The great re­tail shakeup

Greig Fowler, CEO of AW Rosta­mani Life­style, is spear­head­ing a phys­i­cal re­tail model in Dubai that puts dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion at the heart of ev­ery­thing it does

Gulf Business - - FEATURES - VARUN GODINHO

How the CEO of AW Rosta­mani Life­style, Greig Fowler, is putting dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion at the heart of the com­pany’s re­tail model

“BRICK-AND-MOR­TAR glob­ally still takes 80 per cent of sales ver­sus dig­i­tal.” That state­ment alone by Greig Fowler, the CEO of Dubai-head­quar­tered AW Rosta­mani Life­style (AWRL), is enough to rekin­dle your faith in the phys­i­cal re­tail model. It also al­lows you, within rea­son, to wave a fin­ger at the hand­ful of scare­mon­gers who pro­claimed that e-com­merce had dealt it a death­blow.

Fowler though is quick to add: “Con­di­tions are chal­leng­ing, but the time now is for re­tail­ers to re­view their ser­vice propo­si­tion in-store and in­te­grate dig­i­tal as part and par­cel of that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

That over­ar­ch­ing as­ser­tion can be best ex­em­pli­fied in the new Amer­i­can Rag Cie store that Rosta­mani’s life­style divi­sion re­cently opened in Dubai Mall. The store isn’t merely ped­dling So Cal streetwear, but is a re­tail space that has em­braced the con­cept of ‘ex­pe­ri­en­tial shop­ping’. That’s why you’ll find a World Cof­fee Bar with a monthly ro­tat­ing menu of sin­gle-ori­gin cof­fees and when it’s time to ac­tu­ally shop, you’ll be at­tended to by robot-as­sis­tants, which are equipped with fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy. If you’re a re­turn cus­tomer, it will re­mem­ber your last pur­chase and sug­gest new mer­chan­dise based on that stored in­for­ma­tion. “Our in-house ro­bots in Amer­i­can Rag speak English, Man­darin and Can­tonese, with Ara­bic and Rus­sian be­ing added in spring.”

Ma­chine learn­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence are be­ing in­te­grated into the re­tail model at Amer­i­can Rag, which al­lows it to track avail­abil­ity of ap­parel in real-time world­wide and to source and stock ap­parel favoured by cus­tomers in spe­cific re­gions across the world. Amer­i­can Rag is an ex­am­ple of phys­i­cal re­tail and dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy work­ing to­gether and not com­pet­ing against each other.

The AWRL divi­sion was founded by the par­ent com­pany AW Rosta­mani in 2012 as the arm of the group that li­censes, dis­trib­utes, re­tails, de­signs and pro­duces for a whole host of fash­ion, home­ware and jew­ellery brands. Fowler was brought on board to lead the busi­ness last year and also plays a key role in de­ter­min­ing what brands the group works with. It cur­rently op­er­ates seven brands: An­gels, Graf­fiti, Georg Jensen, Vh­ernier, Apart­ment 51, Amer­i­can Rag Cie, Sik Silk and Tom & Teddy.

“Whether it be the sto­ry­telling of the his­tory of Georg Jensen, the work­man­ship and craft of the Vh­ernier

“Con­di­tions are chal­leng­ing, but the time now i s f o r r etail­ers to r eview their ser­vice propo­si­tion in- store and i n tegrate dig­i­tal as part and par­cel o f that ex­pe­ri­ence.” GREIG FOWLER CEO AWRL

work­shops in Valenza or the tech­no­log­i­cal and his­tor­i­cally dis­rup­tive in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence in our Amer­i­can Rag store, the theme re­mains con­sis­ten,” says Fowler.

Georg Jensen and Vh­ernier are the two brands that Rosta­mani have been long­est as­so­ci­ated with from among its cur­rent port­fo­lio. Oth­ers like Apart­ment 51 was cre­ated and in­spired by the share­hold­ers Huda and Hana Rosta­mani and their part­ner Roberta Clarese af­ter their global trav­els high­lighted a gap in the mar­ket for beau­ti­fully made fur­ni­ture, home­ware and ob­jects, while kids lux­ury cloth­ing la­bel An­gels was bought from the Rivoli group in 2016. The cur­rent bigwig in the port­fo­lio though, Amer­i­can Rag, was a brand that Fowler was per­son­ally in­volved in bring­ing into the fold.

Fowler first came into con­tact with the brand shortly be­fore he joined Rosta­mani when he was still a con­sul­tant at a Hong Kong firm and in­volved in the re­struc­ture of Amer­i­can Rag’s busi­ness model in Ja­pan. Owner Mark Werts was seem­ingly im­pressed and when Fowler men­tioned he was tak­ing up the job in Dubai, Werts of­fered to col­lab­o­rate with AWRL to bring their con­cept to the Mid­dle East.

“I nat­u­rally shared this with the share­hold­ers upon join­ing [AWRL] and we moved from there," he says.

"The store in LA is iconic in the US fash­ion land­scape and is ranked in the top 10 must-visit stores ev­ery year.”

Apart from ex­pand­ing its port­fo­lio and fo­cus­ing on in­te­gra­tions of dig­i­tal and re­tail plat­forms, an­other fo­cus area for AWRL is on en­sur­ing that its pay­ment gate­ways en­tice Chi­nese shop­pers in Dubai – a vi­tal sub­set – who along with the Rus­sians are

Chi­nese shop­pers in Dubai along with the Rus­sians are now vis­it­ing the emi­rate in droves and ar­rive with a par­tic­u­larly high dis­pos­able in­come

now vis­it­ing the emi­rate in droves and ar­rive with a par­tic­u­larly high dis­pos­able in­come. “We con­tinue our strong re­la­tion­ship with Union Pay and are im­plant­ing Ali­pay and Ap­ple Pay across all our pay­ment plat­forms in-store and on­line," say Fowler.

"We are strength­en­ing our re­la­tions with the tour op­er­a­tors to bring cus­tomers to the stores and have in­vested in Chi­nese speak­ing staff in all our stores to en­sure clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion in their mother tongue.”

He adds that apart from the in-house ro­bots be­ing able to speak Man­darin, the com­mer­cial web­sites will also be avail­able in four lan­guages by sum­mer next year.

Fowler cau­tions that global eco­nomic fac­tors could ham­per with the ex­pan­sion of the re­tail sec­tor.

“Oil as a com­mod­ity is un­sta­ble as stan­dard and the gen­eral eco­nomic curve fol­lows cy­cles as it does ev­ery­where else," he ex­plains.

"I be­lieve we are near­ing the end of this cy­cle, but the over­sup­ply of both com­mer­cial and liv­ing real es­tate can­not help sta­bilise the po­si­tion, the pop­u­la­tion can­not sup­port its growth rate with­out a change in strat­egy.”

A year into his job, Fowler has ac­cel­er­ated AWRL’s busi­ness with the in­tro­duc­tion of Amer­i­can Rag into the mix. But there’s much more that he wants to get done in a hurry.

“2019 is all about dis­tri­bu­tion and dig­i­tal growth for us, with a few strate­gic tar­geted open­ings in the UAE and the plans are in place to move into Kuwait and KSA di­rectly in 2020 with Amer­i­can Rag, An­gels, Vh­ernier and Apart­ment 51.”

Ex­pe­ri­en­tial shop­ping is the cen­tral theme at the new 8,265 sqft Amer­i­can Rag Cie flag­ship store in The Dubai Mall

The World Cof­fee Bar at Amer­i­can Rag serves sin­gle ori­gin cof­fees from around the world

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