Simply an Aside: When I went to work in 2008 for 10-years filled with adventure and challenge in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, I was at first astonished that we could lease our malls up to 90% occupancy in less than a 90-days. It was because only 4-7 major retail brand companies dominated the UAE market and who physically owned and controlled all of the better known retail brands. Between the Al Tayer Group, The Alshaya Group , The Chalhoub Group, Azadea and the Al Futtaim Group, we were able to sign their franchise concepts like Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Fendi, Prada, Cartier, Dolce Gabbana etc, all virtually within weeks.
The above listed Groups together owned and operated over 800 prime AAA retail brand concepts. As part of their International franchising rights and deals the Groups would build the stores to the highest possible standards, merchandise them and operate them. Only the merchandise was purchased from outside the UAE but other than that the Groups insisted on absolute full control. Simply the UAE law prohibits any 'direct business ownership rights' to foreign nationals and companies. For the groups making money or running profits in their retail operations was not exactly their primary goal either, as prestige, wanting to be seen, moving and bring recognized in the world of high couture fashions came first and foremost. This was often equated to 'why'would Jay Leno need to own 182 vintage cars and 80 motorcycles? So instead why not in Dubai and Abu Dhabi collect premium restaurant concepts and high couture retail fashions?
Simply for the owners of these major UAE retail groups the never-ending big 'Oil Money' essentially keeps on spurting out of the ground to no end, so profits or losses in some of their investments are not taken very seriously and actually treated on a nonchalant basis. Unlike in the U.S where retailers and mall shops had to make a profit from the very first day on or stores were closed or locations reduced. I kept on thinking: "Hey Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore." So all in all we as UAE mall developers only had to see a few selected retail group executives to make 30-80 deals all at one time and this including department stores like Bloomingdales, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, Debenhams and the French Galeries Lafayette.
As to yours truly, I was meanwhile sitting pretty by the pool in Dubai, sunshine everyday, no cloud in the sky, but already reading about the inevitable coming downturn of retail and malls in the USA. But the States was a thousand miles away and might as well have been on the moon. I was happy to be collecting a nice paycheck, super benefits, bonuses and not exactly looking forward to a future U.S return to a possibly changed and mired mall industry. But what the hell my company just renewed my 4-year contract, so very selfishly I was surely ready for another 'Singapore Sling' at the Raffles hotel at WAFI and happy dreams for some time to come!
Dubai Mall: Storefronts 16.5 feet high (5 meters) for best merchandise presentation and an instant 'Wow' factor. It came to be an all around design favorite. Something like this I never saw constructed or designed in the USA, so from my perspective it was never done before. Initially convincing our company hierarchy however that we should be doing something very innovative like this was difficult to say the least. Many of our executives could not envision how it would look and feel. It was also very expensive to do. So a real life and 100% mock-up had to be build. But then with the all mighty oil still keeping on flowing, and the western nations staying in line to buy it, money of course was never the issue!
The Teams: Many different languages were being spoken. The mall development opening teams usually consisted of 15-20 different nationalities. And with each bringing forward the best discipline that their country or their trait had to offer. In this particular picture we have nine (9) different countries represented and this is the happy mall management team ready to take over and to stay the course. While we in development going on to another new mall and construction job and to start all over again.
Shopping in style: It’s very hot and up to 95-120 degrees fahrenheit in almost all the months of the year. So shopping is done mostly late at night. And good behavior and respectful dressing in the mall is strictly enforced. No kissing please or holding hands.
Always on the Ball: Yours truly and another day in opening a mall. Story of my life! This was “The Galleria” in Abu Dhabi. The push and pull is on in getting the stores open.
Abu Dhabi: Office buildings and malls usually went together including hotels. (Mixed-Use) Here I am "goofing-off" in the early morning trying to stay cool and out of the way! It was high summer and already a 105 (Fahrenheit) degrees out there.
Paperwork: I hate shuffling papers and writing memos. I much prefer to be in the mall with the teams physically pushing pre-opening tasks and seeing the merchandising done by the luxury retailers. Also many beautiful merchandising woman are to be seen and watched. Many of them I already knew because they do all of the new mall store openings. But my onsite construction desk here was getting fuller and fuller with especially international based correspondence. This was a surprise photo shot by my driver and I did not look very happy! The good news: Arabs do not like to read memos and prefer face to face meetings and verbal updates, both of which I love. In contrast earlier at Rouse, Simon and DeBartoIo, I spend about 75% of my time writing memos and with most just to cover my tracks, just like my other U.S mall executives at the time doing the same dance! Cultural differences and corporate politics abounding!
One of my all time favorite stores and with the high storefront and its great merchandising. Notice the overhead signage, as we featured such design exclusively just like in airports. Clean, illuminated and three-dimensional.
The tenant line-up does not get much better and with always super-wide walkways. Here: Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton. Being usually on the run I do not really recall shopping high-end retail at all. Also wearing suits by our company is not required on the job in almost any function. But it is nice to actually meet all of the 'high couture' tenants and working teams during their store opening period and the cultural diversity they bring to the table.
"Opening Soon" signage usually does not get any bigger!
Mall Office: Property Management doing advance CAM budgets on a 200 inch TV. Do not let there be any misunderstanding. Looks like Miss Lilly from Oregon and Kashif from Pakistan having a good time!
Meeting with the Tenant Coordination Team: Australia, Germany, India, USA, Great Britain. A true United Nations and I loved every minute of it!
Initial Instructions and Training: Mall Security looking at a newly installed onsite CCTV installation and demo given by Tai Ping our Director of Security. Notice the different (4) nationalities and the serious faces. Wow...these guys dress better than us executives!