DUBAI — When it comes to kids, spending in the Gulf is limitless. According to Euromonitor International the value of the children’s wear market in the United Arab Emirates alone is worth $2.2 billion.
Dubai-based Chalhoub Group, the region’s leading luxury retailer, has decided to invest heavily in this lucrative segment, launching this month what is the world’s largest dedicated children’s department store. Spanning 107,000 square feet of retail space spread across three floors with 200 brands and 50 shops-in-shops, Level Kids offers a comprehensive selection of children’s wear, shoes, accessories, toys and specialized services under one roof for children aged from 0 to 12.
“We are in countries where people have more kids than other countries in the world,” said Patrick Chalhoub, co-chief executive officer of the Chalhoub Group. “And it’s not just quantity, but also the quality of time they give them. Mothers here will stop working to spend time with their kids, connect with them and really pamper them.”
According to U.N. data, in the UAE 14 percent of the population is under the age of 14. In other Gulf countries the numbers are even higher: Kuwait has 23 percent under 14 and Saudi Arabia has 28 percent.
While Chalhoub is hesitant to use the word luxe to describe the experience, Level Kids is meant to be a place where both children and parents will be pampered. “We want them to enter this world of wonderment, where kids can discover fashion and shopping.”
Within that environment kids are drawn in by features like an LED aquarium, a mock submarine, dedicated play areas and even a custom-made scent for the store.
“We have to make it very lively and not static,” said Chalhoub. “The whole idea was to create a very playful environment.” But it is far from being an amusement parklike environment. Surrounded by brands ranging from Stella McCartney Kids to Burberry Kids and Billionaire Couture Kids, parents and kids are encouraged to linger and discover. “It’s not meant to be gimmicky. We want people to enter a world where you say wow, but it’s easy to navigate and not overstated.”
In order to keep Level Kids dynamic, activities have been incorporated into the space. “We need to create constant traffic to bring people into the store,” admitted Chalhoub. The store will offer everything from seasonal classes and activities such as dance in a dedicated area as well as a team of stylists who work with young clients and parents to pick out their perfect wardrobes and go over the latest trends. There are dedicated VIC, or “very important children” private rooms for kids to relax and enjoy the full retail experience.
“In the GCC, clients like to connect with the sales teams, so this is very important,” he said.
The store also has a kid’s beauty salon and spa, two cafés and a photo studio. Chalhoub said in the region in particular there is a mini-me phenomenon with parents and children. “Often parents here have the tendency to dress their kids in a way they would like to dress themselves, so we are really giving them this opportunity.”
The concept of Level Kids came from the company’s deep experience in the retail market. As a franchise partner for many luxury brands in the region, the group saw the need to build out something dedicated for children. “We had luxury kids brands in the market, but you didn’t have the full experience,” said Chalhoub. “It was in a very scattered way. You’d have children’s stores mixed in at malls with different categories.”
But the company found that their stores performed better when grouped with other children’s brands. “When you put different brands of kids next to each other in a mall, our productivity is as good as adult brands, just because they are together,” said Chalhoub. “Our goal was to build an experience around that.”
The opening of Level Kids capitalizes on the success of another Chalhoub concept which launched in 2012, Level Shoes. The shoe store has seen phenomenal success, winning several international retail awards. Level Kids will be part of the “Level” master brand, which is the group’s own retail concepts across several monocategories and formats. “We saw that we can take one category that is in department stores and really magnify it much, much more.”
And although retail growth in the region has slowed, Chalhoub is confident of the success of the concept. “I have no doubt we are catering to a high demand.”
One key strategic shift for the Level Kids concept is a move away from the typical Dubai model focus on retail tourism. “We are focusing on the local community here in the UAE and long-term expats and other Gulf nationals,” he said.
Even the location, outside of Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, was a strategic decision. Level Kids is located at CityWalk, a new outdoor style mall development in Jumeirah that is more community than megamall. “We selected this location to really connect with local community. This neighborhood is a wealthy community,” said Chaloub.