Ajmal Perfumes was founded in 1951 in Mumbai, India, and has been based in Dubai since 1976. From its humble beginnings, Ajmal Perfumes has grown to become a multi-million dollar regional corporation.
According to Bloomberg, nine out of 10 businesses in the UAE are closely-held family firms and Ajmal Perfumes is no exception steered by second and third generation Ajmals.
Nazir Ajmal, the founder’s son, is now at the company’s helm as CEO. He spoke to Emirates Business about the challenges faced by the perfume industry.
With 36 stores in the UAE and 108 across the GCC, as well as dealerships around the world, what are Ajmal’s expansion plans?
We aim to establish more than 200 outlets in the next three to five years. We have planned extensive expansion in terms of retail space, that will enable us to further cater to markets closer to home.
Saudi Arabia is going to be a major focus for us in the years to come, as we haven’t really exhausted market exposure on the retail front within that country. We also have plans to push the borders a bit with retail presence within established markets abroad.
At present we export to 14 countries. Our immediate aim is to strengthen ties with our existing partners and forge new strategic alliances in countries where we are not physically present. We aim to increase that number to 20 by the end of 2008.
How does Ajmal Perfumes operate as a family business?
My father retired in 1998 and is still an active board member. Today all of my brothers are actively involved in the perfumery business. The first one to come to Dubai was Fakhruddin Ajmal.
He was the one who set up our first office and shop in Dubai. At present he heads our property arm, Ajmal Real Estate. My eldest brother, Amiruddin Ajmal, was the next to come to Dubai. He is the present patriarch and CEO of the organisation.
Our Indian operations are handled by the remaining two, Sirajuddin Ajmal and Badruddin Ajmal. All of us are actively involved in providing the business with direction and focus. We have the additional help of the third generation of Ajmals joining the businesses.
Can you tell us about your training as a perfumer?
The practice of training is fairly traditional. You need to find yourself a perfumer who is willing to take you under his/her wing and provide you with the guidance and knowledge required in terms of the norms of perfume creation and basics involved.
That is how I was trained and over the years I have evolved from mixing basic ingredients into more complex creations. To be a successful, you have to have a highly creative side, a very good nose and a good memory because you need to associate smells with names, chemical structures and synonyms.
There are 40,000 raw materials in the world and some products go under different names.
Who is Ajmal’s clientele and does it market itself as creating “exclusive” and “one of a kind” perfumes for the top-end of the market?
We consider ourselves as a fragrance house, without boundaries, meaning our products are open to interpretation from anyone. Our core consumers remain GCC locals, with other nationalities growing in number.
The reason behind that is our core strength remains oriental fragrance creation. Our product lines have changed over the years providing consumers with products that are a mix of East and West, products we like to term as “Ethnic Chic”.
This along with the incorporation of pure Western style fragrances enables us to reach a broader segment of the population.
We market our exclusive line of products and fragrances from our Ajmal Eternal brand.
This brand presents to our consumers an exclusive offering of murano glass artifacts, high-end perfumery products and a limited edition line of fragrances as well.
We also indulge in bespoke fragrance creation. We have created scents for numerous regional personalities and for organisations such as Jumeirah and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
What do you think of the new perfumes on the market, with celebrity ranges such as Celine Dion Parfums?
This is more of an exercise in marketing and branding done by highly-reputed fragrance manufacturers. We try and emulate the same by branding our products, but without the involvement of a celebrity.
That is why I have a high regard for these perfumes as well. Some are successful, others are not. An endorsement lends personality to a brand and sometimes this personality’s reflection becomes a success and a benchmark for the market to follow.
What percentage of your business are Western perfumes and what percentage are oriental perfumes?
At present our product line skews more towards the oriental range of fragrances. The ratio between both is 60 per cent oriental and 40 per cent Western/French style fragrances.
We have expanded our product offering over the past few years because of changing consumer tastes and trends and to include a varying clientele. I would like to reiterate, we are a fragrance house and a brand that is not just for Arabs anymore.
Was 2007 a successful year for you?
We have been growing steadily at around 10 per cent annually over the past few years, with the past year being exceptionally fruitful. Our sales in 2007 were $167 million (Dh612m). Our forecast for 2008 is 10.5 per cent growth over 2007.
Would you consider an IPO?
We would consider it, not immediately though. Depending on how fast we reach our intermediate target, will we be able to consider such an option.
What is included in the Ajmal product range?
We have four different broad classifications of products at present: the oriental line, the French line, ambience enhancers, and body and skincare.
What do you think makes traditional Arab perfumes such a big seller and which countries are the main markets?
Traditional Arab perfumes as the basic principal goes consist of spices, flowers and herbs. These elements are also the basics of international perfumery.
The difference being Arab perfumery is very highly concentrated. The trends have changed allowing the incorporation of internationally recognised ingredients in Arab perfumery.
This change has taken it out of the confinement of Arab taste only. Pure Arab perfume is a Middle Eastern term but oriental perfumery no longer remains a regional taste.
CEO of Ajmal
Ajmal was born in Mumbai, India and is the youngest son of Ajmal Ali, the founder of Ajmal Perfumes. He learned the ropes of the family business in India, then moved to Dubai in 1986 to work as a salesperson for the company.
An experienced perfumer, he trained under renowned perfumers in Europe from 1992 to 1994. In 1994 he created Sarah, the first oriental fragrance launched by Ajmal Perfumes.
Sarah became a region-wide success and a benchmark of fusion between Western and oriental ingredients. He was appointed chief perfumer in 1996 and chief operating officer in 2006.