Doing business in Mauritius – the domestic retail market

Probably the most critical element of a business is its market. You can have a world class product or service, or a super brilliant business concept, but if it does not suit the market, it won’t work. Foreigners are welcome to set or relocate their business on the island and it seems that the features of Mauritius as a peaceful, stable and beautiful island tend to surpass the reality of doing business here. Those relocating to Mauritius through a business idea need to ascertain that the idea stands its value, precisely that there is a market for the proposal. Many also tend to replicate a successful business model in their own country, which, not in all cases, is a good idea.

A market is defined by various parameters, among which is its cultural build-up. Mauritius is quite an interesting playfield. The island is a rich blend of cultures from different parts of the world (India, China, Africa & Europe). Over the years this mix has transformed itself into a unique identity – all Mauritians form one culture but each one keeps its origin alive. Now, like every other country on the east side of the globe (yes, I know the world is not flat!), the island is westernizing itself. The Europeanized Mauritian culture is something, I tell you. Easy to recognize: the Europeanized Mauritian will have English, French and Creole words in one single sentence. This translates into a Mauritian keeping his origin while trying to ape other cultures; not really a specialized characteristic as similar phenomenon is observed in many other Asian / African / Arab countries.

Adding to the cultural complexity is the apparent lack of volume and purchasing power of the Mauritian retail market. This all makes the market bland for big brands.

We all want to emulate what is being done elsewhere; an English pub to hang out after work, but we do not have the same purchasing power or culture to sustain the business model. We want Starbucks but still wondering why they have not set foot on the island (despite several invitations and franchise proposals). Big brands deploy important market research, analysis and come up with quite precise intelligence. They know. McDonalds and KFC came in with the right pricing strategy and could afford to play on their usually insistent visibility and marketing ; forcing their way to the consumers’ behavior. The ingenuity of the brands makes them succeed in any market anyway. Their financial and organizations resources can stand the weight on cash flow over years until a decent return on investment starts kicking in.

You’ve got to have a strong back.

Not many could survive on this market. Examples: Pick ‘N’ Pay, Game, Wimpy, Mr Price…

Irrespective of the industry, commerce and retail environments can be very daunting unless it comes with a proper strategy, adapted to the market. Mauritians know why Toyota and Nissan were among the most sold cars on the island for decades relegating the best German brands far behind. There are different plausible answers, but the reality is that the different ethnic communities associated themselves to the ethnic origin of the dealership owners. Believe it or not, everything at some point was based on ethnicity on the island: sports (football teams), Coke or Pepsi, corporate colors, and so many other things. It did not go as far as racism but there was a concept of community based on communalism. Happy to observe that this is eroding but still there, present in our genes. Hopefully, this will be wiped out in the coming generations.

Entering the retail market of the island is challenging in all aspects. A successful brand (see the examples above) or business model is not a guarantee of success everywhere. As consultants, we often carry out market studies for our clients. The most interesting case we worked on was the setting-up of the first coffee-shop on the island. Coffee culture was not present at that time but the branding, the concept and the products attracted people – literally it ‘spoke’ to people. It was not only for the coffee but the general vibe of the place that made its success. Several brands then followed, with the same success. The interesting fact was that the market finally had the possibility to ape western culture, with the right pricing and concept.

This was just a brief overview of the domestic consumer market of Mauritius. There are of course deeper and lengthier analysis, but the idea here was just to throw the basics for those who want to set up retail businesses on the island. It is important that specialists are consulted before venturing out in the unknown. Each country has its own specifics and so does Mauritius.

Talk to us if you have any idea or concept you would like to develop. We handle all aspects of doing business in Mauritius. From the set-up to management and development.

Talk to us if you have any idea or concept you would like to develop. We handle all aspects of doing business in Mauritius. From the set-up to management and development.