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Global brands preferring Dubai as launch city

Dubai: Dubai has always been the “go-to” destination for global brands looking to make a name for themselves in the Middle East marketplace. The thinking was if they could cut it with Dubai’s extremely finicky consumers, they stand a chance elsewhere in the region as well.

But, now, brands are seeing a Dubai exposure as not just confined to an entry point — in fact, the city’s being raised to the status of a “launch city”, and on par with the status enjoyed historically by the likes of New York, London and Paris.

Smartphone majors were the first to cotton on to the significance, with Blackberry introducing the Z10 — billed at the time as the comeback model — in Dubai as well as a handful of other cities. Samsung did it with one of its recent models, and Microsoft had the same gameplan when it came out with the Windows 8 (on October 26, 2012).

The latest to test out the strategy is Samsonite, the American luggage maker, which will be “re-introducing” its recently acquired, premium Hartmann brand in select global markets from June. Five cities have been chosen; apart from Dubai, there are New York, Paris, Tokyo and Seoul.

“Hartmann was a brand that was used by former US presidents and the well-heeled global traveller; but until we acquired it last year the brand was not doing too well and had a marginal presence outside of the US,” said Ramesh Tainwala, chief operating officer at Samsonite. “With the re-launch, we intend to change all of that — an exclusive store will open in June in Manhattan and we should be in a position to decide on a location at The Dubai Mall or Mall of the Emirates.

“The decision to have Dubai as a launch city was an easy one to make — this is a market that a luxury label can conceivably thrive in. Global prestige brands cannot afford not being in Dubai.”

According to a report by the consultancy CBRE, 25 international brands made a first-time entry into Dubai during 2012, and that made it among the top four global markets for retailer expansion. While the numbers for last year are to be released, market feedback suggests that it could yet show further gains over 2012.

For this year, “An upturn in consumer confidence and renewed vigour in the global retailer community has put large-scale expansion firmly back on the agenda,” Peter Gold, head of cross-border retail at CBRE, said in a statement.

As for Samsonite, after the Hartmann acquisition, it looks to have taken care of all the combinations in the luggage business. Earlier, it had acquired American Tourister, which is priced just below the Samsonite range. Hartmann gives it a cache at the top end.

“But Hartmann is more than just luggage — there are the leather accessories that could compete against the Coach and that makes up 80 per cent of sales,” said Tainwala. “It should be the same mix that we should see in Dubai once the store opens.

“It’s clear that global travel can never go through an extended rough patch — and when travellers do so in sufficiently high numbers, luggage brands can never go out of style.”