x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Retailers take on that European touch

Economic slump from Spain to Bulgaria is leading workers there to view the Emirates as a much better alternative for employment.

Cakes and pastries on display at the Paul Bakery & Restaurant in Dubai Mall. Traditionally, UAE retail stores have been staffed by Asian shop assistants but now more are coming from Europe.
Cakes and pastries on display at the Paul Bakery & Restaurant in Dubai Mall. Traditionally, UAE retail stores have been staffed by Asian shop assistants but now more are coming from Europe.

DUBAI // Europeans are starting to appear behind the counters of shops in the UAE's malls as the economic conditions of their countries remain in the doldrums.

Traditionally, these stores have been staffed by Asian shop assistants, from India and the Philippines in particular.

But some in the industry say jobseekers from Western Europe are beginning to turn their gaze towards the Emirates as a better alternative to the job situations at home.

Most of those who have made the move so far have come from Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics.

"People from Poland and Bulgaria are coming, which we never saw before in Dubai," said Tony Haddad, the manager of the Virgin Megastore at Dubai's Mercato Mall. "And we are receiving a lot of CVs from Western Europe. Some are from Spain.

"I expect we'll start hiring them soon. We are organising interviews for them. Some have good backgrounds so we are trying to find something for them, but mostly they are seeking jobs in sales. It would be great. We'd be happy if we hired them."

Mr Haddad said salaries for sales staff in Dubai were between Dh4,000 and Dh8,000, with most in the range of Dh5,000 to Dh7,000. Some companies offered less but had difficulty attracting candidates.

"Most of the sales force are Asians, mostly from the Philippines and India," said Mirla El Masri Heisser, the public relations manager for Mercato Mall.

"This has been the trend in Dubai for some time now, not only in Mercato but in most of the retailers in other shopping malls as well. Now we have seen a larger number of Nepalis coming to the country.

"But I think this trend is going to change because of the economic troubles that are happening in the Western European countries like Greece. We will also see a lot of Eastern Europeans coming to Dubai.

"It will definitely change, and I think it's for the better in Dubai because we get a lot of tourists and we will need this variety in the retailers. You cannot limit it to two nationalities only.

"We get a lot of nationalities from the tourism side and it would be good if we could cater to all these nationalities. Of course we cannot cater to everybody, but having a variety in the stores would help."

The very few who have taken such jobs until now have not been fleeing recessions at home but are, for example, a British national who has grown up in Dubai, or a German wife here on her husband's visa.

Not all shops are looking to change the make-up of the sales force, however. Hobbs is a classic example of an upmarket British women's fashion chain, yet there are no plans to introduce accents from the UK or anywhere else in Europe among staff at its Dubai stores.

"We don't have applications from the likes of Spain, Portugal and Greece," said Promod Rodrigues, the operations manager at Hobbs in Dubai.

"Our sales staff are from India and the Philippines and we are happy with the staffing arrangements. The customers are mostly from the UK."

Idu Jion, the senior marketing manager at the Book World by Kinokuniya shop in Dubai Mall, said the company was planning to recruit in the UK, but for middle managers rather than sales staff.

"We don't want to recruit sales force from the UK because we can get sales force locally or from our own market," Mr Jion said.

He said sales staff in Dubai normally worked an eight-hour day and five-day week, although sometimes they had to work extra because of the requirements of the business.

"They have very flexible hours of working," Mr Jion said.

Ms Heisser added: "In some of the big department stores we have a lot of Russian sales people because they have a lot of Russian customers. It's the bulk of their sales nowadays so they're catering to these guys."

Some retail groups based in the UAE have been running recruitment drives in former Soviet republics such as Moldova.

"In some cases where some retailers are looking to specifically cater to customers who are from other parts of the world, they may look to recruit specific nationalities, especially if their customers don't speak English as their first language," said Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer of Jacky's Electronics.

"This is probably why in many fashion boutiques you've seen more Eastern European staff who speak Russian, for instance, or Chinese staff working who can converse in Mandarin."

Mr Panjabi said most of the sales staff at Jacky's came from India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and the Middle East and North Africa region because it was easier to recruit in these countries.

"More than us looking at nationalities, it is more a question of which nationalities can afford to work in Dubai, earn a salary and still find they can sustain themselves here as well as their families back home," he said.

csimpson@thenational.ae