David Daniels is a young Englishman who stood at the helm of perhaps the most fashionable gallery in Dubai - Saks Fifth Avenue at the end of last year. What brought him to the UAE, and what are the further ambitious plans of Dubai's Fifth Avenue, how it relates to the peculiarities of the local climate, and what is the main difference between the main fashion galleries of the city, David decided to tell the readers of our magazine, who, for sure, it will be interesting to learn about who usually stands behind the success of an enterprise.
David, for a start, tell a little about yourself. How did you start your career in the fashion industry? Where did you work before arriving in Dubai?
I am 43 years old, I am British, and spent most of my career in the luxury industry. It all started with cosmetics and perfumes. I spent more than 20 years in this business. About 12 years of them came to my work as head of marketing at Yves Saint Lauren in the UK. Then I moved to the Lancaster Group, which is famous for its skincare and sun protection products. My international career began from here. Initially, I was the CEO of the group’s British division, but later transferred to the Australian branch to market Lancaster products in a large department store. I spent about six months there, trying to create a new team and convince her of the need to implement a new company strategy, in which there were noticeable changes at that time. And after this experience, I decided that I did not want to go back to the UK, but I want to develop my career in other international markets. And, despite all my great love for England, I wanted to plunge into other cultures, visit different countries, feel the difference in doing business.
Thus, upon returning to the UK in early 2000, I took up the position of observer for the English and Australian markets in the same Lancaster Group, and this work was accompanied by my constant flights from England to Australia and back. Therefore, at the end of 2000, I was also offered a position at the company's headquarters in Paris in the marketing services division. That is, I began to combine my work as general manager of the markets of England and Australia with responsibility for visual merchandising of all 32 divisions of the group around the world from its headquarters. As it turned out, doing business in different markets is not an easy task. Even the usual, it would seem, marketing and advertising campaigns in different countries should have been conducted in different ways. To perform these tasks efficiently, it also required traveling a lot around the world. In a word, from Paris in 2004 I flew to Japan. And there I changed my field of activity, moving from the field of cosmetic products to the Danish company for the production of accessories and jewelry George Jensen. Originally known by its silver jewelry company, at the moment I joined it, I began to position myself in a different way and entered the market of expensive jewelry, offering customers jewelry in white and yellow gold and even diamonds. In addition, she quite aggressively promoted her watches in Asian markets, very similar to bracelets, which are very popular in Southeast Asia. I headed the Japanese division of the company, the largest outside Denmark, and it was a fantastic experience. Before that, I had already been in Japan with consulting projects, but permanent residence in the country allowed me to get in touch with a completely different culture.
I think that among the international luxury markets, Japan is one of the most advanced in the world. The reason here, probably, is that the Japanese have an incredible ability to value not only the products of famous brands, but also each of their elements, and the labor that the craftsmen put into their manufacture. I spent four years in Japan, even tried to learn Japanese, which I managed to do half. And then he received an offer to head the Saks Fifth Avenue department store in Dubai.
So immediately moved from the Far East to the Middle?
Honestly, I didn’t even expect this to happen to me. But when I received a favorable offer, I thought: “Why not?”. In fact, we never know what awaits us around the next bend. Having been involved in the luxury market for many years, one way or another I have always been associated with large department stores and multi-brand fashion galleries. In a word, I agreed to lead Saks Fifth Avenue in Dubai. Now I look forward to the arrival of my wife, who worked first in Japanese and then in the Hong Kong branches of Morgan Stanley Bank, and now she is moving to me in Dubai. I hope the local climate does not seem too hot to her.
David, how do you think Saks Fifth Avenue differs from other similar galleries such as Harvey Nichols or Villa Moda, for example?
To begin with, what is common between them. Firstly, these are, one way or another, large department stores, in which a huge number of goods of various kinds and different brands are presented - from clothes and shoes to personal care products and accessories. But Harvey Nichols has an elusive "British" accent, I can tell you this for sure, as an Englishman. But Saks Fifth Avenue is a real "American" department store in everything - both in the general logic of the retail space, in the manner of communicating with customers, and in the assortment of goods.
At the heart of the Saks Fifth Avenue philosophy is the idea of providing a personalized service to our customers. To do this, we specially train our staff in special ways of communicating with customers. The task of sales consultants is not only and not so much to sell the goods to the buyer, but to choose for him a complete set of clothes and accessories for the right occasion. Very often, our customers, entering a multi-brand department store, in the first minutes cannot navigate it. Or they come to us with a request to help you choose outfits for a social event, a business meeting, a trip on a cruise, and so on. And here the sales assistant is obliged to offer suitable items from the latest collections, appropriate accessories, shoes and more. Moreover, he can even attract other colleagues so that they try on and demonstrate to the buyer the ensemble they need.
