What prompted Damas’ expansion plans? Did being acquired last year by Qatar’s Mannai Corp and Egyptian investment bank EFG Hermes enable you to branch out more than before?
Actually the real story is about how wealthy the business is, how wealthy Damas is, how wealthy our balance sheet and income statement is  and how wealthy the industry is. We’re in a very good position, today our sales are extremely good, our profitability is on its highest levels ever and obviously with that comes the ability to look around and say how can we go forward.
With regards to your expansion plans, you mentioned the fashion capitals of the world and in Asia, Hong Kong and Singapore, is there any particular region you will initially be focussing on?
The expansion has already begun; we have 28 branches under construction in the UAE between Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Fujairah area. We also have six shops under construction in Saudi Arabia, all of those will be up and running by January or February 2013 so its already being executed, including a beautiful new Graff shop in Riyadh. So on a regional level progress is already happening  and the list of branches is growing every day. On an international level, yes we want to diversify and explore new challenges in other markets, obviously the biggest jewellery markets are well known to everyone and that is where the attention is going, plus the fashion capitals of the world because of the symbolic nature of these cities and the fact that consumer demand always prefers, at a certain level of product, high end and luxury to shop from these centres.
How do you see your relationship changing with international brands as a result of these plans?
I think all of them are happy with how things are happening at Damas we have a huge appetite for business in terms of expansion plans where they are needed or product procurement and advertising capabilities. All of them are now excellent. We also have the ability to support them in terms of refitting shops, just last week we opened a new Graff shop in Dubai Mall boutique, it was an expensive task, but an excellent investment and we are very proud of it. It’s a beautiful shop and the product line is full so the benefit is mutual. Our ability to invest and support is now at its peak and obviously this will bring more business to our business partners and us.
Under the plans a lot of the stores are being renovated, can you explain what is changing?
Today we have 297 branches built under one of four different formulas and our retail segmentation is more based on product. Under the new Damas segmentation we’re going to convert all these shops into one of two retail formats. The segment shop is called Damas Collections and the high-end shops will be only labelled with Damas. Gradually all the existing shops will be converted into one of the two news formats. We’ve already started, Dubai Mall boutique is now labelled as the new flagship, Mina A’Salam boutique  is also under the new concept and I think in the coming 12 months we have 12 more shops from the existing network that will be renovated into the new concept, plus all our new stores will be under the new concept from day one.
You mentioned the expansion could involve acquisitions, is there any specific type of company you would look to acquire, a regional player or a national player for example?
I think this will depend on which region or which country, obviously the appetite is there, our core business is jewellery and watches  so the potential list will only look at companies that are active in this area, companies that can add value to our top line, bottom line and our distribution, but this is still in its early stages and it’s difficult to give more details.
Is there a specific amount set-aside for M&A?
As I said our appetite is there, the financial resources are there, we are also backed by a very strong owners list and the intention is to do everything from within our internal resources, but it all will depend on the size of the opportunity and the feasibility of it.
By: Robert Anderson