By Neil King
Bridal exhibition BRIDE Dubai returns this month with an extra emphasis on small businesses looking to break into a competitive and very active marketplace. Exhibition director Daphne Cota and two small business owners tell us why working together is a match made in heaven
Anybody who has been to an Arabic wedding will know that it’s a serious business.
The traditional western one-day affair demands enough attention to detail, from invitations to dress, menu and venue, but marriage celebrations in the Middle East are in a different league.
Whether it’s the henna night, welcoming procession, outfit changes, jewelery, musicians, feast, or deciding where to hold the wedding, and for how many days, every details is important. It’s not just the acknowledgement of two people’s love for each other; it’s the most precisely planned – and biggest – party you can imagine.
The stats speak for themselves. While western weddings have an average spend of $20,000, Arabic weddings hit an incredible $82,000.
The UAE National Bureau of Statistics record that in 2011 there were a total of 15,105 marriages registered at courts, meaning that – based on the two averages above – somewhere between $302m and $1.24bn was ploughed into the wedding market in that year alone.
So it’s little wonder that the Middle East’s largest bridal and fashion exhibition, BRIDE Dubai, continues to attract more and more visitors.
“We are getting more visitors every year,” says exhibition director Daphne Cota. “This year we’re expecting more than 16,000 – that’s an increase of about seven to eight percent on last year.
“We also have about 350 exhibitors – a ten percent growth compared to last year.”
Taking place between 10-13 April and organised by Informa Exhibitions, the reason both visitors and exhibitors flock to the show seems obvious. With fifteen editions already behind it, as well twelve editions of its sister event in Abu Dhabi, BRIDE Dubai has become an institution, giving exhibitors huge exposure, and giving visitors a one-stop-shop for all their wedding needs.
“We promote it as a consumer show,” continues Cota. “You can buy the products on display and people buy a lot of them because you can’t find them in the stores here. We try to balance the different items in the show, from wedding dresses, jewelry, wedding organisers, and so on.
“Over the years we’ve tried to give a platform for exhibitors, both local and international, to showcase their products. It’s really a place where people can buy something different and unique – there are things at the exhibition that you won’t easily find anywhere else.
“What’s good for us is that the global market crash didn’t really affect the wedding market. It’s growing by 20 percent each year, which is really impressive. Numbers are still growing at the exhibition, which is great to see.”
One of the important aspects of the show, according to Cota is the inclusion of start-up businesses and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Teaming up with Dubai SME, an agency of the Department of Economic Development, BRIDE Dubai now features more young designers, business owners and entrepreneurs than ever before.
“It’s a very good initiative to tie up with Dubai SME this year,” continues Cota. “It gives us a broader range to show and it’s a good opportunity for SMEs.
“It’s sometimes really hard for them to be able to launch, so we are trying to give a platform to young designers, as well as giving them stalls at cheaper rates to encourage them. Most of these brands won’t have a store, so being visible at the show and establishing so many new contacts is great for them.”
Cota explains that the show attracts a lot of clothing brands and designers, particularly from the UAE but also from Saudi Arabia, Jordan Lebanon, and further afield. She says the traditional robe-like dress – the abaya – is especially popular for both the exhibitors to display and attendees to buy.
One such exhibiting company, Malik Alabaya, is a prime example of a small business which is benefitting from the show’s tie-up with Dubai SME. Owner Mohammed Al Muhairi explains the exhibition is vital in order for his business to grow.
He says: “This exhibition is one of the major exhibitions not only here but in the region. For small businesses like mine it’s a platform to reach another level. It broadens the market for my shop and gives me access to a much wider network.”
Al Muhairi says the help governmental groups have provided him with have given his business the impetus and contacts it needs to develop quickly.
“I’m not new to this business,” he says. “Before this I was in textiles, but I wanted to start a business with a small workshop and tailors.
“I went to the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Makhtoum Foundation and the management courses they gave me really helped. They gave courses on how to target different markets and target different audiences – for example, if we were designing a particular abaya then how would I attract the market in Abu Dhabi and not Ras Al Khaimar. Since these courses the business has grown considerably. We now have a huge villa in Jumeirah with 25 workers.”
These courses and subsequent growth helped give Al Muhairi extra knowhow on how to approach the exhibition, maximising the company’s impact and attracting as much interest as possible.
“When we first decided to be part of the show earlier this year we decided to have a new strategy and improve the collection,” he says.
“We changed the fabric and textiles so that they are top quality because a show like this has a lot of other abaya designers and they want to stick out just as much as us. So we decided to take a new path in order to up our game.
“Everything we are showcasing will be new and has never been on the market before. It’s very innovative and very different and will hopefully awaken interest.”
Cota adds that this is one of the great things about having so many start-ups and SMEs taking part of the exhibition.
She says: “The small businesses and young designers are always creative and keen to bring something new to the exhibition. They are more eager to present something different because the competition is so much higher at the start-up stage.
“We’ve worked in the past with young designers and new designers and they really make a huge effort to do something special. On the show floor they are pitted against established international brands so they have to do something creative.
“We’re actually streamlining our process of finding and helping SMEs. We don’t just want to help them financially – we want to give them advice as well to help them develop. The government is really helping and local businesses are on the increase.”
Another Emirati entrepreneur making the most of BRIDE Dubai and government projects is Alham Al Rabeea, owner of SOL Fashion Boutique in Jumeirah Plaza Centre.
Having opened the boutique in October last year, she has seen a big change in the development of her business.
“Before 2012 I had just a workshop and I was working from home. It was all just the internet and a phone – that’s it.
“Dubai SME has really helped with things like contacts, and this exhibition is one example of that. I’m really grateful for what they’ve done.
“We now have more than 30 designers at our store – mostly local designers but also from all other parts of the world. Originally we were a company just making abayas, but we wanted to grow and now we’ve been able to do that.
“At the exhibition I really want to meet new people – new designers, suppliers, customers. It will be of great value to me and my company – a huge credit.”
Al Muhairi expands on the way his and other small businesses have been able to grow, saying: “For a long time we only had four employees, but since joining the foundation we have gone from four to 25.
“The growth is not just because of the interesting courses they gave us but also we get special discounts on things like employment visas – if the visas normally cost AED7,000 we get them for AED3,000. This kind of help really offers us a shortcut into business.
“Sheikh Mohammed has also given ten percent of government authorities permission to give SMEs a special service. We can go into a particular line and get help much more quickly. We’re also exempt from tax if we send products out of the UAE.
“Because of this kind of help the future is very bright.”
According to official statistics, SMEs contribute to about 40 percent of the UAE’s GDP, with more than 230,000 registered throughout the country – a number which is set to grow as numerous banks launch SME campaigns, including preferential loan rates, as well as business advice.
Growth and development is not confined to SMEs, however, as Cota explains that the established BRIDE Dubai exhibition is always looking for something new to offer visitors.
“Trends shift, and we’re always looking for the new designs and trends to be in the show,” she says.
“Jewelry is of course very important to every bride, so we have opened a new jewelry pavilion. We’re looking forward to the visitors seeing that. I’m also really excited to see the new lines from the local designers. This is the first time we’ve had so many designers coming to the Dubai show – it’s really booming at the moment.”
Daphne also reveals that a new exhibition is on the horizon for Dubai. Beyond Beauty Arabia has already launched in Abu Dhabi, and will be arriving in Duabi in 2014, expanding on many the beauty aspects featuring in the BRIDE shows.
It’s clear to see that growth is infectious. From the exhibitions, to SMEs, to the products businesses offer, the bridal market doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon.