Men’s Store under a microscope!
By Fareeha Qayoom
No time to fly to Italy this winter? No problem. Just stop by any Men’s store for a little Italian attitude. Beginning with a gala kickoff, the Lahore based retailer will stage its most ambitious promotion to date. The in-store event will feature cocktail parties, sneak previews and private runway shows, entertainment and exclusive goods. In addition to providing customers with plenty of fun, all this round of festivities is sure to ignite double-digit sales.
Asim Buksh is the man behind Men’s store — the only upscale specialty store in town that’s been around and some – “I got the initial idea during one of my travels to Europe. I enjoy clothes. I saw these brands everywhere. I began to wonder how come these brands are not in Pakistan…That’s how men’s store began. I started the store on the ground floor of HKB, in those days, the ground floor used to stock rolls of fabric,” he confides. The rest as they is history. “In all fairness, even I wasn’t expecting the kind of success men’s store has achieved in the past twelve years. It’s way beyond my imagination,” he says.
Asim didn’t do any research into customer demographics before starting out. “I just knew that there is a demand in Pakistan too. People are people everywhere. Who doesn’t like luxury?” he comments. “We have moved from selling high end merchandise to selling life styles,” he continues. “Our retail philosophy is all about lifestyles.”
Explaining the term lifestyles, Asim says, “Well, men’s store can never be a grocery store. We will never sell Gap here. Shopping in Pakistan is very need-oriented. It shouldn’t be a chore. It should be enjoyable and exciting. We want to make it a fun experience for our customers. It’s about beautiful clothes, accessories, a certain lifestyle. We stock a complete range of products – you will never have a problem with sizes or colors in our store,” he declares with a smile.
Asim takes the Men’s store very personally. “This is my baby. This place is everything to me. I enjoy what I do. Its not about cash flow – I want to have fun. If you tell me to sell Hyundai cars, I can never do that,” he says throwing up his hands in the air with horror.
Men’s store boasts close ties with Italy. Many of its important resources are based there, including Armani, Gucci, Zegna; “well, why not? Everyone knows Italian brands are the best in the world. The French Era is over. No one is better at fashion than the Italians right now,” he asserts.
Being number one and the only one doesn’t stop them from raising the bar each year. Men’s store has big plans for its customers. After spending close to God knows what on his new flagship store, Asim Bukhsh doesn’t stop there he has more in store for his staff and customers. He is rolling out the customer relationship module (CRM) this year – his customers may not be terribly interested in what goes on behind the scenes at Men’s stores but they do know what they want to wear at the ‘party’ or the wedding they are going to tomorrow in Faisalabad when they have nothing else to wear. All they have to do is call their friend Asim and he will arrange an Armani or Hugo Boss suit in their size in their favorite color right at their door step in Faisalabad, dry cleaned and ready where they happen to be for the wedding! That’s what all customers dream of – a personalized service that puts their needs, likes and dislikes first. Well, Asim Buksh’s sales strategy may be to provide the best personalized service to his exclusive clientele but even he has a hard time remembering all his friends’ needs – so this year, he has ordered a database to keep the facts straight in his head and store. This will make his job easier when he goes for runway showings in Milan and Paris to order the merchandise for spring and summer 2007. “Our services are practically unheard of in Pakistan. We have taken retailing to a completely new level. I want to take it to the point where our targeted customers can’t shop without thinking of us first,” he declares.
“I buy what I like ninety-five percent of the time,” says Asim. “You have to have a feel for it. Initially it was tough shopping for women, now its becoming easier. We didn’t know what sizes to order for example, I had to go with my gut instincts. I go armed with store data each time, but there is no other way – you have to shop by instinct. Seventy percent of the collection you see on the runway is practically new! What can you do with your data in such a situation? It doesn’t mean anything.”
Asim Buksh is a human dynamo according to his right hand, Sara Pervez. She is the marketing manager at Saeed Buksh Pvt. Ltd – the company behind Men’s stores. “We have grown too fast in the last two years,” she says. “It’s all Asim’s work. He is the man driving the change. You should see the atmosphere when he is around. Everyone is charged up and ready to go. He is constantly on the move, here, there and everywhere. Five out of the last six months, he is been traveling the globe looking to order the stock for 2007. I have a hard time keeping up with him.”
