(MENAFN - Arab News) Retail giant Al Bandar Trading (BT), an enterprise of Landmark Retail Ltd, has announced an ambitious plan to hire about 3,500 Saudi men and women over the next three years and invest SR 800 million during the next nine months to open new stores across the Kingdom.
The announcement was made by Neelesh Bhatnagar, BT's chief executive officer, who said that the company, in response to the Saudi government's job localization program, has also embarked on a plan to set up three retail academies to train about 11,000 young Saudis in retail sector.
Neelesh, who formally inaugurated a mega shopping mall named Oasis Centre in Khamis Mushyat on Wednesday, said, "BT would make the investment by mid-2013, while the company will double the size of its business operations in Saudi Arabia during the next three to five years."
The inaugural ceremony of the 226,000 square feet Oasis Centre was attended by top Saudi businessmen, Ravi Krishnan, BT's chief operating officer, Central Region, officials and senior BT executives.
Eleven brands, owned and operated by Bandar Trading, have new stores in Oasis Centre in Khamis. The Centre, the first of its kind in the Kingdom, was designed to be a destination for shoppers in Asir province.
The mall's strength lies in the diverse range of anchor stores which includes Centerpoint, Home Center, Emax, Citymax, Shoexpress, Koton, Newlook, and ICONIC. Moreover, the shopping center, positioned strategically on the main bustling road in Khamis, comes with a parking facility for for more than 1,000 cars.
Neelesh said, "BT ranks today as the number one fashion company in Saudi Arabia with more than 10,000 employees on our payroll at the moment. We are a Labor Ministry' Green Category company with Saudi men and women constituting 34 percent of our workforce today," said the BT chief, adding that the company has been adding one million square feet of retail space every year in Saudi Arabia.
"This is in addition to the 1,500 employees being hired annually by BT," said Neelesh, while adding that the company has been creating ample employment opportunities for Saudi men and women.
He noted that the Saudi operation is important for the Landmark Group as it contributes to about 40 to 45 percent of the company's revenue. He predicted that the Saudi market would continue to grow in years to come.
He said the training facilities will be opened by BT in partnership with the Riyadh-based Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) shortly.
He also said that the first retail academy would be set up in Riyadh followed by the two other Saudi cities--Jeddah and Dammam.
"A total of 10,150 Saudi men and women will be trained by the three academies during the next five years", he noted.
The course materials were being prepared by a panel of local and international experts, he said.
The academies, the first of their kind in the Middle East, will be operational during the first quarter of 2013, said Neelesh, while adding that the company has already signed a MoU with the HRDF in this regard.
The academies will run courses of 11-month duration with an aim to equip Saudi men and women with necessary skills and knowledge to work in retail sector.
The curriculum for the academies have already been designed in South Africa, while an academy manager will be appointed with a few days from now, said Neelesh.
He pointed out that the Kingdom was the first and the only place chosen by the Landmark Group in the world to have a retail academy.
"Once the young Saudis graduate from our academies, they will be thorough professionals to work in retail sector," said the BT chief. He said that the Saudi trainees would be shown films, video clips and audio tapes in order to impart all round knowledge about the retail sector.
"We have also employed a large number of Saudi women in our stores," said Neelesh, "while complying with the regulatory provisions of the Ministry of Labor and well in conformity with the norms of Saudi society. About 900 Saudi women are working in our stores presently."
Neelesh said that the BT had taken the lead in terms of hiring Saudi women in their stores and added that the company had worked out new plans and policies with an aim to hire more native Saudi men and women in every segment of BT's business.
"And we are doing very well, we are happy to abide by the regulations of the Saudi government in terms of hiring Saudis, and above all we are happy with the performance of our Saudi staffers on the jobs in our stores" he added.
Referring to the sprawling Oasis Centre and its association with BT, he said that the center was the flagship of Landmark Retail Ltd, which had Oasis Centres in the UAE, Bahrain and India.
