What made you enter the world of retail?
I fell into it quite by accident. My dream was to be a captain in the navy so I decided to go to university and then join the navy. But my mother had been in retail – she had shops in the UK selling decor, candles, tableware – and from the age of 12, I used to help her at her store, cleaning the floor, helping in the workshop, serving the customers… Soon I realised it was my passion in life and went on to do a master’s in management and retail. I’ve not looked back since.
What does it take to be a successful retailer?
I’ve been in stores throughout my career, and I’ve found that CEOs who are hands-off, who stay in their offices, let others run around, and come in just to inspect are not exactly successful retailers.
As a young leader, I am keen to ensure I’m still hands-on in our stores. I make sure I am on the bridge or with the guys doing what it takes. Sometimes I find the workers in the stores embarrassed to find me working along with them.
From a small family business to running a huge chain, what did it take?
I have around 24 years of retail experience, working in a number of retailing positions in various environments. I’ve learnt something at every point along the way, whether it is how to manage teams and customers, or look into busy operations of mega stores.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that understanding is the key, no matter what market… understand the customer, how they live, what is it that makes them tick… If we can be curious and demonstrate genuine appreciation and a wanting to learn from our customers, we can strive to be better at what we do. That’s my passion.
The UAE is a melting pot of cultures. How do you deal with the challenge of meeting so many different tastes?
I travel a lot, which makes you attuned to different environments and adapting yourself better in them. I have been lucky enough to have worked in a number of countries including France, Korea, Spain, Italy, Russia, Belgium. That has helped me to be more aware of my surroundings, and taught me how to approach different situations.
What are the challenges of handling more than 6,000 staff and 97 stores?
The challenge is communication. It’s not about more, but the right communication. An Indian staff in Saudi Arabia may not understand things in the same way as a Saudi Arabian working there. Even getting through to other businesses is not easy. There are various layers and you are always worried how it will play out. I make it a point to make sure that the opposite party really understands the message. That’s why I visit all my workplaces, be it factories or stores, speak to the staff, shake their hands, ask them how they’re doing, if anything is wrong, let them express themselves.
Are there other factors that result in non-sales?
Funnily enough, sometimes it can be down to a colour! Some sofa sets in golden yellow sold out like hot cakes here, but didn’t sell at all in KSA. We asked the customers what put them off, and they said it was the colour. When we put it out in green, they just flew out! So there are regional tastes that dictate sales. It happens in Europe too, especially between the British – who love the beiges and browns – and the French, who go for more colour and flair. It’s a cultural thing, and the more you understand that and pay attention to it, the more you will get it right.
Is opulence still in?
I think there’ll always be demand for opulence from a certain class of customers. What I’ve noticed is that there is a slight toning down of the bling. Customers are now looking for far more attention to detail. Quality rules.
What are the current trends?
There’s a move towards certain Arabic patterns in bedroom furniture. There is a richness in design and natural colour in woods. White gloss is still very popular, so is beige. Black has come down in popularity. Purple will be quite popular next year, as well as elements of blue and turquoise. People have started looking for subtlety in features.
There is also an effort to bring technology into our furniture products, whether it is through LED lighting, adapters by the bedside for your phone, USB cables, make-up tables and wardrobes with proper lighting; it’s all in the works.
What’s a typical day for you?
I start early in the morning, at around 6.30. Answering emails takes a chunk of my time. I also travel a lot to different cities in the region. Sometimes I finish around 11pm.
I spend time going over communications from our customers too. When they write to me I make it a point to reply in person.
Weekends are for my family, my children – twin boys and a six-year-old – to recharge my batteries. I also try and get some ‘shopping’ done, checking out how other businesses are doing, and also our own store.
How do you relax?
My Labrador helps. I make myself a cup of tea when I get home, and sit down with Jack beside me. I spend around 20 minutes just stroking him. It brings down stress. I also play golf, do Pilates to keep myself mentally alert. And a good night’s sleep is important.