What factors have contributed to the success of Virgin Megastores here in the Middle East, particularly the UAE, compared to the phasing out in markets like the US or the UK?
The fact that the store is more of a license than a franchise has been pivotal because it has allowed us to adapt the concept. We have kept the essence of the positioning of the brand; we have taken care of it in every sense of the word. Our ability to adapt the concept to fit different sensitivities has allowed us to succeed in each of the markets we are in. Our internal culture is also a contributing factor, and it is a culture built around innovation. Doors are always open and ideas are always flowing and they can flow in any direction. The fact that we have this very strong entrepreneurial spirit in the company means people feel very comfortable speaking up and taking initiative; it is what has driven growth and success. I remain the custodian and allow new ideas to be trialed, bring them to light, and invest in the right projects. This gives us a sense of excitement, achievement, and belonging.
You spoke of developing the brand. How do you go about that across MENA?
We have always been a brand with purpose and believe in doing business for good. Richard Branson embodies that spirit. We try to build on that solid foundation and take the retail entertainment experience to a whole new level. The brand has built its strength creatively, organically, and by directing its attention toward causes that are meaningful. Entrepreneurs know that Virgin is here to provide support. That is the best community marketing that a brand can be associated with.
How important do you think it is to build partnerships with local companies?
It is critical to our success. We work with many local brands that understand our brand and offer products and services that appeal to us. As a business operating in the Middle East it is part of our business responsibility to benefit the businesses around us so we all become stronger as a market. We have positioned the Virgin Megastore in a way that can accommodate major brand names as well as smaller start-ups.
How do you think the Department for Economic Development's initiative on the Dubai Index of Intellectual Property will impact the retail sector?
The Index is there initially to get a baseline understanding read on where we are as far as intellectual property understanding and how much companies exercise or invest in intellectual property protection, making sure all of their trademarks are registered correctly in the right classes and countries. Intellectual property is part of a country's asset. We have qualified law firms that are focused on trademarks and intellectual property and have global experience they can bring to the UAE. There is awareness but as businesses move into new territories like e-commerce it is important that inventors, entrepreneurs, and investors register their name, URL, and all their intellectual property and put aside a budget to protect their ideas.
What is your forecast for Dubai's retail sector going forward?
Every year we project double-digit growth and we have been beating those targets and I think what applies to us applies to a lot of other retailers that have a strong concept and solid brand positioning. Dubai is a capital of shopping and what is very interesting is seeing the Dubai effect across regional markets in MENA. Everybody is aspiring toward a much higher standard, which makes it much easier for the retailers to operate. We are going in with healthy conditions for brands and for employees. All of that is built on his Highness' vision. There is also an interesting change happening outside of the big malls in the form of community malls with unique brands and offerings and that is a trend that is here to stay. We may need to bring new concepts or formats to these community or neighborhood-type malls.
© The Business Year - January 2015