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Qatar’s fast-growing retail sector and the budding business opportunities between British investors and local companies

Interview - November 24, 2014

The Upper Reach Team interviewed Mr. Ghazi Al Mannai, founder of Al Shoura Trading and Services Company and its flagship brand Cellini, and asked him about the country’s growing economy and the opportunities it will bring for the flourishing luxury sector. Mr. Ghazi talked about his passion for fashion, the hard work and investment necessary to become –and still be– one of the best in the business, and referred to his important business partners in Italy and his consideration of working on new projects with partners from The United Kingdom.


With the highest growth in the region forecast for the next five years, Qatar is reaching the highest point of its economy and developing rapidly. The Pearl of the Arabian Gulf is an example of what a passion for the highest level of investment in culture, education, sports and retail can do with a strong financial environment and the right leadership. So, in your opinion, what is the recipe for success here in Qatar?

I believe Qatar is succeeding because of our exceptional leadership. The Emir’s vision is to develop a country like no other in the Gulf, a country where economic excellence stands alongside a strong cultural identity. Qatar is now a country where the right support and facilities are provided to those who wish to establish or develop their business and this will ensure we can achieve the aspirations of our National Vision 2030.

I’m glad you mention new ideas and starting businesses, because SMEs in the Middle East are expected to benefit the most from foreign direct investment flowing into the region Of course, in order to succeed there needs to be that government access to financing, human capital, and technology. So, what would you say are the benefits of operating an SME here in Qatar and where do you see room for growth in terms of increasing the sector’s potential?

Starting any business in Qatar is a great opportunity. Since starting my business I have seen the market change, I now get calls from all over the world everyday asking me to go into business with them or bring their products to Doha. I am in the fashion business and that is my passion, but I have been approached with opportunities in the steel industry or infrastructure projects. This is a new and growing market and therefore the possibilities are endless.

It is no secret the economy is thriving. The country boasts the highest GDP per capita in the world and the retail sector, along with the health sector, is the fastest growing in the market. At the 2014 Qatar Retail Forum the director for Cityscape Qatar, Mr. Deep Marwaha, remarked: “The rapid pace of economic growth over recent years has left demand outstripping supply in the retail market, creating a wide range of opportunities for investors and developers. The projections for retail in Qatar are hugely exiting”. What and where are the opportunities for investors and developers looking to tap into the retail market in Qatar?

You can look at the opportunity in two lights.  The first is that the extensive development of malls and retail units currently underway poses enormous opportunity for those involved in design or architecture, and secondly many companies want to be part of this exciting development and trade products in Qatar.  This expansion is creating a healthy sector because now that the nation has its quota of the big luxury brands it is time for the more niche products to hit market. Our consumers certainly have an appetite for quality, the challenge will come if the quantity is in excess of the demand.

Market trends show that effective branding and communications strategy have an important effect on the success of traders, and targeted publics have demonstrated their appreciation of a well thought out brand positioning. So as you celebrate fifteen years of success, since 1999, how did you develop the brand Cellini and what is the philosophy behind it?

I love fashion, I love quality and I believe in service. Some people joke that I am half Italian and half Qatari because I am so familiar with Italian products and travel to Italy every month and have done so for the last thirty years.  It became apparent to me that the shops in Qatar lacked luxury service and so when I decided to open up my chain of outlets I wanted this to be the major consideration – the consumer experience. I wanted the customer to become as in touch with their final product as the tailor would be, I wanted them to have an haute couture experience, where they could be part of the journey of the fabric, buttons and thread coming to life. Cellini was born out of a dream that Qatar would finally have access to the best quality products at the highest echelon of service.  Twenty years ago it was a challenge to explain our pricing, but once people had come and seen the shop and the fresh Italian concept we grew day by day. Reaching the top is one thing but maintaining ones position is entirely another.  That is why we are continuously innovating, travelling to exhibitions and bringing new machines from England, Germany or Italy – we only work with the best because we only produce the best.

Please tell us about these trips your researchers take to the finest fashion houses to find the finest fabrics. Could you expand on that?

I am always investing in my business. I take my tailors to Italy to train with the finest fashion houses in Italy so that they can truly understand the art of the work they do. I took them to the biggest factories that make products for the whole world, they went there for three days from morning to evening to see the way they work, and although it cost me a lot of money their capability and understanding is worth investing in.

How did your relationship with Italy start? Because that is what truly makes you unique in Qatar.

My relationship with Italy began in 1984 when I first visited a Spa town with my mother. I befriended a local called Alessandro who owned a boutique. The store fascinated me and whilst we were there I would spend three to four hours a day learning how owning and running a boutique worked. I liked the idea so much that it remained in my head and I kept learning, going to exhibitions and talking with Alessandro about creating something of my own at home, something I liked, something unique.  So I started Cellini, travelling to Italy regularly and working with the Italians who produce the finest quality in the world.

Moving on to the relationship between Qatar and the United Kingdom. Qatar is ranked as the world’s fastest growing luxury market while London has always been recognized as a fashion capital, enabling the growth of a dynamic high-end designer fashion sector. However the British public’s appetite is growing for bespoke fashion, how do you see it taking more market share in terms of luxury retail?

London has always had international standing in the field of tailoring, and though recently the middle high street market has swallowed an enormous piece of the market’s pie, there will always be a market for bespoke. Post economic crisis an element of bespoke consumers was lost and getting them back will be a challenge as for most men shopping tends to be an activity of habit. Business is therefore not quite what is was before in London, three or four major players have had to shut down or move to the United States or elsewhere. The fact remains however that eighty percent of purchases made by Qataris in terms of fashion are made outside of the Middle East. Qataris are the biggest buyers of luxury goods in the Middle East. In Europe they spend an average of 1400 pounds per transaction, beating visitors from the Emirates and China to earn the “biggest spender” title.  If the British retailers could partner with the right connections from Qatar they could tap into that consumer base and this would certainly make a difference. With customers from the highest level of society here I would be more than happy to work with a British partner.

You have created a truly unique business; you have carved out an idea that others have unsuccessfully tried to duplicate. What makes you so passionate about your business?

I love my business and I understand well that investing in my people, my outlets and the materials which I use is essential. I use the finest Loro Piana fabrics, I use fabrics from Thomas Mason that you cannot find anywhere else in Qatar – fabric that is used to make Prince Charles’ shirts, and that prestige will pay dividends.

This is an additional interview question with Cellini Associate,Stefano Ricci.

Please tell us how you got involved with Mr. Ghazi and with Cellini.

We met almost two years ago unrelated to business, but in time Mr Ghazi explainied his philosophy with which he had created Cellini. He is always looking for something new, something special, and I was taken by his passion and so I thought perhaps we could do something together.  We brought the same passion for quality in to the fitting of the shops as the products, using the finest materials, and what we do is exclusive and something unseen until now in Qatar. We recognized that we wanted people to feel the quality of the products the minute they set foot in the shop.


Mr Ahmed
27/11/2014  |  12:32
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Hi mr Al-mannai I received your article about the investors for the local community I'm very happy to hear a wonderful news and I hope it works for you and congratulation many wish for the future . Mr Ahmed