People's luggage tastes are changing rapidly in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where customers are starting to experiment with different styles, according to Ramesh Tainwala, the president for Asia-Pacific and the Middle East at Samsonite.
Here, he talks about the transformation and why the company is being asked to update its Middle East stores more regularly than other regions.
How does the Middle East differ from other regions Samsonite operates in?
We get pressure [to upgrade our stores] from the malls, which is ... more typical of this region than we see anywhere else. The malls are going through a phase of upgrading themselves, both in terms of the look and feel so there is enormous pressure from the malls to redo your stores faster. Generally, we like to do our stores once every five years and we are starting to see that the malls like you to do your store every two and a half years or something like that. The [Deira City Centre] store was refurbished just two years back and it seems the mall is now pushing back saying, 'Guys you need to refurbish it again.' They want their mall to be seen as more fresh and new.
What kind of trends do you see in people's tastes across the region?
We see a rapid transformation [in] countries like Saudi and Iraq. [In the past] they were more inward looking. Now we are starting to see that's catching up now so the tastes are evolving much faster. They're getting more global in their approach. They can appreciate similar colours and tastes, whereby in the past probably people were more cautious.
What do you mean by cautious?
If you look at Saudi Arabia at what they were buying 10 years back or two years back ... they would be slightly reluctant to experiment with new colours, new products, new forms. To them a bag had a particular, defined shape. But now we are starting to see consumers get more confident and willing to let go, maybe willing to stand out from the crowd. When [markets such as Saudi Arabia] start to change they can have a meaningful impact on your business.
Where else in the region are you expecting to see growth?
We see a lot of future in Iraq. We see a good future in Iran and Egypt is coming back. These are the countries where you see sizeable populations. But also central Asia. Suddenly the buying power there is increasing very rapidly.
How do you plan to take advantage of the growth?
For us it's all about opening new retail stores. Our business is all about how you make your products more visible by being more easily accessible to the consumer. In the UAE also we intend to open more stores. In the past we were primarily focused in Dubai and maybe once in a while we would go to Abu Dhabi or Sharjah. But we are starting to see that even in the smaller emirates, consumers are coming up.