“At the rate we are growing, we need ten more people in key positions handling the processes of the store in the next year alone. We are also looking for a store shopper for Men’s store this year, the store shopper will provide personalized stylist services to our customers,” she says.
So, what’s the secret behind Men’s store’s success? “It’ quite simple – bring top brands to Pakistan and sell them here,” explains Shahid Irshad, the store manager. He has extensive brand, merchandise management experience under his belt. Before men’s store, he managed a luxury store in London. “It’s socially acceptable to buy at our store, it’s us or Europe,” he declares.
“Our price points are comparable to a Gucci or Fendi store in Europe. We only add the shipping and freight charges on top. The best thing for bargain hunters, we hold two promotional sales each year, customers can find bargains at half the price. We also have a discount store at Saddiq Trade Center where you can find original brands at literally quarter of their original prices.”
Men’s store is planning to change their name. “Our product mix is changing. We are no longer a men’s store. We keep adding new brands to our portfolio. This year, we are rolling out a new lingerie brand, we are also planning on bringing a French brand to the floor this spring – Gucci continues to be the best seller though we stock Hugo Boss, Orange and black labels, Armani Jeans and Armani Collezioni, Paciotti, and Diesel for the men’s lines. For women, we have Gucci, Fendi, D&G, YSL, Jimmy Choo, Chloe, and Emporio Armani, though again Gucci seems to be the favorite with the ladies too, with D&G running a close second. We have huge waiting lists,” she says. “We are booked till Feb’06. It’s difficult to juggle and keep the customer sensitivities too. For example, the Chloe bags have a huge waiting list. However, we can’t order more than two similar looking bags, it’s not the done thing to show up at the same party with identical looking bags or outfits – it’s a social no, no,” she says with a smile. “It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen. CRM is going to play a pivotal role. We have no competition whatsoever. I think that’s what’s slowing us down,” she says. “We need to develop a retail culture where shopping should become the national activity.”
“Yes, our shop has given a lot of people ideas – some are trying to get into the same business. You can copy somebody but you can’t take over their identity. We have a twelve year head start on them, they will always be playing catch up,” comments Asim.
“We are the only authorized dealers for the brands we stock in our stores in Pakistan,” says Sarah. “We have exclusive franchise rights. Lahore continues to be the best selling store. I think this is because Asim is based in Lahore. We don’t have a particular sales strategy. What we have is personalized relationships with our customers. Most of our exclusive customers are Asim’s personal friends. It’s more like friends going through his personal boy collection. I think that’s why we stock more Italian brands – these are Asim’s personal favorites. He likes Italy. He has a villa there, he can speak the language, he likes the food – he likes to spend the summer there having a good time,” she says.
“Asim is very particular about pleasing our customers. This year, we are planning the CRM rollout, then, we are planning to build a six story building and house a third warehouse store in Lahore. We are planning to go completely on-line and introduce e-commerce for our customers – our website is already in the works. Also planning personalized custom delivery to our select customers.”
“Our customers come from all sorts of backgrounds and life styles – what they have in common is a busy social life with couple of vacations thrown in at the top fashion capitals of the world. They know exactly what the trends are and what they would like to wear to their social commitments. They are globe trotters who know the value of our brands. We are also thinking of collaborating with a couple of banks to offer special promotional schemes, and are in the process of creating a store credit card scheme exclusively for our customers.”
“We spend a lot on training our staff and do a lot of work with branding to create excitement. Our store is more in line with Saks Fifth Avenue, (Harvey Nichols in Asim’s opinion!)” she says. “Our biggest problem is finding good human resources. You can’t teach professional ethics. It’s in built. We spend time and money training our staff, investing a lot, if they get a better job offer (more money), they leave us flat without thinking twice about it. We have the technology, we are building the systems, our middle management is in place, we have a good creative team, the only thing is to find and build strong human resources,” declares Sara.
If that is not enough, Men’s store has something big in store that’s very hush, hush. They can’t speak about it yet. I wonder what the big secret is?
First published in the print edition of The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review, issue 13, 2006