On the first floor of the newly-opened Cash Converters store on Sheikh Zayed Road, shelves that only a few days earlier had been lined with TVs are now looking a little bare. "I was quite happy last week to have a complete wall of televisions, but they've all gone," laments Fabrice Le Boulenger, managing director of Cash Converters UAE.
For a second-hand store in its first month of operations, it's not a bad problem to have. And it's little surprise that Cash Converters' proposition of high-quality, well-priced second-hand goods is striking a chord in Dubai. With its transient expat population and glaringly underserved second-hand market, the emirate has been crying out for a store like this.
Having spent 10 years working for French supermarket chain Carrefour in countries such as Argentina, Japan, Thailand, Qatar and the UAE, the 43-year-old Boulenger decided that it was time to set up something of his own. Dubai, where he has lived for the past three years, seemed like a good a place to start.
"For a while, I've been thinking about working for myself. It was the right time and Dubai was the right place. There are not many places in the world right now where you have good economic growth. We looked at the market and saw that there was a real need in the second-hand market here. In Dubai you have a very high turnover of expatriates, so we thought, 'Why not have a store that will help customers who want to leave the country sell off their things to people who are coming in?'."
Boulenger and his partners did some research and came across the Australia-headquartered Cash Converters, a global franchise that was launched in 1984 and currently has 600 stores in 21 countries. A recognised name in the UK and Europe, as well as places as far flung as South Africa and New Zealand, the brand buys and sells everything from furniture and electronics to white goods and jewellery.
For the UAE, Boulenger has had to tweak the service slightly, he explains. "The concept is quite different here from what they have in the UK and the rest of the world. Here, the furniture is the main concept. In other parts of the world, they have more electronics and they have much smaller stores of around 150 square metres - not big stores like this one."
In the Dubai store, a sizeable ground floor is dedicated to furniture. There's everything from beige Chesterfield-style armchairs to large L-shaped sofas, mirrors, tables, chandeliers, artwork and accessories. Lining one wall is a row of fridges, washing machines and other white goods, all in impeccable order. These have turned out to be the store's most popular items, Boulenger says.
"We have a lot of white goods which are new. It is graded stock, so display or end-of-series items. With the white goods, we give customers a six-month guarantee so if they have any problems they know we will be here to support them. I think this is a great advantage in the second-hand market. When you buy through other channels, like Dubizzle, if you buy something and there are any problems, there's nothing you can do."
Quality is a key concern for Boulenger, who is careful to ensure that every item undergoes a strict quality check before it is allowed into the store. "I am the filter. We don't want any scratches and everything has to be clean before it is sent in. People are happy to buy second-hand items but they definitely don't want to buy anything damaged. A simple tear can reduce the price by half."
On the first floor of the store, exercise equipment jostles for space with baby strollers, garden furniture and musical instruments. Suzanni wall hangings sit alongside rows of DVDs and video games, and a dedicated jewellery counter is decked with gold, diamonds and branded watches. The only things that Boulenger does not sell are textiles and curtains, for hygiene reasons.
People wanting to sell off their used items are invited to contact the store and send in some pictures. Boulenger will then organise a viewing to check the quality of the goods and negotiate a selling price. "For the furniture, we sell under consignment, which means we fix the price with the customer. We then sell on their behalf; we take 35 per cent and we give the customer 65 per cent of what we make. We do also just buy straight out. When people really need cash I am able to do that. Of course, it means they get less money because we take on the financial risk. So we propose both options. Either we can buy something for a certain amount in cash now or we can put a higher price on the goods and you will be paid once it's sold. If we don't sell something, we reduce the price. It is in the contract that we are able to reduce the price by 10 per cent every two weeks."
Boulenger has found that there are plenty of people looking to sell off their used goods in this part of the world; he is having no difficulty keeping the store well-stocked - except, perhaps for the TV section. In many instances, people are eager to sell their stuff because they are unhappy with the idea of it ending up in landfill.
"I have a good quantity of customers that want to sell their goods because they don't need them anymore and they want to be sure that someone else will use them. They are ready to sell them very cheaply just to make sure they will not go to waste. They don't like the idea of making money on them but they want to make sure somebody else will get some use out of them."
The response from buyers has been equally positive. "Because we are taking good-quality products, everything is sellable," says Boulenger, who already has a number of customers who come in every day, just to see what new bargains they can find.
Dubai's second-hand market may be in its infancy, but Cash Converters is offering something new to the market: a dedicated store that is easy to find, quality control, a six-month guarantee on certain goods, an invoice with every purchase and a delivery service. "There is a lot of consumption and waste in Dubai, so there is demand here. Now it's up to us to communicate and let people know that we are here to support them."
Ÿ For more information on the new store, visit www.cashconverters.ae or call 04 379 1122