FNAC to offer customised services for Qatari customers
FNAC, an international retailer of cultural, leisure and technological products, opened its first regional outlet at Doha’s Lagoona Mall. On the occasion of their Doha opening, Manuel Biota, FNAC’s vice president Franchising and New Format, spoke to The Edge in an exclusive interview to talk about the group’s first Middle Eastern foray.
Tell us about your role in the FNAC group.
I am in charge of all the new format stores and franchises for the group. I started four and a half years ago, with a strategy that we built with the personal interest of our CEO Alexandre Bompard. The target of this strategy was to open a new concept around retailing and experiment with size (because we only added big stores till then), with focus on the scale of our airport stores and the convenience stores in other locations.
We understood that in the franchise world, because we needed to expand quickly with partners who have the capacity to understand their own market. This holds special relevance in markets such as Qatar where we have partnered with Darwish Holding, which has relevant experience in terms of distribution of technical and education-oriented products. My job revolves around developing a newly opened store, and with our Qatar foray, we are in the process of opening the 40th store in four years.
In retrospect since I arrived, I have created five different kinds of concept stores, based on size and location: big stores of more than 1000 square metres (sqm); convenience stores between 300 and 900 sqm; travel retail stores (ranging from 60 sqm in duty free area to 300 sqm in railway stations) which we have developed in Spain, Portugal, France and Brazil; and corner shopping shops inside big shops, that we are testing now (dedicated to connecting products and smart phones).
FNAC has a history steeped in books and other educational products. Can you comment if your recent strategy is any deviation from the original product log?
If we go back to our origin 61 years ago, we were actually selling cameras. Gradually, we diversified into many other kinds of products, ranging from computers to books, and audio CD, and DVDs. During the past four years, we have targeted our product strategy around developing a kids’ area with toys, educational CDs and DVDs, books and technical products for children.
Why did FNAC choose to set up a store in Qatar, given its diversity from the European markets?
FNAC has come to Qatar because here we found the most relevant partner in the Middle East – Darwish Holding – and they have a profound understanding of the local market. Additionally, as a group, FNAC could easily identify with the education programme of Qatar Foundation. We have witnessed similar journeys in countries such as France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Brazil. The cause of education appeals to us as a group.
Also, having looked at neighbouring markets such as Dubai, we felt they were more structured already. Our business development model in Qatar will focus more on developing multicultural editorial products (which will centre around CDs, DVDs and books in different languages) that this country has missed so far. While there is already a focus on Arabic literature, and a market that is fairly developed with regard to electronic devices aiding education, there is clearly a gap on the multicultural aspect.
Will you be displaying your entire product range that is available in the European markets? Have you done a market study about the display that will work here?
Yes, we will, but we are aware that we also have to adapt to a market with different kinds of products and needs.
FNAC has done a market study to see what kind of display will work best, and we concluded that while the details can evolve as we go along, the thrust has to be on displaying the technical products which have a high level of attraction for the local population. We will also weave in event ticketing and our other products under the same roof which will woo a wide cross section of the people here.
What is your opinion on the level of competition that this market already has – Virgin and WH Smith, to name the most prominent ones? How will you create your niche among them?
Competition is good for market development, irrespective of the business one is in. The way we approach business globally is to seek customers’ feedback and advice on what they expect from us. We use these feedback sessions as a tool to educate our customers too. So if a customer says that he wants a camera from us, we try to educate him with all the available alternatives and what would be the best fit within his budget and needs. This is in FNAC’s DNA and we have replicated this strategy in Qatar too.
In Morocco, for instance, we have coexisted with Virgin and have defined our territory quite well. There are different strengths that each market player brings in, and we do not expect Qatar to be any different in terms of competition.
FNAC is known for organizing events such as book fairs, forums, and special cultural forums with authors in other parts of world. Do you hope to replicate these events in Qatar?
If you look at what we have done in Morocco, you will come across the events we have organised around our store, ranging from book signing forums to concerts, and these are working rather well there. We would want to have those here as well, and are eagerly looking forward to adapting and developing customised services and products.
While designing the store here, we have used adjustable shelves which can be rearranged in less than three hours to give a part of the store a totally new look.
It is these flexibilities that will give us room to manoeuvre when we need space for an in-store event or when showcasing new products that call for a new décor.
Does FNAC have plans to open more stores in Qatar in the near future? What about your regional expansion plans?
Within the terms of our partnership with Darwish Holding, we are starting with the first store of 1500 sqm at Lagoona Mall, and will gradually start looking at increasing the number, only after we have consolidated. We are hopeful about the Qatari retail market, which is expanding hand in hand with the development of the country.
As for our presence in the other Middle Eastern markets, that fits in with FNAC’s expansion plans, but that will depend on how well we grow and attain stability in the region.