‘PEO­PLE SKILLS ARE IM­POR­TANT IN OUR BUSI­NESS’

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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.

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