Amit Malani is president of Harman Middle East, the parent company of Harman House, a home and car entertainment retail chain. He speaks about how it had no choice but to open five stores during the last downturn and reveals the company's plans.
What market share do you have in audio products?
For products Dh2,000 (US$545) and above we hold more than 60 per cent. In fact something very interesting happened post recession, our competition … practically collapsed. Our market share surged from something like 60 per cent to 75 per cent to 80 per cent. That was immediately post recession when the whole market was shrinking, in 2009. Then that gave us confidence that this is the segment that could really strengthen [us].
So what are your plans for the UAE?
We are looking at the right real estate, so we will not miss a single chance. In Abu Dhabi we already have one and we have signed up a second. We are waiting for the right time and the right real estate. The plan is not to restrict Abu Dhabi to one or two. We could go up to four or five.
What about the wider Middle East?
We are going extremely aggressive in Bahrain this year. We are planning about a 200 per cent growth in Bahrain alone. July and August has seen some phenomenal numbers there already. Post-Bahrain crisis we were waiting for things to settle down, and the minute we get that feeling that it's happening we will go ahead. We are looking at another store in Qatar for sure this year and we will 100 per cent open another one in Oman this year. We're looking at Levant, in Lebanon this year.
If there is a second global downturn and the UAE is hit hard, will your expansion plans change?
The last recession couldn't have been worse in the way that we were hit. We opened the Dubai Mall store in January 2009. February 2009 we opened another large store. At the same time we opened two stores in Saudi Arabia and a store in Bahrain. We were committed. You do not think of a store and then open it the next month. You commit to a mall or a store a lot earlier.
Were you worried?
Obviously, and in the first few months the way Dubai Mall went, it was scary. And there's a reason we said we need to just watch. But then look at Dubai Mall today … so no looking back.
How were your plans affected by the last downturn?
We had to consolidate. We had a plan to open a lot more stores across the region but this was a shocking thing which happened all of a sudden. It was not that it was that we had to cleverly plan or think. It was a very obvious thing to do, to hold on and watch. But it just took a few months until we turned around.