Marka is the UAE's first publicly traded operator and is focused on hospitality, retail, and sports. What are the key areas of focus in these segments?
We place our customers at the heart of everything we do and our market positioning across our three business verticals are mid to high end, so we do not operate in the value sector nor in the luxury sector. There is a priority running order and, at the moment, our core business is food and beverages and then sports, with a slightly more cautious approach on fashion, health, and beauty in the short to medium term as a result of market conditions. We are diversifying out of fashion and into cosmetics, health, and beauty. We have seven fashion brands, a jewelry brand, and Dinh Van from Paris, and are about to launch our first Shiseido Spa.
What is the strategy behind your partnership with Souq.com?
Marka first ventured into e-commerce when we purchased a majority stake in a UK-based e-commerce company called Icons.com, which sells authentic signed sports memorabilia. That business has traded double-digit growth since we have bought it and is truly an international player. Going back to our core business here in the UAE, e-commerce generally in the GCC is in an embryonic stage; it is nowhere near as well developed as it is in Western markets and so we see great opportunity. There is a young upwardly mobile demographic and customer group, there is significant penetration of mobile phones in particular, there is a target audience that is obsessed with retail and shopping, and, if you put those components together, that logic would suggest that e-commerce in the UAE has great potential. Our partnership with Souq.com was just announced. We have started a Marka sports offer with Souq.com selling into Saudi Arabia and the UAE and, without giving the full business plan away, you can expect to see a fashion offer added to that sports offer in the not-too-distant future. We are also working with other potential partners on expanding that e-commerce offer beyond Saudi and UAE and potentially even into North African markets in the months and years to come.
What is Marka Holding's expansion strategy?
We are a retail holding and operating company; however, we used acquisition in our first stage of expansion to gain critical mass so there will come a point in time where we will not buy any more companies. Right now we are focused on scaling what we have. However, Marka has international aspirations and, like any good retail chain, we want to grow out from the center. Our strategy has always been to focus on the UAE in years one and two, on the GCC in years two and three, and internationally in years three to five. Marka is a long-term player. My role here is about long-term shareholder value irrespective of the challenges or opportunities we face.
What are your prospects for the year ahead?
2016 is going to be a challenging year for a lot of businesses. We know about the impact of lower oil pricing, we know that Russian tourism has declined to some degree, and in many ways it is a reality check for retailers in this part of the world. No longer can the fashion retailers and the luxury retailers maintain premium price products. Now digital has kicked in, the market has become global, and consumers are savvy and the power is entirely with them. I have heard reports that 20% of food and beverage retailers are scheduled to disappear by December. I do not subscribe to that but it is a healthy reality check for companies and organizations like Marka because it forces us to look at our cost base and put the customer at the heart of our proposition. Coming out of this period there should not be any lazy retailers and everyone should be on their A-game.