential for us to have credible endorsement on a global playing field, particularly in the luxury segment.”

Alongside re-education of the business community, TLN Kenya aims to increase the number and type of luxury brands available for consumption in the region. “They’re not as many here as in Europe but it’s growing,” said Mwai.

He is currently engaging the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce to pursue better business prospects for members within and outside of Kenya. He also sees an opportunity for many local brands to develop product offerings customised for the high-net-worth buyer.

“The market should not just be local, but they should be looking globally. Local brands with global appeal.”


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