MENAFN - Khaleej Times
(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Dubai is undoubtedly a shopper's paradise, and luxury retailer, Paris Gallery, is the one-stop destination for perfumes, cosmetics, watches, sunglasses, accessories and leather goods.
Offering a premium collection of more than 500 international brands across several product categories, the luxury retailer has over 80 boutique stores in prime retail locations in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain. Its retail division also consists of Watch Gallery and fashion stores such as Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, Etro, Sergio Rossi and Aigner.
Mohammed Abdul Rahim Al Fahim, a member of the founding Al Fahim family, oversees the network of retail stores and distribution businesses throughout the UAE and GCC countries as the chief executive officer of the Paris Gallery Group of Companies. Prior to his appointment in 2006, he was responsible for the Group's Saudi Arabia operations.
The CEO, in a detailed sitting with Khaleej Times, talked about the company's business strategy, corporate governance, expansion and other future plans.
"The number of UAE residents and tourists that shop at our stores are fairly balanced. While we have always had a large number of tourists from China and from European countries like Russia, there has been a significant increase in the number of tourists from countries such as India, Iran and Pakistan," Al Fahim said.
Increased tourist inflow increases Paris Gallery's year-on-year growth. Last year, the group witnessed around 10 per cent growth in sales. He mentioned that nearly 50 per cent of sales came from its UAE operations.
"In the UAE, we will continue to have a strong retail presence by opening new stores in some of the most upcoming shopping malls," he added.
Talking about new markets for expansion in the near future, Al Fahim said: "We are eagerly looking forward to the opening of our franchise stores this year, but the dates haven't been finalised. The first one will be in the city of Baku, Azerbaijan; the second in Muscat, Oman; and the third in Baghdad, Iraq." The company is also studying other new markets, he added.
"Expansion in the UAE and other GCC states is part of our short-term agenda, while Middle Eastern countries are on a mid-term agenda for the company. Under the long-term agenda, the company will focus on countries outside the Middle East. In addition, we also have ambitious plans for an international presence in developed countries," he added.
Regarding the company's plan for stock market listing, he said: "IPO [initial public offering] for Paris Gallery is again in the long-term programme. The timing has to be right. No definite timeframe has been set, but what's most important is that we have the desire to do so, and we keep it that way till we get there."
The following are the excerpts from the interview:
What are Paris Gallery's top three strategic priorities at the moment?
One priority is to strengthen our relationship with our customers by delivering products and services in a more efficient and convenient way. Another would be to implement the many initiatives we have in place so that we may continue in our profitability trajectory. And a third would be to increase the number of stores to meet our customer and business objectives, as well as to increase our international presence through a robust franchise model. We find ourselves on the right track making good progress with the set-up of our franchise stores in Iraq, Oman and Azerbaijan that's slated to open this year. We've also had a flood of inquiries on the same from many countries desiring to partner with Paris Gallery.
What are the latest developments at Paris Gallery?
In terms of business development, Paris Gallery has always endeavoured to increase its presence in all the emirates and serve its customers in innovative ways. We recently inaugurated two new stores under the brand Paris Gallery in Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah. The most recent store we opened was an Aigner fashion store at Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi. We are constantly on the pulse of the trend to make sure the sophisticated shopper is coming through our doors and reaching out for products that completely meets their needs.
New brands are continually added to our product portfolio in categories such as perfumes, cosmetics, watches and accessories. While many of the brands we showcase are international brands, there is much effort being put into promoting local and regional brands to cater to our local and regional Arab customers. A new line of perfumes will be inducted into our brand portfolio this year.
Across the organisation, in an effort to improve our systems and processes and make things easier for our employees and customers, a major project has been set in motion. PG Connect, as it is called, is an overhaul of our underlying communications platform. Using United Communications solutions, we are enhancing the channels of communication so that members of our organisation can communicate in real time, which is the need of the hour. PG Connect is in its initial phase and will soon be fully operational in a couple of months.
On the franchise end, our first three franchise stores are being readied to open its doors for business before the end of this year.
What are the key elements of your strategy?
Our values, our vision statement, our mission statement, goals and Smart objectives are the key elements of our strategy.
The company has gone through a number of phases over the past seven years, and the turning point for us was in 2006 when we restructured the company governance system. Since then we have gained credibility among our stakeholders, both internal and external.
What fascinates you about retailing? What keeps you going every day?
The fact that there's always something new to learn from it fascinates me. In fact, retail is a business that never takes a break, and you've got to have your hands on the reigns most of the time. It's what gets me out of bed and keeps me active during the day. It's exciting, challenging, and full of surprises.
As the CEO, how do you manage relationships within the company? What significant change since you were appointed as the CEO of Paris Gallery brought about the recent successes?
Transparency has always been the key to successful management. It is the main ingredient for a successful and harmonious workforce, because by being totally transparent you make sure everyone has the right information at the right time to make the right decisions. Since adopting a corporate form of governance, we created a culture that got the organisation working much more collaboratively. It's more of a horizontal structure with people working together closely.
It is known that a large percentage of Paris Gallery's customers are tourists. Has there been any noticeable change to the number of Middle East consumers that it serves?
The numbers of UAE residents and tourists that shop at our stores are fairly balanced. In fact, in recent years we have noticed a considerable increase in Middle Eastern customers which points to the fact that the aspirations for luxury among the people of the UAE, GCC and surrounding nations have grown. While we have always had a large number of tourists from China and Russia, there has been a significant increase in the number of tourists from countries such as India, Iran and Pakistan.
How does technology feature in your business strategy?
Technology is in the driver's seat. As consumers becoming increasingly tech savvy, it opens up additional channels of communication. Not only will a customer be able to purchase a product with ease anytime, anywhere, but they will also be able to make educated choices before purchasing a product. Paris Gallery is in phase one of implementing PG Connect that will provide a rich collaborative experience through a range of communications solutions.
What are innovation challenges ahead for retail?
The global retail landscape is continually changing. The rising real estate costs, slowing consumerism, the need for proper analysis of consumer data that's continuously streaming in from mobile devices, the rising potential of mobile devices as more and more customers take to smartphones for product purchases, and the growing importance of social media all pose challenges to most retailers today. You've got to be innovative and you've got to come up with newer and better ideas that are relevant and continue to deliver; which again is key to staying resilient in a highly competitive marketplace.
How was the last year?
We broadened our product portfolio to include fine jewellery. We have partnered with global conglomerates Gitanjali to showcase fine jewellery in select stores. Also in 2012 we added a few international brands to our portfolio of watch brands. As the demand for better and newer products increase, innovation becomes the mainstream, and we are forced to keep up with the ever-evolving consumer. Sales also increased in 2012 in response to celebrities launching their perfumes at Paris Gallery and celebrities promoting perfumes at Paris Gallery.
What's your opinion on the upcoming Dubai Design District?
The Dubai Design District is an ambitious project designed to develop the city's fashion, design and luxury industry. As I see it, Dubai is well positioned to amplify its role in the global fashion arena. With Dubai contributing a 50 per cent share of luxury retail in the region, it is inevitable that the city would rise to the status that many countries in Europe and the West presently enjoy.
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