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23 April 2024

Big, brown and action-packed for the Emirates

Michael Gould Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Bloomingdale's. (DENNIS B MALLARI)

By Sean Davidson

Dubai remains a rather promising market with enormous vitality. It is precisely why America's celebrated department store chose it as its first location outside the United States.

Emirates Business speaks to Michael Gould, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Bloomingdale's.

Why pick Dubai for your first international venture?

We started talking about this nearly three years ago. Dubai had a tremendous amount of appeal. In a favourable way, it is almost like the Las Vegas of the Middle East. A city with enormous vitality, elements of entertainment, hotels and shows; it has sports, the racing season, great golf and car racing, and an enormous amount of shopping experiences. So I thought it was one of those places with a lot of energy. I think for department stores – and we're not talking about single brand stores such as GAP or Burberry, I think those are very easy to translate from one culture to another – it's a lot harder. In a department store made up of many brands you have to translate, you have to transpose your DNA from one culture to another. It's very interesting that there's no non-American department store in the US. In the same way there's no American department store that has made a great success in Europe or in the Middle East or in the Far East. There may be some that have some small units but not what I would call great success. There must be a reason for that and I think it's how do you translate a culture, a DNA? Dubai gave us an opportunity to do it in a very different kind of culture. I think that coming here in a way was different than going to London with Harrods, Selfridges and Debenhams or Paris with Gallery La Fayette. I thought there was a void in the market place for what I call an upscale department store that had a wide range of merchandise, was very approachable, of-the-moment, contemporary and young. Dubai is many of those things.

Did the effects of the recession on retail force any restructuring of plans?

The recession didn't affect our attitude. It's like most things in life. We never became doubtful of what the opportunity was. Every country, every economy has bumps on the road. There's an old proverb that says 'no good road isn't paved with pebbles'. So it had some bumps on the road. But we have seen every month getting better. December was particularly good and January truly outstanding. So we never had any doubts about what it was going to be. We continued with the same game plan that we had, the same strategic plan – how to translate the very best of Bloomingdale's flagship 59th street Manhattan to Dubai.

What's unique in your offering to Dubai?

In the home store there are a number of things that they [partners Al Tayer Insignia] did here. They have a street of shops and number of things we don't have in the US. There's Magnolia Bakery, which we have in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, but not in our store there. There's a New York, New York shop and a Bloomi's shop for our own merchandise. There's also a shop for Middle Eastern art work, a flea market and one for paintings. That is a feel that is very unique to the culture here. The rest of the store is the feel of Bloomingdale's New York.

How difficult was it to build your first store on foreign soil?

It was no different and in some ways even easier than building a store in the US. Because the resources in the US, with only a couple of exceptions, are represented here. And those exceptions were instances where one way or the other we couldn't give one or two people the presentation they needed without hurting the rest of the store. But in many other cases there are a number of brands here such as Gucci and YSL that aren't in the US. So one of the terrific things is we have the best of what we have in 59th street – with two exceptions Chanel and Louis Vuitton which unfortunately have their own shops right around the corner, so they were reluctant. And we have all these other shops that I just mentioned that we don't have in the US, like H Stern in the jewellery section, as well. So we really have the best of both worlds. We are absolutely in sync with the Al Tayer Insignia group on what the store should be. Our executive Vice-President Jack Hruska was the key person working with Al Tayer and the Robert Young architects in Dallas in designing the store. This is not just a business relationship. These are our friends. I don't think of this store any different than I would of our stores in San Francisco, Boston or Washington DC.

How do you plan on growing loyalty, generating high foot fall?

In any given month at our 59th street store in New York we average 250 events a month. So expect that here, too.

People call it push-pull marketing. I don't think lots of advertising in a newspaper in New York is the answer. How do you pull people into the store? What's the excitement? What are the events? How do you create that? Walking around the mall here, you see shopping is about entertainment. It's a social event. In the US, for example, there's nothing in my store you can't get online. So why not just stay home and go online. But that's not the social thing. You could go to a store buy a DVD. But people want to go to the movie theatre, they want to buy the pop corn and get their soft drink. So we are is in the entertainment business. And we have to create energy that people say I want to go there. What makes us unique? There's always the unexpected. You'll always find something new. It's friendlier, it's easier to shop. It's more comfortable.

How many brown bags will we see in Dubai?

An infinite number. We want to paint the town brown. Starting today at all the carousels in the airport Al Tayer has put the big brown bags. It's an icon for us and says who we are.

PROFILE: Michael Gould Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Bloomingdale's

Gould began his career at Abraham and Straus department stores becoming their youngest merchandise Vice-President. Later he took on roles of Chairman and CEO of Robinson's department stores in Los Angeles and President and CEO of Giorgio Beverly Hills.

In 1991, Gould joined Bloomingdale's as its chairman and CEO.


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