NEW YORK – As chairman and chief executive officer of Qatari retailer Blue Salon Group, Ashraf Abu Issa has logged his fair share of air miles. Luggage stores and department store luggage areas have always left him cold in terms of product selection and sales associates’ level of knowledge.
Abu Issa decided that other frequent flyers probably shared his feelings and in October 2010, he opened Mosafer in Doha.
“Mosafer means ‘traveler’ in Arabic, Turkish, Farsi and several Indian and Pakistani languages,” Abu Issa said. “It was the perfect name for a business that’s focused on travelers and their comfort and convenience.”
The company operates 11 travel lifestyle stores worldwide. Mosafer’s first U.S. store, a two-level, 13,400-square-foot unit at 24 West 57 Street here, is being unveiled in two stages. The main floor opened this month and the second level will bow in the spring.
Abu Issa said the store will break even when it reaches $20 million in sales volume, which won’t likely be in the first year. “The rent is very high,” he acknowledged. There are nonetheless plans to roll out in 2016 additional Mosafer locations in the U.S., and export the concept to South Africa and Turkey.
“By 2026, the number of airports and travelers will double,” Abu Issa said. “At the same time, luggage stores are losing ground to the online businesses. Luggage is a bulky item and takes up a lot of space at retail. Malls tuck luggage stores somewhere in the back or on the high floors. That’s why they’ve become a little bit boring.”
For Abu Issa, travel is about more than getting from point A to point B. “The travel lifestyle is the ultimate lifestyle. People want to show off their best clothing and bags,” he said. “We’re trying to revive and refresh that. We want to entertain customers.”
Mosafer will sell 60 brands of luggage from Samsonite, Hartman and Tumi to the less widely distributed Hedgren, Bugatti, Porsche Design and Lipault. Prices range from $7.89 for an Eagle Creek Pack It Cube to $680 for a large Briggs & Riley spinner.
“The Henk collection is all handmade,” Abu Issa said. “A carry-on bag is $50,000. When you see a bag that costs $50,000, a $600 or $700 suitcase doesn’t seem so expensive.”
The average price of luggage at Mosafer is $250.
Mosafer sells under its own name eye masks, inflatable neck rests, flight socks, wallets and bags. Private-label merchandise will account for about 20 percent of the store’s offering.
Beauty and treatment is a key category. Abu Issa said the company could work with brands sold at Blue Salon such as Clarins, Sisley, La Prairie and Lancôme to create travel-sized products.
“Being on the plane should feel as comfortable as wearing your pajamas,” Abu Issa said. “Lululemon is very popular for traveling. The problem is, you can’t wear it after the flight. You can’t go to restaurants and business meetings. We want to achieve the same comfort and make clothing attractive enough to wear out.”
Mosafer hired Günseli Türkay, an Istanbul-based designer who’s worked for Zara and H&M, to create an apparel brand for men and women that will launch in February.
Watches are a “natural” category for Mosafer, according to Abu Issa, who said, “We’re talking to watchmakers about developing an exclusive line of titanium, water-resistant watches with more than one time zone. We’ll sell Korloff, a French brand, that features double-faced watches with two time zones and different looks for day and evening. We’re also closely watching wearable tech. We represent Samsung exclusively in Qatar.”
Service at Mosafer features a dedicated luggage repair department that will fix damaged suitcases on the spot. Associates are trained to be “consultants,” Abu Issa said. “They help customers find solutions for packing their items and organizing themselves while they’re on the plane, like recommending jewelry organizers so necklaces don’t get tangled. We’re also thinking of having a concierge service.”