Muscat: Splash, the Middle East's largest fashion retailer turns 20 this year. In an exclusive interview with Times of Oman, Raza Beig, CEO of Splash and ICONIC, talks about the two-decade-old journey. He also promises that this year will be a rewarding one for customers.
Splash is celebrating 20 years in operation in the region. From a single store in 1993 to more than 200 stores and 50 brand stores, how would you sum up the journey for the brand?
Exceptional, phenomenal, and ever-changing are the three words I would use to describe the last 20 years. The reason we have gone from a single store to 200 stores is only because our customers have been always with us and loved us, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.
What are Splash's plans for the region for the future and particularly during this special year? What special treatment can customers expect in this special year?
We have been in business for 20 years, and Splash customers have been very encouraging and have enabled us to build our brand in this region. Our 20th birthday will be a year-long celebration packed with an exciting calendar of activities and elements that will include both internal and external customers. We have already kicked off the merriment by hosting a party for all Splash employees, including the staff at Rixos, Palm Jumeirah, followed by Retail Employees Day (RED) on March 21.
Next in line is the partnership with BMW, wherein we are launching the '20 BMWs to be won' promo in a bid to reaffirm our commitment towards our customers and to thank them for their continued love and support.
Earlier in the year, Splash launched the Emblem Design contest, calling for entries to create a 20-year logo; that contest received an overwhelming response. The winner walked away with prize money, and the logo is being featured on all brand collateral for the coming year. Adding to the buzz, the brand is set to roll out an exciting array of activities that will run all year round.
These will include a fashion flash mob in the month of April that will generate a lot of excitement. Other activities will include makeovers and photo-shoots, quirky contests for our social-media enthusiasts, and a customised design contest for our younger audiences who have a passion for fashion.
Under your leadership, Splash has seen remarkable growth. Personally, how do you view this success story? What has been the high point for you?
I am not sure what my style of leadership has been, but I do know that my team really loves me, and I feel the same. I always repeat the quote, "What's done with love lasts forever!" I make sure to repeat this phrase to everyone in my place of business, those in the fashion industry, and other people in general.
I love it all, and I think I get the same in return. My leadership style is simple: Give the right to veto to the experts. While I do have an opinion, the experts in the business have the ability to make decisions. My high point was the opening of ICONIC, which made me combine my 15 to 16 years of retail experience and knowledge for the ICONIC brand. In the span of three years, we have opened 20 stores, which proves that the brand is acceptable and the consumer loves what we are bringing to the table.
You are operating amidst an increasingly competitive and fast evolving retail climate. What are the challenges you face? With so many retailers, brands, and designers, how do you manage to create a special position for yourself?
Yes, the competition in the last decade has multiplied several fold, and every time somebody enters the industry, the competition gets fierce. I believe that when competition enters, they create a new market, new opportunities, and new avenues, such as new malls and shopping districts. When new shopping avenues open, more spaces need to be filled, and that is probably why we have been successful. We have taken our competitors very seriously, and the consumer is now able to see what we are capable of doing. Our research, product, price, and quality are comparable to all our competitors, and therefore, the consumers come and vote through their wallets.
With regard to creating a special place for ourselves, we have brand loyalty, which has been built over the past two decades. Secondly, if anyone understands Arab sensibilities and regional sentiments, it is probably us. We understand how the consumer thinks and what their needs are. We have been in this region for a while and have built our fashion business according to Arab needs.
My competition is also analysing this demographic, but they cannot change specifically because they have other markets to address, and while they are doing very well internationally, they have not been able to look after the region's consumers in the way we do.
Splash takes credit for taking fashion to new heights in this region. How do you develop clothes that customers truly desire and clothes that suggest entirely new ways to dress? How do you provide fashion designers with valuable information on what styles and patterns resonate with customers? How do you update ever-shifting style preferences?
