Vespucci sets sail. Publisher s introduction: Amerigo Vespucci would. on a new voyage of discovery

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1 Vespucci sets sail on a new voyage of discovery There s a new brand in town and it may be coming to a duty free store near you. But this is a brand with a difference it s been developed by one of the industry s leading retailers, Abu Dhabi Duty Free. The brand is called Vespucci, inspired by one of the great travellers of the world, Amerigo Vespucci. Martin Moodie reports. Mohamed Mounib: maintaining a tradition of innovation with own brand Vespucci Publisher s introduction: Amerigo Vespucci would be proud of the journey. Five hundred years after the great Italian explorer discovered the continent of South America his European peers thought it was Asia his name has inspired one of the more intriguing travel retail brand initiatives of recent times. The Italian merchant, explorer and cartographer, after whom North and South America were named, was also a trader making him the ideal focus of Abu Dhabi Duty Free s new owned brand initiative launched in September. Managing Director Mohamed Mounib s vision was to create an own label in fashion and related items that would offer customers value for money, quality products at reasonable but not cheap prices. A key driver was the desire to improve margins and therefore profitability in the fast-growing fashion sector, one that Mounib believes fails to reach out to a sufficiently broad spectrum of travelling consumers. Our aim was to create recognition for a brand with an international flair that would appeal to international travellers, he says. With a touch of the fashion pundit he describes the Vespucci Autumn/Winter 2006 collection as diverse, colourful, elegant and classy. So far two ranges have been developed: the men s range which includes linen suits, classic shirts, silk ties, cufflinks, polo shirts, T-shirts, watches, sunglasses, belts, leather accessories and shoes. The ladies range includes polo shirts, T-shirts, watches, sunglasses, handmade leather shoes and colourful handbags. The results to date have been encouraging. This is a real breakthrough for us I think it s a fantastic concept, he enthuses. The quality is excellent and we see everyone buying it Europeans, Asians and local customers. Abu Dhabi Duty Free General Manager Niveen Ibrahim says that international identity developers were involved in formulating the concept. We were inspired by the spirit of discovery, she recalls, the core of the brand is keep discovering. Mounib adds: Our ultimate goal is to see Vespucci retailed at Abu Dhabi Duty Free exclusively for a couple of years in Terminal One and the forthcoming T3, before we start to roll it out in other travel retail operations and in domestic markets in the Middle East, then Europe. After the announcement The Moodie Report spoke to Mohamed Mounib about the initiative. The Moodie Report 221

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3 The Moodie Report: Mohamed, I remember you telling me about this initiative back in early How long has the Vespucci brand actually been in development? Mohamed Mounib: The business plan and brand development was done and presented to the owner in November last year. Once we received the approval on the initial investment and branding, steps were taken to initiate sourcing and manufacturing products for the brand. Orders were placed in February 2006 and trading started in September. The men s and ladies collections have not fully arrived yet, but before Christmas a fully-fledged 50sq m shop will be opened in Terminal One. What drove the idea? Was it consumer-led, or was it retailer-driven? Birth of a brand Niveen Ibrahim promises innovation, discovery and surprises Abu Dhabi Duty Free General Manager Niveen Ibrahim explains how the retailer settled on the initial range for Vespucci and where she sees it developing. We were always concerned that the lowest-price branded tie and shirt in our shop retailed at US$95 and US$125 respectively. We believe that customers who purchase these brands only make up 10 15% of our clientele. There was a gap that needed to be filled. While there is an equation in travel retail that travellers look for luxury products, that doesn t mean that everybody can afford it. So we started the project with the business traveller in mind. Our main target was to develop a classic range of shirts and ties. We had to undertake massive research to find the best manufacturers in the world, compare prices and decide how to deal with them. We also had to develop our own style, which we sought from international designers. We did not want to narrow our scope by means of introducing just a couple of styles, as the core of the brand is to keep discovering ; so we ended up introducing around 50 different styles. Colours were meant to be bright and cheerful, though we had to allow for some plain colours to satisfy everybody s tastes. So no matter if our customers are conservative or out there they will always find their preferences. The same applies to ties. A range of bright colours and striking designs were developed in Milan, assuring our customers that they were being provided with nothing but the best. During the development process, and while touring the factories and meeting with the designers, some lines were added that were not part of the original remit such as suits. The success of the shirts and ties inspired us and gave us the confidence to introduce linen suits. Cufflinks, belts and shoes were sourced in Italy and the philosophy of the brand to keep discovering dominated the range and the designs. Timepieces and watches were a challenge. As we retail a wide range of watches at Abu Dhabi Duty Free, starting from US$25 up to US$50,000, there was no point in just creating another classic watch for the sake of branding it with Vespucci. We had to be very innovative and introduce something really different. After lots of research we developed a range of sophisticated mechanical watches with a see-through back that became signature watches and guess what at affordable prices (US$ ). The men s line is going to be introduced by the end of October while the ladies range of watches, which is bright, colourful and innovative, will be introduced in February. A fabulous range of eyewear has also been developed with inspirations from the latest designs in the world in this category. A range for men and another one for ladies are ready for retail this November. The ladies fashion line came after we finished the men s line. We very much wanted the same spirit to dominate the pieces for women. It was easier to implement the keep discovering concept in the ladies lines. We developed a range of polo-shirts and T-shirts with diamante and bugle beads that make them luxury pieces rather than just ordinary ones. A small range of handbags has been also developed. It was very nice to develop this line as it allows for creativity, particularly in terms of colours, designs and sizes. But again, not every woman can afford to buy only branded handbags. So creating our own range with bright colours and designs that become signature pieces will hopefully satisfy most women who look for luxury at affordable prices. The list is endless and we promise you more surprises. The Moodie Report 223

