‘PEOPLE SKILLS ARE IMPORTANT IN OUR BUSINESS’
Retail has always been in my blood… While growing up I spent a lot of time with my father, Lal Ganwani, who was involved at one point with Choithrams supermarket and then with Al Maya Lals. On weekends, he used to take us to the supermarkets where we would walk around with him, watching him check goods on shelves, screen products for expiry dates, check cashier transactions, visual merchandising... I remember it was one of those Fridays and I was eight years old and I said to myself, ‘this is what I want to do’. I knew I was going to be in business and I knew it would be retail.
I learnt early in life... that humility and kindness go hand in hand, both of which I have seen in my father. Another lesson I learnt is in risk taking. If it goes well, great. But even if it doesn’t, you learn something from it.
The idea for Apparel took shape… in June 1994. Nilesh and I married when we were very young – I was 22, he 23. I started Apparel with a sub franchise from my father with the Bossini store in BurJuman. Nilesh was still with his family business – they were into gold bullion and wholesale food stuffs. A couple of months later he left it to join me. Retail was an alien concept for him. For me, it was in my blood. That’s all I knew. We tried and tested a couple of concepts after that. A diamond jewellery store that didn’t do too well, a children’s-wear brand that didn’t do too well either and so on, till we stumbled upon Nine West, our first big international brand in 1999. I think we hit our luck with it. Today we have 75 plus international brands and over 1,750 stores across 14 countries.
When I started... I actually sold off all the gold I got for my wedding and raised the seed capital of Dh47,000 for our business. My father supported me with contacts, a great network and great payment terms when I sub franchised Bossini from him. I have often been called a spoilt brat. I know I have come from money, but I definitely didn’t take that while on this journey.
Nilesh and I... have distinct management styles and have very clear roles and responsibilities. We both understand each other’s working styles, so we don’t battle each other. While I take the lead on human resources, marketing and philanthropic and CSR activities for Apparel, Nilesh focuses on important factors like leasing and locations.
We have always believed... in updating, upgrading and in speed. Without this we couldn’t become market leaders that we are. Just recently our website 6thstreet.com had a phenomenal Black Friday sale. The numbers spoke for themselves and we know that online shopping is the only way going forward. And because of the kind of brands we have, we are selling on other online sites such as Souq and Namshi. Similarly we have other brands on 6thstreet outside the Apparel family. This kind of collaboration is important now. The brands we choose... have to be in the top three in their genre of merchandise in their home country. It’s also important that international business is a long-term strategy for them and they are serious about the commitment. There have been cases where you take on a brand and they are excited about it, but after a year they forget about their commitments.
People make a business… For Nilesh and me, it is very important that someone we work with shows the right attitude. Honesty and intelligence is vital. It is also important for us that people in senior management roles know how to manage people. People skills are very important in an industry like ours. Our resource is primarily our sales staff, so if you don’t treat them right, you have no place in Apparel. We also mentor our staff often sending them overseas for leadership training or getting professors from foreign universities to train our employees. We take care of our staff of 14,000. Our key pillars of sustenance are... a hands on and an open door policy. We are in constant touch with our customers. We spend most weekends... visiting the stores with our kids. Nilesh believes all the answers are on the floor. So it’s important for us to have a finger on the pulse and know what the customer wants. Speed is also vital for us.
We know the market changes... very fast here, so our decision making is quick. If it’s good for business, it’s good for us. Also, we have no pride, or ego. If a brand doesn’t do well, we will shut it down. We learn something from it, but we move on.
From the beginning... it has been a blessing to have our extended families here; that has been helpful. But we also make it a policy to take the kids to work. I have two daughters, Selina, 21, at university in Canada, and Sarisha, 13, who goes to school in Dubai. I also have a five-year-old son Nayaan. Sarisha will often sit in on a lot of marketing meetings with me. I think it’s important for us to get our kids immersed in hard work because life isn’t about supervising. You have to get your hands dirty. I love having my children around – that’s how I manage.
I think... Nilesh has also been totally supporting. He’s a good dad, very thoughtful and constantly involved with the kids. He has a very can-do attitude. Nothing is a no for him. I admire him because he gives us that freedom.
Nilesh and I have distinct management styles and have very clear roles and responsibilities. We both understand each other’s working styles, so we don’t battle each other.