The day we started this business, our point of difference was to give the consumer international-looking merchandise that was specific to their needs. We started as the largest T-shirt house in 1993 and went on to design clothes. We started designing because we saw that the market was changing, and as the competition was settling in, they were bringing in new trends, shapes, and elements, and we needed to keep ourselves updated. My team and I travelled very extensively to analyse these trends and to learn about what was happening in the world in terms of fashion and then brought those concepts to consumers in this region.
On updating our style preferences, to be very honest, I realised about five or six years ago that although we are doing a very good job with procurement and design, we have not managed to show it. Thus, I decided not only to have a fashion party but also to showcase our collection and let the consumer, the media, and our partners see what we are all about. And year after year, we have tried to improve ourselves. Of course, the idea is to tell the consumer how a Dhs100 dress will look fantastic if it is properly styled and accessorised. The idea of the fashion show is basically to highlight that fashion does not necessarily have to be expensive, and it does not need to be only designer pieces; it could be an ordinary piece. If it is put together well, it can look great, and that's what we try to do.
According to you, how have the fashion shopping habits of consumers changed over the years? Do customers chase trends, or are they more concerned with quality and value?
Well, 20 years ago, fashion was all about tailoring. There were very limited retail stores. We had a lot of boutiques that came out of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan —Lebanon and Syria specifically. That has changed dramatically because we now have international retailers and the best of brands are now available in the best locations in the best malls. What I see now is that consumers today are very aware, since everything is nearby. In one mall, you can find 300 brands. This is very rare in the West and many other parts of the world. We are a developing nation in many ways, and I think we have developed some beautiful and remarkable malls.
Therefore, the consumer gets to see fashions from all over the world under one roof, hence, the change. We are very trend-savvy. If we have a poor colour or shape choice, it will not sell since the consumer is very trend-savvy and completely aware of what is happening globally. Yes, value plays a very important role because trends change rapidly, and you do not want to buy a dress for Dhs1,000 or 2,000 and then just wear it once.
Over the years, I have definitely seen value playing an important part, where you can buy a garment, wear it once or twice, and then dump it. Quality is something the GCC consumer has always been concerned with. With a single touch, they know the texture, be it polyester or cotton. They have always preferred Italian and French quality, but that's changing very fast; consumers are slowly realising that all the western brands are being produced in India and China. Therefore, third-world quality is being accepted now, unlike in the past.
Can you shed light on your international expansion plans? Are there plans to enter different markets via franchise agreements? Which countries are you exploring? Is there a possibility for Splash, at some point in the future, to expand into more developed retail markets, such as western Europe?
Today, we have decided to take the franchise route because, today, if we want to be a global retailer, we need to be everywhere. So we have opened stores in Jordan, India, Pakistan, and Egypt, and we will shortly open stores in Sri Lanka and other African markets. Yes, we are talking to people in the East, and the chances are that we will be in many more countries in the coming years. In the West, we are very hopeful, although it is a bit depressed right now, but this will change as the markets improve and people start to take risks. At the moment, the risk-taking ability in the West doesn't exist. They are not trying anything new; therefore, the market seems outdated. But I do believe that this is just a market situation and that it will change. When it does pick up, we will get the opportunity to talk to people and take our brand to the West to compete with fashion brands in their region.
The world is currently seeing an expansion of online fashion-shopping websites. What is your take on this?
Online shopping has been talked about since the turn of the millennium. I knew it was too early at that stage, but by 2009/2010, I recognised that the scenario had changed and that whatever had been discussed would take years to develop. So, we have started developing our online structure. Just about a month ago, we launched Landmarkshops.com, an online portal that we are currently testing in the United Arab Emirates before we branch out around the GCC. Online shopping is something we are definitely working on, and the region is catching up with this new trend in shopping. But having said that, we have a long way to go.
What are your thoughts on the Oman market?
The Omani customer has always received Splash and its offerings with respect from the very first day. The consumers enjoy our fashions and prices, which are based on our consumer research. I am really thankful to the consumers of Oman for shopping with us and supporting us for all these years. We, at Splash, love Oman!