The past few months have been a testing time for Little Majlis, like several other home-grown, small and medium businesses that are struggling to survive the COVID-19 storm.
UAE-born Little Majlis is an e-commerce platform that was launched by Anna Breuer & Annabelle Fitzsimmons in 2012 to tell the stories of artisans and small-scale businesses in the emirates. Little Majlis offers unique stationery, homewares, gifting items and much more with a distinct ‘made in UAE’ focus.
Ensuring survival as business came to a standstill
Commenting on surviving the storm, the co-founders say, “In February, we had several large-scale corporate design projects underway, which were due to hit the production phase just as the pandemic and the associated precautionary measures were implemented. While we are thankful for the way local government handled the situation; as a non-essential service, it did effectively bring our core business operations to a standstill.”
As a small business, Little Majlis had to react quickly to manage overheads, while utilising the lockdown period to innovate. “We collaborate with local makers and small-scale workshops for our production, which meant we could downscale our business operations, just as quickly as we can expand them. We were, thus, able to react quickly to changes in the market and adapt as needed. Our small team utilised the lockdown period to fine tune our design and production processes, as well as develop new products,” share Breuer & Fitzsimmons.
“Our focus is on designing and producing products locally, which has been hugely beneficial to Little Majlis amidst the current climate. We feel fortunate not to rely on imported products during this time. And, we have seen a positive consumer shift towards shopping locally. People are being more considered in their buying choices and where their purchases have come from, which is a positive for Little Majlis,” they add.
Omnichannel approach saves the day
Little Majlis has three main sources of income – including online sales on littlemajlis.com, wholesaling products to retailers and corporate and event gifting. At the start of the lockdown, retail sales and corporate gifting projects literally disappeared as the shops were closed and events were either postponed or cancelled.
“However, our online sales have carried on positively throughout the lockdown. In fact, we have seen our online sales peak as expected throughout Ramadan, Eid and the pre-summer period,” the co-founders point out. With a shift in shopping habits during the lockdown, Little Majlis also leveraged social media to maximise brand exposure and drive sales to littlemajlis.com.
“Now, with the lockdown easing, we are seeing corporate gifting project enquiries starting to increase, with some fun bespoke ‘welcome back’ to the office gift sets currently under production. Although summer is usually a quieter period for sales for our product types, we anticipate an even slower return to normal in physical retail points of sale – such as Dubai Duty Free and Louvre Abu Dhabi,” state Breuer & Fitzsimmons.
“Our continuing online sales on littlemajlis.com has been essential to maintaining a steady cashflow over the past few months to sustain operations. We are in the process of expanding our online points of sale, as Little Majlis products will now be available on Sprii.com and Amazon.ae,” the co-founders elaborate.
Little Majlis is also an official licensee of souvenirs for Expo 2020 Dubai. Hence, the postponement of the event until 2021 has had a major impact on its business, with product sales of Expo-branded products pausing.
“Expo is an exciting event on the UAE’s calendar and although we’re in the process of understanding the full implications of the date change on our short-term budgeting, we’re hopeful that involvement in the event will have a positive impact on our business going forward,” conclude Breuer & Fitzsimmons.