GOURMET HUB

Kuwait 2017 | RETAIL & REAL ESTATE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Noor Faisal Al-Qatami, CEO of Saveco, on the development of the company since its inception, remaining competitive, and expanding internationally.

Noor Faisal Al-Qatami
BIOGRAPHY
Noor Faisal Al-Qatami is CEO & Co-Owner of Saveco, having founded the company in 2010. Prior to that, she served as Director of Al-Qatami Steel for four years. In 2016, she was appointed as Member of the Supervisory Board of the Kuwait British Business Centre. She holds a bachelor from Bentley University and participated in the Promising Leaders of Tomorrow Program of Cornell University. In 2016, she was acknowledged as the Best Business Leader in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia by MENA Establishment, amongst other awards.

What was the overall concept behind Saveco when it was first established?

Saveco is a destination store that is focused on an overall customer experience. We want customers to enjoy grocery shopping at Saveco. The ambiance is great and there are activities for every individual in the family. The average grocery shopping time in Kuwait is between 20-40 minutes, but in Saveco the average time a customer spends shopping is two to three hours. That is a huge jump in hours spent in the store and it is because of the different things we offer.

Tracking the development of Saveco, what are two notable milestones for the company since your inception?

The first milestone would be the opening itself. The bureaucracy involved with getting the electricity to our stores and obtaining our licenses took two years, and we had to pay our employees and rent on a monthly basis and incurred a huge loss. The second milestone would be acquiring the trust of suppliers.

How would you describe your customers' shopping preferences?

We have two different types of customers. Our regular customer base is 80% Kuwaiti and 20% mid- to high-earning expats. On Mondays and weekends we have promotions that cover the mid to low range and have a totally different customer base. Our customers usually prefer healthier products, lactose free, gluten free, and dairy free products. We offer the biggest variety of free-from items in Kuwait.

What additional business lines are you looking to add?

We are looking to package our own goods. Many of the products we receive are imports or local suppliers, but we want to be producing these items instead of purchasing them. We are also testing hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic types of farming to use in our farms and provide the highest quality of fresh produce to our customers.

How aggressive is your business model, and what challenges does this pose?

When we first opened our second store, we thought it would be easy to control the same level of service and merchandising, but we found that it is not as easy as we thought. The quality for the first few months was totally different from our first store. Maintaining high standards is difficult. One of our main goals now is achieving ISO and HACCEP certifications. Combining both would be very difficult to achieve, but there are just a few things that we need to implement. These certifications are very specific, evaluating the nitty-gritty details including lights, shelving, and our storage organization. It would have been easier to implement these standards in the beginning because now we have to change procedures and retrain employees. We built an actual classroom in the store just for our employees to be educated in ISO certification, HACCEP, and customer service.

What markets are you looking to target when it comes to international expansion?

Initially the GCC: Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and then Saudi Arabia. To enter the Saudi market, we need to have huge purchasing power. Some of the big players over there have 50 stores or more, and we would not able to compete with that just yet. We would need to open in other locations first in Qatar, UAE, and other regions before we would be able to open in Saudi Arabia.

What are some of the peculiarities of the Kuwaiti retail market?

It is very different from the Gulf. Kuwait seeks to be the next food hub and no other location in the Gulf has comparable restaurant concepts to Kuwait. Most of the concepts in Dubai are franchises, but in Kuwait they are Kuwaiti concepts by Kuwaiti chefs. In addition, our purchasing power per capita is much higher than many other countries. Many things in Kuwait sell because of the trending effect.