Fifty One East

May 2012

Qatar’s watch market is continuously growing and Europa Star sat down with one of the key movers and shakers in the industry in the Middle East.

While in Qatar, I had the good fortune of meeting with Bader Al Darwish, the owner of Fifty One East, the first and, many might say, the finest department store in Qatar. I visited his store and sat down with him for an exclusive interview.

Bader Al Darwish
Bader Al Darwish

Fifty One East

Europa Star: Can you give us a little history of your store?
Bader Al Darwish: Our company has been in business for more than 90 years. Our store was the first department store in Qatar and it didn’t even have a name when it opened, since it was the only one. Ten years ago, we gave it the name “Fifty One East”. We have been the Rolex dealer in Qatar since 1951. We have been working with some brands for more than 50 years.

ES: How is business?
AD: I’m proud to say that we have been making double-digit annual growth for the past ten years. In 2008, we had 25 per cent annual growth. I am proud of my market, the market is growing. Recently, I spent about $45 million just to decorate my store. It’s risky, but I believe in my market. In 2011, I did 35 per cent growth in all of our products. With many brands, we have a long history and we still have this excellent growth, which has shocked our partners. The other markets in the Middle East are not the same. For some of our brands, we had the most growth of anywhere in the world. Our turnover in watches in 2011 was $225 million. Jewellery and watches are about 30 per cent of our business in the department store.

ES: Do you like watches?
AD: I don’t like watches, I love watches. The products and people that I represent have become part of our family. I know the CEO of Rolex, and we have a long-term relationship. These relationships play a big role in our success. With Boucheron, the president came here for the first time just for the opening of our jewellery exhibition. He was shocked and amazed by the interest and the sales. He told our employees that he was proud to be in Qatar and to be working with us. We started with Boucheron a year ago, and our sales are already phenomenal.
I love all the watches we carry, but there are watches and there are Rolexes. I like the quality of Rolex watches. I have been wearing Rolexes for the past 40 years, so I am biased. If you want to buy a quality watch, a statement watch, it’s Rolex. I respect the other brands, but 65 per cent of the upmarket watches we sell are Rolex watches.

ES: What is your biggest challenge?
AD: My biggest challenge is to keep the growth and to grow my market share. I have the biggest market share in the Middle East, and there is still growth and liquidity in my market.
We have an excellent location, an excellent database, we have excellent partners and we have excellent relationships with our customers, they are also part of my family. I have salespeople who have been with us for more than 30 years and 40 years. We have great loyalty.

ES: How do you handle after sales service?
AD: We have excellent after sales service here. Every year someone from Switzerland comes to do the training for my team, and we send people to Switzerland for training.
Before our employees join us, we see what experience they have. We give them training courses, and we teach them about the competition and what our own brands are doing. Training is very important for us. We have a team that can learn all the time. I am so grateful that I have a qualified team we can mould.
I treat my employees like they are part of the family. The secret of our success is not me, it’s our employees. They deserve an award, because they are the success of our store.

Fifty One East

Fifty One East

ES: What gets you up in the morning?
AD: I enjoy making a profit. I want to have bigger market share and bigger growth. My achievement is to see these things happen in my market.
I love everything about what I do. I love the challenge. For me, everything is a challenge. I look at the future and I think about long-term relationships. I always choose what I take and blend it in with what we have in the store. I enjoy my business, I enjoy the challenge.

ES: What do you think about the Qatar show?
AD: The show is fantastic for us. I can see that there has been a growth in this show. The show is always improving and the companies I am representing see how organised the shows are, and the results are fantastic. There is growth here. The customers are more educated and they like to choose the best. As there is uncertainty in the market, they will spend their money on quality products. I only have quality products, and I know they are worth every penny.

ES: Have you been selling during the show?
AD: My stand has been so busy. The most expensive piece in Rolex is one of five in the world, which sold on the first day, for $600,000. It was a Qatari who bought it. The majority of customers are from Qatar. Also, a $2.2 million dollar necklace sold here in our stand.

ES: Are you a collector yourself?
AD: I have some watches that are more than 80 years old, and someone recently offered me $50 million for my entire collection. I have a Rolex watch that is more than 60 years old, I have four or five Paul Newman Rolex watches, I have been collecting watches for quite a long time.

ES: What is your perspective on time?
AD: Time is life, every minute you lose, you lose one minute of your life. Time is more than money, it’s vital, and you have to value every minute. Time is essential. Time is life. You have to make every minute count.

ES: How is your relationship with other retailers?
AD: Excellent. I have respect for them. We have been in the business for a long time. I wish them all the luck. We talk to each other from time to time.

The Brands:
Amore & Baci, Armand Nicolet, Boucheron, Cacharel, Crislu, Diamanti, Faberge, Feraud, Guy Laroche, H. Moser & Cie, Joelli, Nina Ricci, Parker, Pasquale Bruni, Rolex, Trisi Jewellery, Tudor, Victor Mayer, Waterman, Zeno-Watch Basel and more.

Many thanks to Bader Al Darwish for taking the time to meet with Europa Star.

Source: Europa Star June - July 2012 Magazine Issue