Long a symbol of retailing quality in the region, Lebanon is feeling the effects of regional instability in its retail segment, yet luxury brands are having no trouble finding their market. Indeed, the retail sector has been one of the three main drivers of GDP growth over the last 10 years, alongside banking and telecoms. Based on value added tax (VAT) figures, Lebanon’s retail market was estimated at a value of $20 billion in 2010, with per-capita income of $8,000 and per-capita retail spending $5,000 a year. The true value, however, is somewhat larger as some products are exempt from VAT. With average GDP growth of around 8% over the last few years, consumers have also not shied away from spending big and borrowing for long-term purchases. Tourist spending and remittances from Lebanon’s 12-million strong diaspora have helped keep the sector ticking over, while the luxury segment is currently growing at 8%, as Tony Salame, Chairman & CEO of major Lebanese fashion retailer Aïshti, told TBY. The demand for luxury cars also shows no sign of abating, with around 10% of the market for new car sales consisting of luxury vehicles.
Leading the way in the luxury retail segment is fashion retail, with almost all major international brands present in Beirut. Stores are centered in the Downtown and Corniche areas, with Beirut Souks, in the Downtown area, home to brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Jimmy Choo. The Downtown area is also home to Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Roberto Cavalli, Tod’s, Gianfranco Ferré, and more. The Corniche is home to Paul Smith, Valentino, Brioni, Francesco Smalto, and Tom Ford. Lebanese fashion houses are also winning big, and local retailers Aïshti and Luxury Clothing Company dominate the market and remain optimistic despite regional turmoil. “We have seen a drop in shoppers from Syria and Jordan, but our local network is growing and we are opening more stores,” Aïshti’s Chairman and CEO Tony Salame told TBY. “At the end of the year we expect double-digit growth of around 12%.”
The car sector is also posting good sales figures. “In 2008 [the sales] figure jumped to 33,000 [units per year], and it has stayed around that mark ever since,” Wissam Trad, Director of Saad & Trad, told TBY. The practice of registering cars in the UAE in order to avoid high VAT and registration fees is also now a thing of the past following the implementation of rules whereby foreign cars must be registered in Lebanon within six months. Appetite remains strong, however, and in 2010 Porsche Centre Lebanon sold 360 new cars and 160 pre-owned vehicles through its showroom network.
A well-educated and affluent middle class looks to keep things ticking over in Lebanon, as consumers remain trend conscious. Other successful retail segments include beauty products—taking advantage of Lebanon’s majority female population and its liberal attitude—and home appliances. Khoury Home, a leading home appliances retailer is currently investing to expand in the region and was also named winner of the Levant Retailer of the Year award in 2010 by the Middle East Retail Academy (MERA).
© The Business Year