Please tell me what is the percentage of Russian customers among regular customers of Saks Fifth Avenue?
I believe that we have more than one third of Russian buyers. That is why professional Russian-speaking sales consultants work in all departments of Saks Fifth Avenue. Today, we have 14 people who are fluent in Russian. By the way, many buyers come to the store, not only because they are satisfied with the presented range of goods, but also because they like how they are served by a particular seller. Russian buyers, for example, can go to Saks Fifth Avenue, and, not having seen the seller they know, leave to return another time. Each sales assistant has a record book of "his" customers, whom he constantly notifies about the appearance of new collections and is invited to individual views.
That is, regular customers have special privileges and can see new collections before everyone else?
That's right. We set a viewing time for them, and our sellers in a special room of the department store on the second floor in a private setting show all the new products, based on information about the tastes of this customer, his preferences regarding color, shape, size and even your favorite brand, for example, Prada or Dolce & Gabbana.
Is it difficult to convince a Russian buyer that it is not necessary to dress from head to toe in clothes and shoes of the same brand?
Very hard! (laughs). Our Russian clients are closely following fashion trends and new collections, and often know exactly what they want to buy, as a rule, from designers known to them. I can say that many Russian buyers are often monobrand buyers who are difficult to lean towards unknown collections and to those things that are said to be "not at all heard." Perhaps for this we love these customers! They give our staff a unique opportunity to practice the art of persuasion and unobtrusive demonstration of something new.
It is known that last year a specialized department store for men Saks Fifth Avenue The Men Store was opened in the Jumeirah Beach Residence. I understand that now everyone is talking about the crisis, but still, what can we expect from Saks Fifth Avenue in the near future?
It’s true, everyone talks about the crisis. Yes, business this year will be difficult, but I do not expect a disaster. In contrast, our sales in Dubai over the past couple of years have shown annual growth of 45%. Believe me, this is a lot. There is some decline now, and this is even for the better. As for the marketing policy of the Saks Fifth Avenue brand around the world, I can say that the company recently initiated the opening of a specialized multi-brand shoe store Saks Fifth Avenue 1002 in New York, the second such store is expected to open in Las Vegas. This is an amazing and unique initiative. Imagine - thousands of pairs of the best branded shoes from the most famous designers are gathered under one roof!
Can we hope for a similar department store in the UAE?
I don’t know how soon, but I think it can happen. But what has already happened is the opening of Saks Fifth Avenue at the City Center shopping center in Bahrain in November last year, when the crisis had already struck. This year we are looking for a place to open Saks Fifth Avenue in Abu Dhabi and then in Qatar. And these are just some of our plans for further expansion in the region.
What new designer collections will Saks Fifth Avenue in Dubai please its customers?
Last year alone, we introduced to our customers about 20 new brands, and this is not the limit. Among them are Apparel Contemporary, Joe's Jeans, Twisted Hearts, Apparel Designer, Viktor & Rolf Kids, John Galliano Mens, Finamore, Fratelli Peluso, Isaia, Marc by Marc Jacobs and others. For example, today we have a new collection of the Thierry Mugler brand, which at one time disappeared from the world's catwalks and markets, and now has revived again. That is, we can talk about the Thierry Mugler Renaissance on the world and Middle Eastern haute couture scene. Based on the general market situation, we will simply try to revise our marketing techniques a little in the near future, and we will concentrate our efforts mainly on attracting the local community to our stores. Right on the territory of Saks Fifth Avenue and The Men Store, we plan to hold specialized fashion shows for city residents, as well as other promotions to attract customers and create a special atmosphere of sophisticated and high-end shopping.
So, the fashion market is not going to give up their positions?
We are not determined to survive, we plan to conduct normal daily work, which is focused on a certain segment of wealthy customers. And our main task is to provide them with such a level of service and an assortment of goods that will be clearly associated with Saks Fifth Avenue and motivate our customers to constantly return to us. Moreover, we plan to continue supporting such initiatives of the Dubai government as annual trade festivals, in the framework of which we hold our own fashion shows, and other similar events. And since Saks Fifth Avenue is one of the leading players in the Dubai fashion arena, we must comply with this status. Therefore, we are waiting for you at Saks Fifth Avenue at any time, regardless of the crisis, weather or mood.
Thanks for the invitation, David, and good luck.