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Mon 13 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Street market ambitions

As Aswaaq revs up for its Dubai debut this month, Retail News discovers how it will secure loyalty before its expansion into convenience formats.

As Aswaaq revs up for its Dubai debut this month, Retail News discovers how it will secure loyalty before its expansion into convenience formats.

After an impressive 20-year background in the industry across France and the Middle East at the helm of brands including Auchan and Majid Al Futtaim's Carrefour, Aswaaq COO Eric Poiret is geared up to open at least 42 community supermarkets within the next five years.

When the doors swing open to aswaaq's first store in Dubai's Nad Al Hamar on October 23, the Dubai-based company will launch the UAE's first retail loyalty scheme.

The loyalty card is totally new in this market and there is no competition to our programme.

The loyalty card, to be in place from Day One, will be totally new in this market and there is no competition to our programme, offering point redemption, discounts and services. The Aswaaq branded cards and our home delivery service for groceries will establish a strong, positive relationship with shoppers."

Predicted to become the biggest retail project in the UAE, Aswaaq comprises community centres with supermarkets as the main anchors surrounded by other retail stores and services.

"We plan to open Mizhar by the end of this year or the beginning of next year and Sofouh by mid-January. We have started the construction of Umm Suqeim and Al Warqa'a, which will open in the third quarter of 2009," he says.

Braced for an exciting roll-out of the new concept, Poiret reveals that "we have a lot of ambitions to develop not just a supermarket chain, but to develop our retail branches through c-stores, hypermarkets and cash and carry stores".

He admits that "if we have the opportunity then we'll move into hypermarkets as we believe there is enough space for another brand in the market. With the population growing in Dubai, there is still demand for hypermarkets. We will stop at Dubai and then look at the other emirates."

To generate greater competition and avoid limiting its reach, Aswaaq "would like to develop a high-end, fine grocery concept with specific, high-value products for the FMCG area", and the gourmet move will include standalone stores.

Set to recruit between 40 and 80 employees per location, Aswaaq plans to open between seven and nine locations by the end of 2009. "Seven are planned and two are for the opportunity to develop our concept in the first doorways," he comments.

"The c-stores, which we will develop as an industry, and the cash and carry outlets will come later. The priority is community centres with Aswaaq supermarkets and other services."

The retailer will build its estate of stores based on three categories on stores. "A is our big supermarkets up to 40,000ft², B stores are between 25-30,000ft² and C stores between 15-25,000ft²".

Placing its stores at the heart of the most populated residential areas across the UAE, the project has received media attention in recent attention for its vows to provide benefits for UAE Nationals by providing careers and the opportunity for them to become major importers and suppliers to the supermarkets and to lease space within the shopping centres.

"The manager of the first store is a UAE National living within the Nad Al Hamr area, while 30% of the space at the centre has been given to members of the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for Young Business Leaders (SME) and 30% to entrepreneurs from the local community," he says.

As part of aswaaq's fairness model and its bid to combat rising food prices the supermarkets will consider direct imports and heavily promote its private label, while implementing a price transparency policy to ensure consumers are informed.

Inspired by the street market or souk, "we believe our brand identity will be unique and we have built up a concept which is positioned between modernity and authenticity."

"We have created a concept which is a street market ambience, totally different from what is already in the market. We have fine-tuned the look and feel of the stores for months. The tone of voice will be different, staff will call out the offers to customers," he reveals.

The company has sent new hires to dedicated training sessions on the desired customer service approach at Aswaaq, however looking to long-term needs, "we plan to develop a Retail Academy, dedicated to Aswaaq, which could also be used to provide services for other retailers."

"The idea is to start with Aswaaq. We will train people, focusing on customer service, as we believe there is a big, big gap in the market. We have dedicated so much time on brand identity, so we have prepared specific training on what we mean by Aswaaq and the look and feel we want," he reveals.

To meet the highest levels of hygiene, "we would like to be HACCP-certified as soon as possible and we are training people according to this target."

In deciding how to lease the space at the community centres, the project has a firm service-oriented strategy, coupled with its commitment to give back part of its turnover and profit to the local communities.

The product mix at stores will depend heavily on customer profiles. However the concentration across all of them will be on convenience. "The idea is for people to not have to travel to do shopping, avoid traffic congestion and make their lives easier."

The stores will boast the latest technology available in the retail industry to maximise convenience. "We have developed the latest technologies and have observed the best international practises in order to upgrade the standard of Dubai. People will be surprised by the standard when Aswaaq opens."

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