The homegrown perfume brand is looking for locations in western markets to expand its footprint, the target being to double its store count over the next five years.
Ajmal has been a household name among GCC nationals for over 60 years. The UAE-based perfume retailer has a 151 store footprint in 8 markets, including the GCC, Malaysia and Thailand, with a distribution network covering 30 markets worldwide. The brand is now looking to expand to western markets, starting with the fashion capitals of Europe and North America.
“We are evaluating options for our market entry into Europe and North America and scouting for locations. We hope to open stores in London and Paris by 2016. In five years, we aim to be present in every important city in the world, especially fashion capitals, and double the number of our stores worldwide,” says Abdulla Ajmal, general manager, Ajmal Perfumes.
The company’s expansion strategy reflects its evolution from local to global and the diversification of its customer base. Today, Ajmal offers a variety of products to suit the taste of global consumers at affordable prices, although its core customer base is still predominantly Arab and GCC nationals.
“We saw our customer base expanding from the time we started experimenting with and introducing western style fragrances. Some of our Dubai stores are now as popular with expatriates, particularly Asians, as they are with Emiratis. It’s a 70-30 local-expat mix, which has remained steady for the past five years because both customer categories – GCC nationals and expats – continue to grow,” says Ajmal.
The brand operates retail stores under two names – Ajmal and Eternal by Ajmal. While an Ajmal store can be located anywhere from a traditional souq to a mega mall, Eternal by Ajmal stores are to be found only in sought-after locations and luxury environments, the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai being an example. Ajmal says the brand’s success and maturity in a highly competitive fragrance market is the result of a combination of its product innovation, choice of location, store design, inventive merchandising and superior customer service.
“The most important factor in deciding the location of a store is the catchment area. We have opened Ajmal stores in prominent malls as well as in locations most retailers wouldn’t even consider, primarily because they cater to our target audience. Unlike our competitors, our stores offer a unique experience built around ‘ethnic chic’ – a modern, stylish take on local traditions. The largest Ajmal store is just under 2,000 sqft, the average size being about 1,000 sqft, which provides enough space to optimally showcase our collections and allocate staff and resources without wasting space,” says Ajmal.
The interior of an Ajmal store has three sections – the brand wall, oil wall and oud sanctuary. The brand wall is a self-service section where customers can try products without assistance from store staff. The oil wall, located opposite the brand wall, displays various kinds of fragrance oils. At the centre of the store is what Ajmal calls the oud sanctuary.
“We were the first among our contemporaries to incorporate a self-service section in our stores. Generally, most of our customers prefer to be served so our sales staff is always present in the vicinity. But we have seen that many young customers like to browse products and explore a store without being bothered by sales people or obligated to make a purchase,” says Ajmal.
Special attention is paid to visual display merchandising to educate customers about how fragrances are classified. The perfumes are arranged in a specific order, beginning with light, occidental fragrances and progressing to strong, heavy Arabic fragrances. Ajmal says such an arrangement makes it easy to differentiate and choose without fully understanding the complexity of fragrance classification. That’s especially helpful for inexperienced customers who find it difficult to choose a fragrance.
“We have two categories of customers. One is our regular customers who are discerning and understand fragrances and their classification. They walk straight to the perfume that suits their taste, usually in the oud sanctuary. The other, usually new or undecided, wants a good quality fragrance, somewhere in between the light western and strong Arabic fragrance. Such customers are unable to make up their mind so we educate them about fragrances and their composition. Additionally, we offer them a ‘fusion’ category of floriental fragrances,” explains Ajmal.
He sees customer service as the crucial, differentiating factor in the perfumery business, calling it ‘the last mile where everything converts’. “Our customer service is excellent, considering our average conversion rate is 80%. But, we strive to improve it by organising periodic staff trainings on products, brands, sales, competition, and communication. That helps our staff understand the range of customer preferences, leading to better customer service. Since they are mostly non-Arab, we also organise Arabic language classes so they can understand and converse with customers. Sales performance isn’t the most important factor in selecting and retaining staff. Rather, it’s their ability to relate with customers and introduce them to our heritage of crafting memories,” concludes Ajmal.