Businesses must evolve strategically

Rupkatha Bhowmick

Middle Eastern retailer Kamal Osman Jamjoom (KOJ) Group started its retail journey in Saudi Arabia and then shifted the company headquarter to the UAE. Today the group operates not only in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but across the MENA region. It boasts a rich portfolio of brands – home-grown such as beauty brand Mikyajy, lingerie concept Nayomi and traditional menswear brand Mihyar and franchised toy brand Early Learning Centre (ELC) and The Body Shop.

During an exclusive interview with RetailME, chairman Kamal Osman Jamjoom talks about the change in retail landscape and the group’s growth strategy.

“We started our business with The Body Shop in 1987 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Our first shop in the UAE, ELC, opened in City Centre Deira in 1995. Eventually, we moved our main office from Jeddah to Dubai around 2000-01. At the time it made sense because we wanted to build our brand portfolio. Certain skills, available in the international markets, were required to achieve such a goal. And I felt those who had these skills would be more open to moving to Dubai than Jeddah,” Jamjoom recollects.

Over the years, the KOJ Group business grew. The group created its own brands while also bringing onboard franchised concepts. The team expanded, with more specialised people handling different areas of the business – from design to IT, merchandise planning to marketing and so on. “However even after three decades, business is as usual,” Jamjoom opines. “What is different is the fact that the business is now more integrated, and we have grown our presence across the GCC. Since we operate in different countries, we must be respectful of their cultures and abide by the laws. While our marketing campaigns for a certain brand would be similar in many ways, we had to tweak a few elements. Earlier, in Saudi Arabia, female forms on posters at the shopfront were not quite acceptable. Now with the changes happening in KSA, we have more freedom to run similar campaigns as, let’s say, in the UAE.”

When asked about the better of the two markets between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, he observes, “Retail in Saudi Arabia and the UAE boomed with the opening of the shopping malls towards the 1990s. Many new malls opened, while existing malls underwent expansion and there was a lot of liquidity until the 2000s. Now, both are established markets; and like any other developed market, it goes through the cycles of initial build-up, growth and saturation. Thus, it is difficult to register exponential growth unless someone is bringing in a new brand to the region and investing heavily in it. Overall, the markets are quite stable. The number of mall openings is not happening at a rapid pace anymore.”

Over the past year, the KOJ Group has undertaken a few critical pieces of innovation. “We relaunched Mikyajy with a new store concept, and it has been very well received,” Jamjoom stresses. “The whole idea was to refine and communicate the brand positioning, which targets young women consumers. We had to find a way to encourage young women to come in and experiment with our products. The store layout is open and the ambience colourful and vibrant. In terms of visual communication, we have used LED screens that are great aesthetically and has brought down energy consumption. The results have been very pleasing. In some cases, sales at these new stores have gone up 30%. Of the 250 Mikyajy stores, we have already converted more than 30, starting with the flagships, and we are getting good traction. We are also putting in a lot of newer products, offering our customers enough choice. We are also developing a new store concept for Mihyar in Saudi Arabia.”

“We have built a team for the digital side of the business. Mihyyar, Nayomi and Toy School have gone online,” he continues. “The plan is to develop an online presence for all our brands. In this part of the world, online is still taking off. Compared to many European brands that have an online presence, our numbers for similar brands are lagging. The reason is simple; in this part of the world, we still like going to the shopping malls to buy products, especially in case of certain categories that we offer like beauty and lingerie. Having that said, we are also enabling the stores digitally, putting in place click-and-collect and such other facilities.”