x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Own goal inspiration for start-up

The Life: KooraBazar.com, an online start-up, seeks to change the way local football clubs view merchandise sale.

Yorgos Kleivokiotis, left, the founder of Koorabazar.com and his business partner Ghazi Ben Amor at the Aramex warehouse in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Yorgos Kleivokiotis, left, the founder of Koorabazar.com and his business partner Ghazi Ben Amor at the Aramex warehouse in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

The delayed delivery of a Greek national team football jersey got Yorgos Kleivokiotis thinking.

Ordered a year ago, it was stuck in customs and when it finally arrived a few weeks later, it was the wrong size.

Sending it back to the online shop's address in the United Kingdom was an option but it increased the cost of the jersey so much as to make it unviable.

"The last couple of years we wanted to start a business, and after this incident we said 'let's look at e-commerce'," Mr Kleivokiotis says, referring to his friend and business partner Ghazi Ben Amor.

Keeping that in mind, the entrepreneurs started Koorabazar.com in June. Koora refers to a football in Arabic.

The e-commerce platform sells jerseys and other merchandise of football clubs from international and some local clubs, and customises these with the name and jersey numbers for the clients.

From a bare office space in Dubai with nothing but desks, computers and a T-shirt printing machine, the three-member team handles customer and supplier calls, prints customised T-shirts and thrashes out marketing campaigns.

"We have to be experts in every field," says Mr Kleivokiotis, 35, who has worked in real estate and marketing. "An MBA didn't teach me how to print T-shirts."

While football enjoys a loyal fan following in the UAE and across the Arabian Gulf, most of the clubs in the region do not rely on merchandise sales.

"Almost 20 to 30 per cent of the revenues of [European] clubs come from merchandise sales," Mr Amor, a 38-year-old French-Tunisian, says.

"But most clubs here do not even have their merchandise."

Koorabazar.com started by stocking jerseys and watches available from Dubai's Al Ahli Club and Iran's Persepolis Football Club.

While the entrepreneurs say demand for their products and service has met with expectations, there is not yet a high enough demand for the local memorabilia.

Clubs in the region are going through a professionalisation process and within this, commercially there are still steps to be made, says Mohammed Faraj, the deputy chief executive of Al Ahli Football Club.

"Fans are culturally not used to buying merchandise from their local team, as it has never been available or has been in a very limited capacity," he says.

"Another factor is communication to the fans and beyond, where [there were] restrictive information on availability of the merchandise, which is something we are working on and hence our partnership with Koorabazar.com."

The club has seen steady sales through the website, Mr Farajsays, and it also sells through its club store as well as in all Nike and Sun and Sand stores across the region.

As of now, Koorabazar.com sells goods from seven brands and 14 clubs. It takes two days for a delivery within the UAE and four days for Saudi Arabia.

To compete with the local e-commerce platforms the company has to keep its deliveries free of charge within the country. Its top three markets are the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

To get the word out, the start-up is tapping online football blogs and websites, search-engine optimisation and partnerships with content providers on football besides event organisers and university sports clubs. It is also not ruling out websites covering cars and trucks.

The website hopes to generate US$2,000 to $3,000 in daily sales by end of the year which will enable the company to raise more money to the tune of $2 million to $3m in the second round of funding. While a third of the seed money came from the two entrepreneurs, the rest came from family, friends, online veterans and investors.

"E-commerce is a capital heavy enterprise," Mr Kleivokiotis says. "We invest in two things: buying stock and marketing."

There are plans for a blog to engage the fans whereby the company will review team jerseys and footwear. It is also in talks with two UAE clubs, and one each in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to stock their merchandise.

While Koorabazar.com lists national team jerseys from Brazil, Italy, England, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it is yet to feature Mr Kleivokiotis' national team.

"The supplier of Greek national team jerseys is not bringing it to the region," he says. "If Greece makes it to the World Cup, it becomes more interesting for the fans here, and we will try to get it."