x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'Reinventor of retail' Sample Central winds down in Dubai

Chain that claims to have reinvented the retail model by offering goods for free is shutting its Dubai branch.

Items on display at the Sample Central store in Dubai Festival City Mall. Pawan Singh / The National
Items on display at the Sample Central store in Dubai Festival City Mall. Pawan Singh / The National

A chain that claims to have reinvented the retail model by offering goods free of charge is shutting its Dubai branch, just four months after its opening.

Sample Central, which allows customers to walk away with up to 10 free items in return for customer feedback and a small membership fee, opened its doors in Dubai Festival City Mall in November.

Customers received an email this week explaining that the store would be shut from Sunday. The notice, which did not offer any explanation for the abrupt closure, thanked customers for their support. "We hope that you have enjoyed your Sample Central experience," the notice added.

"Kindly note that your membership fee paid will be fully refunded. You can collect your refund by visiting the Sample Central store at Dubai Festival City Mall until March 31, during our regular opening hours, alternatively between 10am and 10pm until April 30."

The chain was founded by Anthony James, an Australian self-confessed shopaholic who has admitted spending up to US$25,000 (Dh91,830) on himself in one month.

Mr James started his career in information technology and worked with IBM for almost 20 years before getting into the promotions business.

Working for Creata, one of the world's largest promotional agencies, he claims he was once responsible for the design and manufacture of every McDonald's Happy Meal toy.

Mr James said that after setting up Sample Central, the company made "monumental mistakes" with its first store in Japan, a location he chose partly because two of his business partners were from the country, including signing up 1.8 million members in less than eight months.

"That was a big one because we couldn't get them all through the store in a year," Mr James told The National in November. "It was fine because the Japanese market is very compliant with a lot of these things."

Sample Central and its UAE franchisee Al Khayyat Investments did not respond to requests for comment.

Al Khayyat Investments' website states that it holds the Sample Central franchise for the UAE and 16 other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

gduncan@thenational.ae