DUBAI — Abercrombie & Fitch marked the highly anticipated opening of its first store in the United Arab Emirates at Mall of the Emirates this week. Occupying a large corner location in the mall’s new extension, the 18,000-square-foot flagship features a standalone fragrance boutique, the first of its kind for the retailer, as well as a carve out for the abercrombie kids brand.
The new store, which is one of the largest Abercrombie & Fitch mall-based stores in the world, has been opened in a joint venture partnership with Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim Fashion.
Michael Scheiner, senior director of marketing and communications at A&F, said the new store fits in with the retailer’s international expansion push.
The opening comes at a challenging time for the company, which is struggling with slow sales and management shakeups. But that has not affected business in the region. “In the Middle East there is a big appetite for the brand. We can see that by the sales figures, we see that in our units-per-transaction and conversion rates,” said Rajiv Suri, chief executive officer of Majid Al Futtaim Fashion.
Last year saw a slowdown in retail sales across the UAE, but Suri said that has only driven Majid Al Futtaim to create more innovative concepts. “Whenever the market is difficult, the way you stand out is on great execution, innovative ideas and having great brands. In spite of headwinds in the market, sales of our key stores in the mall’s extension went up,” he said.
Suri explained that the strategy is to bring in a retailer or brand that the region hasn’t seen yet. “In Dubai consumers are demanding and brand-conscious. This was one of the last few iconic brands left to enter this market,” he said.
The new fragrance store, which offers the full range of Abercrombie & Fitch scents, is a big part of that. Fragrance accounted for 19.6 percent of the Middle East and Africa’s beauty and wellness market last year, with a retail value of $5 billion. According to global analysts Euromonitor International, the sector is expected to post an annual growth rate of 6.3 percent to be worth $6.4 billion in 2018. Children’s apparel is also a very strong market in the gulf. Suri said 18 percent to 20 percent of the new store’s sales are expected to come from abercrombie kids.
The Dubai flagship also features the new Abercrombie & Fitch store design, which is more open, brighter, with lighter tiles, taller ceilings and freestanding cabinets, creating a gallerylike feel.
Since Majid Al Futtaim Fashion signed an agreement with A&F in 2013 to bring its stores to the region, two locations have opened in Kuwait. Majid Al Futtaim opened three locations for A&F’s subsidiary brand Hollister in the UAE, with one more set to open in the coming weeks. The first Hollister store, which launched in January 2014 at the Mall of the Emirates, was the highest-ever opening day sales for the brand across the world.
Suri said it took time to open an A&F in Dubai because the company needed the right space. “We needed a flagship store in a flagship mall to showcase the entire breadth of the brand. Dubai is such a global city, we wanted to make sure we had the best location. From visibility point of view, our Dubai location caters to all of Middle East, India, Russia, China and more,” he said.
Majid Al Futtaim Fashion is the fashion retailing arm of Majid Al Futtaim, the group that owns and runs Mall of the Emirates and City Centre branded malls across the UAE. This gives the retail operator an advantage in malls run by the company locations. “For MAF fashion, as long as we have the right brands, we would definitely get some advantage within MAF Malls,” said Suri.
The company also debuted retailers Lululemon and All Saints in the market in 2015.