Business View Magazine interviews Sahil Mahtani, General Manager/Owner of Kishco Trading Ltd., as part of our focus on Best Practices in Caribbean Businesses.
Kishco Trading Ltd. was created through a mix of opportunity and vision. Today, a large, respected purveyor of household goods in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), it all began as a giant leap of faith 20 years ago by a brave entrepreneurial couple. In 1997, on the advice of a supplier, retail store owners Chandru and Sunita Mahtani planned a getaway to Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos to escape the stressful economic situation they’d been experiencing in Chile.
At that point, the business environment in Turks and Caicos consisted of a couple of hotels, a Mexican restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, and a lifestyle of ease. Agriculture was basically non-existent, given that the soil is limestone rock. Everything had to be imported. Despite the proximity to Miami, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic (DR), and Haiti, the low volume of goods being brought in to TCI meant freight costs were amazingly high.
Even so, the Mahtanis decided to close shop in economically challenged Chile and start over in the Turks and Caicos. They began by renting a small store in Providenciales – one of the only commercial buildings in existence at that time – and imported vegetables, water, and other beverages from the DR and sold them at reasonable prices. Kishco expanded into electronics and appliances, reducing their clients’ cost of living and increasing the general standard of living in the TCI Islands. They invested in a boat for the vegetable haul from the DR; opened a second location in Grand Turk in 1998; and developed Kishco into a household name in Turks and Caicos.
Business View recently spoke with General Manager and current owner, Sahil Mahtani, about the challenges, growth, and future of Kishco and its sister entity, Kostco, in the Turks and Caicos Islands:
BVM: Was the company’s evolution by master vision, or circumstance, or opportunity?
SM: “I think the initial vision was to become a one-stop shop for the people of the Turks and Caicos. The speed of growth of the Turks and Caicos in the late 1990s and early 2000s was very unexpected given how undeveloped the Islands were at that time.
“We currently have 40 employees, and cover the entire Turks and Caicos Islands. At one point, we had six locations. Since the new management team took over in 2015, we have been in the process of restructuring the company to differentiate product, since everything was in close proximity to each other. Now the stores are separate entities based on product. Kishco operates the main Providenciales and Grand Turk location. Kostco operates the location that holds clothing and the larger section of the cosmetics.”
BVM: What is your customer base, and what are your prime revenue drivers?
SM: “We try to cover the full gamut of residential and commercial solutions. Our clients range from million-dollar villa owners to our valued everyday local client. We are the leaders in furniture, electronics, and appliances here. We represent GE Appliances, Ashley Furniture, many restaurant equipment brands, and are starting to build our wine and spirits portfolio.
“We all do a little of everything. Times are changing, and you need to be as versatile as ever, and adapt. I ask myself all the time: What can we do to increase revenue in this ever-competitive world? My current project is implementing a staff training program. I started my career working at Cartier in New York and the training programs that Cartier uses for its employees is unbelievable and, subconsciously, so effective. I was grateful to have the opportunity to undergo this training. I took the fundamentals they taught me and developed my own methods.
“When I joined Kishco in 2013, I thought the sales methods used to market a luxury bracelet or diamond ring would have been a world apart from the product we are selling at Kishco. I found out quickly that the fundamentals are the same.”
BVM: Is competition an issue on Turks and Caicos?
SM: “Yes. This is a challenge we’ve taken on, since so much competition is now in the market. Our answer was to differentiate the products in the stores that were close to each other. We have locked in brands that are well represented, and started to change our product line with suppliers that will sell to us exclusively and semi-exclusively. Our products are all new. We don’t stock any refurb anymore, which is available at other vendors in the islands (and they don’t even disclose they’re selling refurb).
“Our sales staff is the most attentive and provides the best service. We focus on core values, a lean toward innovation, really anything that makes you feel like you’re the business of choice in your field. There are so many choices out there, including Amazon. What we are emphasizing is a seamless experience from purchase to installation with great service at a very competitive price. We try to be the leader not only in pricing but also the service provided.”
BVM: Are there any long-term business relationships that you feel have contributed to your success?
SM: “We have had relations with many of our suppliers for the past 30 years, through our business in St. Maarten. We are also constantly adding suppliers that fit our culture. We are heavily supported by Sankey and Premium, two phenomenal appliance companies. If you go to many restaurants here in the Turks and Caicos, you will see their product in the form of a cooler, or freezer, or whatever it may be. All our suppliers have been amazing because we have a good relationship with them. They complain about many companies they work with not paying on time, so we make sure that we are never late with payments, and keep open communication with them at all times.”
BVM: Does the Kishco/Kostco retail business have expansions, efficiency upgrades, new facilities on the planning board?
SM: “We are in the process of evaluating whether smaller satellite stores would be beneficial. We tried it a few years ago with a wine and spirits boutique and it did very well. We are thinking of expanding that idea. For us, it all comes back to training. I wish we could say we were about to implement drone deliveries, but our first objective is to get back to basics and then keep it fresh.”
BVM: Five years out, what are the company’s priorities and significant objectives?
SM: “We are at a crossroads of opportunity here, retail is evolving, and now we have to compete, not only with online retailers in the U.S. such as Amazon, but figure out how to push retail forward. Our goal is to set up community events, and involve ourselves with the community that supports us so much. We all want to grow together. We also need to diversify and grow the brand name horizontally and vertically. How we are going to do that is the next big challenge.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Kishco Trading Ltd.
WHAT: Retail shopping entities – Kishco and Kostco – serving Turks and Caicos
WHERE: Three locations in TCI, with a Flagship store in Providenciales