This is the first such center in Saudi Arabia, said the BT chief, adding that a plan to open "four more Oasis Centre in Saudi Arabia is in the pipeline." The center in Khamis is owned by a Saudi landlord, but the BT is the principal tenant occupying majority of the retail space, he said.
Asked about the new brands being added by BT to the existing brand basket, Neelesh said that the company was ready to make new inroads into a growing sector that includes the whole range of sportswear, gadgets and sports equipment.
"We are going to launch a new brand called Sports One in November this year," said the BT chief, adding that the company has had ambitious plans to expand its operation in Saudi Arabia by opening new stores and by launching new brands for our loyal customers.
On the question of BT's aggressive plans of investment in the Kingdom in particular and in the Middle East in general despite regional political uprisings being witnessed by several countries, Neelesh said that "the BT had full faith in this country, in its solid business environment, and above all in the peace and security of the Kingdom under the visionary leadership of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah."
Moreover, BT offers special incentives for Saudis working for the company like more company benefits, financial incentives on the basis of length of their services, full medical coverage for the company's employee and his families and special training facility.
BT, he said, was operating some 569 stores of its diverse brands in the Kingdom at the moment. "Plans are a foot to open about 45 more stores during the next one year from now," said Neelesh, adding that Emax and a few other brands will see more expansion in the Kingdom in near future.
Replying a question about the business trends especially in retail sector, the BT chief said that "the growth seen in Saudi Arabia is exceptional, all other countries in the Gulf are behind the Kingdom in terms of business growth and liquidity in the sector."
That is why, much of BT's investment is being made in the Kingdom, said Neelesh, adding that the company has planned to expand its very prestigious brand called 'Fitness First' in Saudi Arabia.
He said that Fitness First is a subsidiary of the Landmark Group with over 23 clubs across the Kingdom, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan.
"We have two Fitness First clubs in Saudi Arabia presently, while six clubs with all gymnasium facilities will be opened shortly," said Neelesh, adding that the fitness chain offers world class facilities including state-of-the-art equipment, dedicated free weights area, personal training by world-class fitness professionals, intensive weight loss programs, free group exercise classes and multiple membership privileges. Fitness First is the largest privately owned health and fitness chain and a global brand that originated in the UK.
Referring to the products and services offered by BT in Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Al-Ahmed , BT's Chief Administrative Officer, said: "BT provides value-driven products for the entire family through a diverse portfolio of core retail brands in Saudi Arabia."
Al-Ahmed said that Bandar Trading had taken a giant leap in the Gulf region by expanding its business with more emphasis in quality. "In fact, Bandar Trading is a people-driven organization with a high value on innovation and a passion for excellence," added Al-Ahmed.
"Our core values are reflected in our leadership, fostering growth in the varied sectors into which BT have entered successfully over nearly three decades," said Ravi Krishnan, while speaking on the sidelines of the inaugural ceremony of the Oasis Centre. Krishnan said that Oasis Centre was all set to be the most attractive destination for Saudis and residents in the twin cities of Abha and Khamis.
"The Center can boast itself to be the best shopping destination in that region featuring the whole range of fashion, electronics, furniture and household under one roof," said Krishnan, who especially flew with other top BT executives from Riyadh to Khamis to attend the opening ceremony.
Asked about the line of products and promotional offers, Krishnan added that "all brand stores are now offering promotional prices, giving customers real value for money".
The wide range of products and attractive display keep the customers mesmerised around the stores at Oasis Centre, said Krishnan, while adding that the special autumn and winter collections as well as the ambience of the Center make every visit a treat for the whole family.
The Oasis Centre has announced a number of activities over the weekends to give shoppers an entertaining and delightful shopping experience.
The colorful inaugural ceremony of the Center was attended by a capacity crowd exceeding some 10,000 men, women and children jostling with each other on the inaugural evening at the Center.
On this occasion, Bandar Trading is running a "Visit n Win Promotion" under which a Chevrolet Tahoe will be given to the winner. This is in addition to several other offers and prizes announced by the BT.