THE LUXURY NETWORK KENYA: CEO, Michael Mwai, on Luxury in Kenya

Described as “The next generation of marketing for luxury brands” by the British media, The Luxury Network is the world’s leading luxury affinity marketing group. It was founded in 2007 by Kevin Rose, a luxury books publisher, when he realised that luxury brands should collaborate to share their high net-worth clients and databases with each other. However, they would do so in an event setting where these clients could have the opportunity to experience the brands in person. Additionally, it would provide a platform that would help luxury brands maximise their relationships within the luxe industry. Internationally members include Cartier, Bulgari, Harry Winston and Coach to mention a few. The idea was a success and now has offices in over 30 countries worldwide. In November 2015, Kenya became the second country in Africa to join the network. We caught up with The Luxury Network Kenya CEO, Michael Mwai, to find out a little more about the Network and his thoughts on luxury in Kenya:

[Image: Courtesy of The Luxury Network / CFAO]

In a nutshell, how would you define The Luxury Network?

We are an exclusive network for luxury brands and providers of premium services looking to increase their client base of ‘High Net Worth’ and ‘Affluent’ individuals through collaboration with other similar brands.

What are some of the brands affiliated with The Luxury Network?

Over the two years the Luxury Network has been in Kenya we have worked with Mercedes Benz, English Point marina, Range Rover, Jaguar, Diageo Reserve Brands, MOET, Panesars Interiors Kenya, Swiss International Hotels Resort Mount Kenya, Corradi, as well as, P&N Luxe and Little Red Africa and its brands like Brioni, Zegna and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Mercedes AMG CLS 53 [Image: Courtesy of The Mercedes-Benz]

What is the criteria to become a member?

It is simple. You need to be a truly luxurious brand or service offered in Kenya to an already established client base. Your product or service must also be exemplary, offering a highly memorable customer experience. Membership is exclusive and renewed annually because we only renew those willing and able to collaborate as they create unique partnerships at senior director level.

Very few Kenyans are aware of what constitutes true luxury….Those that do don’t believe they can find it locally.

‘Willing and able to collaborate’?

It’s a collaborative effort between brands. What happens is that a lot of people apply to join, some come on board, but they don’t have an elaborate or dedicated marketing function within their company, so they can’t engage with other members in joint events. For example, if you’re a new luxury start up and you don’t have enough customers, you might not be able to engage with other brands. Or if you lack the organisation or the budget to do a simple event that will help you engage with other members.

How it works is that we invite other members to your space or event and those members bring customers to it and then you do the same for their events. If you are a one-man show with an amazing brand, without the ability to engage, you can’t survive. Consequently, we don’t renew those who are unable to engage although we vet as much as possible.

[Image: Courtesy of Panesars Interiors Kenya]

Keeping in mind that luxury prioritizes brand identity, how do you set up collaborations?

We look at the various brands and identify the ones that can interact without any clash or conflict. For example, a jewellery brand and a watch brand, a car brand and a fashion brand. They’re not competing, thus, they can blend in very well because they are targeting the same client. Granted, there are already brands that have a global partnership. We come in where its brands that have never had a partnership before. We sit with both directors of the brands and show them the opportunities they can tap into. For example, if we want to target a certain group of women, we can approach Mercedes and target their female clients with their 4×4 range and choose to work with a hotel that has a spa to create a partnership.

The most effective way to reach the target audience is through experiences.

How mature and aware is the Kenyan consumer regarding quality and is there appetite for Luxury products?

Very few Kenyans are aware of what constitutes true luxury. For example, Few Africans know the difference between a watch and a timepiece. The former will expire at some point. Even though you put in a new battery, it just won’t work. The latter can be handed down as an heirloom. They therefore cannot tell the difference between a real and fake Rolex even if the price slapped them in the face. Those that do [know what constitutes true luxury] don’t believe they can find it locally. The number is growing, albeit slowly. When the few exposed customers find luxury, they doubt its authenticity. In some cases, the price is highly inflated, so they opt to wait for their next trip abroad to acquire the product.

The other challenge is those who claim to offer luxury do not accompany the product with the deserved customer experience. Quality can be very subjective and like in the case of real estate and property, many developers deceive the customers that they are creating a luxurious product when they are delivering nothing even close.

