Most successful businessmen advise budding entrepreneurs to start with their heart. If a project doesn’t interest them it will not succeed, is the message. Shahzad Haider, chairman of The Fragrance Foundation Arabia, extends it further. He’s formulated four rules for himself. Unless those boxes are ticked, the marketing whizz – who has helped launch the ice cream brand London Dairy in this market and has handled marketing for giants such as Nestle and Iffco – says he will not venture into a new business.
“What attracts me to a new business is that you create your own mythology, your own dos and don’ts,” says the 42-year-old who is also on the guest lecture panel of Heriot-Watt University in Dubai.
Shahzad has the manner of a marketing guru who’s got it all figured out. “I’ve created my own way of doing business,” he says. “When I look at investing in a new business I scrutinise four things in a project – if I’m not convinced about even one, I’ll never enter that business.”
First, “You should not be copying other businesses,” he says. “It has to have a unique selling proposition, so that it can be marketed easily.”
Second, it should not have a limited time line. “It has to be a long-term proposition. It should have the quality to become a continually growing phenomenon.”
Third, it has to move you forward. “It should take you several steps above your present position – in terms of learning, acquiring experience, educating others, and of course your social as well as professional status,” he advises.
And last, the business should be a lucrative proposition. “It should have the promise of substantial profits,” he smiles. “Why else would anybody be interested?”
The Fragrance Foundation Arabia fulfilled three conditions Shahzad insists upon. The fourth condition, he says, is yet to be ticked off. “But we are a young foundation, in a young country, in an industry that is growing, so I am sure I’ll be able to tick that off in due course,” he says.
“I think it will evolve into a huge industry over time, and is going in the right direction at present.”
Shahzad came across The Fragrance Foundation during one of his academic searches for new businesses to venture into. Headquartered in New York, The Fragrance Foundation was established in 1949 by six industry leaders affiliated with the legendary fragrance houses Elizabeth Arden, Coty, Guerlain, Helena Rubenstein, Chanel and Perfumes Weil. It was the go-to source for historic, cultural, scientific and industry-related reference material.
Shahzad was looking for new avenues in marketing when the fragrance industry ticked the first box. “I guessed it would be something unique in this market,” he says.
His interest piqued, Shahzad decided to bring the concept to the Middle East where he found the industry was growing rapidly.
“The idea was to bring together all the big players in the fragrance industry on one platform, collate data about their working, and disseminate it among its members so it would be useful when they plan expansions and in marketing.”
Once Shahzad decided on the idea, he got moving swiftly and began contacting the big players in the region. What he didn’t realise was the complex nature of the fragrance industry in the Middle East as opposed to its counterparts in other regions. “Before its launch in 2009, I went to all the big names in the fragrance industry here, the pioneers of the industry,” he says. But they were not very keen to join him. “A few told me that such an initiative had not been launched before so were not sure of its success,” he says.
“The market was different as most of the distributors are retailers and also brand representatives, and most of the manufacturers are also retailers!” he says.
“It’s a situation not common in, say, the fragrance capitals of Paris, London or New York, nor in the East. Here, everybody is doing everything. Everything is intertwined. That’s why the fragrance industry is a very complex business here.”
Brought up on facts and figures, Shahzad was surprised to learn that figures about the business were not easily available. “When I first got into the business, accurate numbers of the sales or even the scale of the industry in the Middle East were hard to come by,” he says. The size of the market varied depending on the source one spoke to. “So, as a business it was still virgin territory and that’s where I saw the potential to grow, and my potential to make it grow."
In mid 2008, Shahzad held the first meeting of industry majors for market research. “It was perhaps the first time in the region that brand representatives of Arabic manufacturers like Arabian Oud, Ajmal, Abdul Samad Al Qurashi, Swiss Arabian Perfumes, Rasasi, among others, and also international brands like L’Oréal, P&G, Calvin Klein, Bloomingdale’s, and Paris Gallery all sat together under one roof.
“They knew each other but had not discussed business. That was my achievement, and it all started from there.”
It helped that the foundation’s objectives were not self-serving. “We as a foundation do not promote any brand, we do not take sides,” says Shahzad. “We represent and promote the fragrance industry as a category.” The foundation has 42 companies as its members, including regional and international. “Our aim is to increase awareness and appreciation of fragrances in all its forms.”
The Fragrance Foundation Arabia’s objective, he says, is to see that “regularisation and standardisation of fragrances is brought about in this region, to create a procedure for it and to streamline it”.
Shahzad has his work cut out.
“I have been working for the last four years to create standardisation and regulation of not only international, but also Arabic and oriental perfumes. When I started this effort, one of my friends asked me how we could standardise and regulate oud or bahoor [a substance which is burnt to release fragrance]. But if we want to go international we have to standardise and regulate. We want to create international standards for the rest of the world.”
Shahzad wants to create a retail audit while establishing a statistics centre for the industry. “That will help us know how it has contributed to the economy of the region and how it helps the customer,” he says.
“We are working on this with the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED) in terms of retail audit, promoting the standardisation of fragrances, and promoting its use.”
Shahzad is often asked how all this will benefit the end-user, the consumer. And he has his answer ready. “Once we know that the product is regulated and is standardised, we will know the ingredients that go into a fragrance, which in some cases we do not know at present,” he explains. “So a person can make a right choice especially if she or he is allergic to any of them.”
There are benefits to the industry too. Once they have a standard to follow based on retail audits and market shares, the companies can direct market spends more effectively.
This is the fifth year of The Fragrance Foundation Arabia. And it is also the fifth year of the Fragrance Awards, FiFi Arabia 2014 – also known as the Fragrance Oscars – where the industry players are honoured. “We’re trying to create awareness about the fragrances and that can be done only by awarding and recognising the best ones,” says Shazad. “We followed the same format as those established by the foundations in London, New York and Paris. But we have adapted them to our regional requirements.”
There are two kinds of awards – one judged by an expert jury panel, and the other, a popular online vote from consumers. “Last year we had a staggering 170,000 votes for the online categories,” says Shahzad.
The fragrance of the year award is given in eight different categories including International Fragrance and Arabic Fragrance. These are evaluated by a panel of jury. The jury is headed by Ali Jabber, CEO, MBC Group, and comprises experts from the industry, retail professionals, CEOs and media personalities. Friday editor Karen Pasquali Jones will be part of the jury, which will assess more than 150 fragrances for top honours.
The award-giving ceremony at The Gate, DIFC, on December 3, will have 300 guests from the industry, media and showbiz. “There will be lots of international attendees including brands such as Lacoste, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana,” says Shazad.
The marketing man has several other plans in the pipeline. Education and training are two areas the Foundation is looking at to expand its activities, he says.
“There is a programme called CFSS (certified fragrance sales specialist) owned by The Fragrance Foundation and conducted in London, Paris and New York, and Australia as well,” says Shahzad. “We will be starting this here, too. The CFSS advises consumers on the best perfume to wear according to their individual requirements. We need trained staff in this region for this. We are getting the programme translated into Arabic.”
For a person so steeped in fragrances, Shahzad’s personal choice is very subtle and shall remain a secret.
“As a representative of the entire industry I can’t endorse any product,” he smiles. “But yes, after entering this industry I have become very conscious of fragrances and how they work for me. After all, as Coco Chanel once said, if you are not wearing a fragrance you are not wearing anything. And you have no future!”