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5 A good retailer should be able to sense customer needs. We commissioned a brand development study and the results showed that if we launched a brand that fulfils customer needs within the travel retail industry it will be successful provided that design, quality and value for money are considered closely. What were the key challenges in conceptualising and developing a brand from scratch? Once we decided that the brand should be positioned with its peers we needed to spend time developing its style and character and commissioning the manufacturers. The brand as it stands today is sourced from across six countries and maintaining quality is a huge challenge. We have appointed top-class quality controllers for each product, and we have a Brand Manager, Beverly Soar, who evaluates and reports directly to me. A key question how does Vespucci sit alongside your existing branded business? Aren t you afraid you ll dilute the latter s spend? I do not believe that Vespucci will dilute business from other brands. The initial feedback is that we have incremental business from Vespucci. It has not affected the sale of other brands in the same department. What about your brand partners, are they concerned? This question should be answered by our brand partners. Whether we develop our own brand or introduce a competitive brand should always be of concern to them. My view is that everybody simply has to work a little bit harder to maintain market share. Do you see this as an own label approach or something much bigger, with more of the conventional values one associates with a genuine international brand? Our brand will be positioned in all aspects as a genuine travel retail brand from the start. It is not label-driven but a fashionable brand driven by value and design. You have roll-out ambitions elsewhere. How are you going to convince other travel retailers and domestic retailers that it is a serious brand proposition? We obviously have to be administratively very strong to be able to roll out the brand elsewhere. This is the next major step whereby quantities ordered and logistics have to be harmonised. We are not in a hurry, but our next logical step will be to operate the Vespucci concept ourselves Vespucci could be rolled out to other regional airports if successful within other retail outlets, mainly in neighbouring airports. It s interesting that if you look around the travel retail world right now, King Power Thailand has developed (at great expense) its own brand VR, King Power Hong Kong plans to do it with Antares, Dubai Duty Free has been successful with Akaru. What s driving this movement? Is it a desire for improved margins, a need to reach more consumers, or alienation with the existing offer? I like to think that Vespucci is different from all the other concepts you mentioned. It is an initiative that we believe will grow over time to become a well-established brand within the duty free retail environment. There are many brands that are very successful in the high street but shy away when it comes to duty free. Our aim is to develop a brand that will fill that gap. This is what motivated us and hopefully it will motivate successful high street brands to see the benefits in joining a travel retail environment. What makes Abu Dhabi Duty Free so confident it can develop a brand from scratch? It s not exactly the easiest route for specialised manufacturers, let alone for an airport duty free retailer. We have constantly challenged ourselves since We were pioneers in the region when we opened the first Arrivals shop in the Gulf back in 1985, and when we opened the Downtown City Terminal and our Travel shop again a first within the Gulf. We were also pioneers when we opened our land border shop with Saudi Arabia a few years ago. All this was achieved because of the strong assets we possess in our hands the people who work with me. If you have the right team, then challenges are only a normal outlet for their ambitions and achievements. This is not an easy task, but it will be made easy with the team we have and their bond with the Board of Directors who have blessed the plan. The Moodie Report 225

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