In the case of apparel, bags, shoes, jewellery, watches and automotive products it is easier to tell the difference as the materials used will be of the highest grade available. The attention to detail and levels customisation will exceed will always exceed what is available in the premium segment. The local media can do a lot to train the local consumer unfortunately they too are not as exposed. This transfers the burden to the brands to create the relevant awareness to the gate-keepers of information.

[Image: Courtesy of Panesars Interiors Kenya]

Kenyans are allegedly penny pinchers – often going for the cheapest option. How can luxury brands help to change their mentality to be more open to luxury?

Fortunately, this problem is not unique to Kenyans or Africans. Anybody who has a low self-esteem and has been brought up with a scarcity mentality – rather than one of abundance – is likely to not appreciate themselves enough even to demand premium, leave alone luxury. They would rather buy used clothes, shoes and vehicles. This is a state of mind that afflicts even the politicians that should be creating an environment that could grow the industries to change this sad state of being.

True luxury brands target only the deserving and their prices will not drop to accommodate the masses. What they could do is introduce more permission brands that allow the customers to grow into the more luxurious products. For example, a shoe brand could have shoes that retail for between $200-$330. They will allow first time customers in and introduce them to the $1000 on the second or third pair. By extension they will also be able to have the entire family embracing the brand.

What’s lacking in Kenya isn’t the products, it’s the customer experience.

In your experience, how do Kenyans consume luxury media?

Kenyans would love to consume luxury media but there is very little content available. Most content is sensational and targeting the masses.  The most effective way to reach the target audience is through experiences. For example, we did a luxury event in Lavington called ‘Luxury on the Lawn’, where we brought Diageo, Mercedes-Benz and Panesars Interiors Kenya together.  We invited their clients to an evening of cocktails and jazz, where they received mentorship on how to appreciate whiskey, as Diageo presented their range of products. Meanwhile in the background, we had furniture and cars in very subtle positioning.

Another thing we’ve realised with luxury is that you can’t do a hard sell. You present the product to the customer in a very subtle way, let them engage with the product and ask questions. But don’t sell. Because they can afford these things, they just need the information. Thus, we presented these three brands each of the customers brought in from the other brands was able to interact with two new brands that they were not as familiar with. That’s how we create experiences.

[Image: Courtesy of Panesars Interiors Kenya]

You seem to put a lot of emphasis on the experience…

What’s lacking in Kenya isn’t the products, it’s the customer experience. You could have the best product but you’re unable to deliver it to the customer with respect. In this case, respect is the international standards of the luxury experience that they are already exposed to. We need to achieve that in Kenya. How do you talk to them, how do you receive them when they arrive? Have you ever walked into a showroom and no one even speaks to you for thirty minutes, not even the initial contact? Or being told that you can’t afford a certain item, yet they don’t know you? That’s a lack of training.

What we should stop doing is embracing mediocrity and adopt an attitude of excellence. Click To Tweet

Another issue is that the staff selling the brands don’t know enough about them. They should know everything about every designer that stocks in the store, what their inspiration is, what materials they use, where they source the materials from, and if it’s ethically produced. Information such as this should be at their fingertips. This requires refresher courses and investment in time from the brands.

[Image: Courtesy of Proshade Kenya]

What key marketing strategies should brands adopt to gravitate into luxury?

Luxury is too wide to have a one size fits all marketing strategy. Each sector has different nuances that apply to communicating the USPs which must also depend on the target and competition in that category. Millennials are the future and they consume information quite differently. That said, I still believe an experiential and word of mouth approach will be very effective working with other points of contact. It’s not enough to reach your target. What you do with their attention once you have it is what will determine if they buy, rebuy and refer your product or service.

[Image: Courtesy of Proshade Kenya]

In your opinion, what does the local fashion need to be able to migrate into the luxury sphere?

I don’t believe you should migrate into luxury. It needs to be in your plan to be a luxury brand from the very beginning. Luxury is a mindset. The designer must appreciate what it takes and begin the journey deliberately. Players in the local fashion industry need to decide who they intend to serve and do it well. The bigger and more profitable segment to start with perhaps is premium. Do the basics well and if you can master that begin to introduce a separate bespoke service that offers a little more. What we should stop doing is embracing mediocrity and adopt an attitude of excellence. Every stitch must be consistent. Materials should be of the best quality, not the most profitable. The fashion designers must have a keen eye for future trends and employ well trained seamstresses.

And finally, in your own words, how would you define luxury?

Luxury is a product or service that exceeds every possible measure of quality and opulence and is available to the discerning customer for whom money is no object.



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