Considering that retail is a competitive sector in the GCC, what strategies have led to Abu Issa's success?
As a result of our considerable local experience, we are different from other retailers. We try to create our own concepts and find gaps in the market. Most of the retailers in the region are simply importers of brands, concepts, and ideas; however, in our case most of the business we do comes from our own ideas. For example, in cosmetics, there are people between the ages of 15 and 25 that are generally not catered to. We created a concept just for them called Karisma, and presently this is doing very well. Another example is the Arabesq brand. This is a collection of sweets from different Arab countries, with each product marked with its national flag. The most important of our concepts is Mosafer, our travel luggage brand, which caters not only to the Middle East but also to the broader world.
How do you introduce your own concepts to the market?
We do not really do any scientific research; we rely on gut feelings. I travel around the world and I am accustomed to shopping. I know how to do it, and I think this is a more effective way of finding out what works than carrying out formal research. With Mosafer, I tried the concept here first and it worked well. When Dubai Mall saw the concept, they loved it and wanted it in their mall. This is how the brand developed to the 13 stores we now have. It has become so successful that we have branched into an operating travel agency.
What is it that makes international brands partner with Abu Issa Holding?
We do not like to go for the major, well-known brands. We always like to do the work ourselves, and to do research on the market to find out who the rising stars are. These companies are more flexible. When you work with them when they are young and they feel that they are a partner in growth, there is a real energy. People today are tired of seeing the same brands next to each other all over the world. You can go to Turkey, Italy, or Spain, and see all the brands lined up next to each other, all in the same order, which I find boring. There is no creativity and people are getting tired of it. Everyone wants to go to the non-chain or non-franchise stores. People in Qatar travel to Dubai all the time and buy the big brands there. Here, they can find things that they cannot find anywhere else. Some companies use us as a stepping-stone; however, we are more like a partner for growth. Most of these companies really appreciate us.
What is your overall expectation of the retail sector in Qatar?
The market is getting saturated with malls. There are too many, and more than what the market can sustain. One has to be careful where they invest their money. It is difficult to know, because the success of malls is sometimes a matter of luck. Often their plans look great, but people do not like it when it is built. Other times, the planning is poor but people love the mall. The good thing about Qatar in terms of retail is that we are fortunate to have Dubai ahead of us. Dubai is a good indicator of what is going to happen to us in the future. Sometimes Qataris are reluctant to say that, but I can watch Dubai and see what will happen here.