Money & Me: 'Everybody loves to hunt for a bargain’

Toufic Kreidieh, the man behind Brands For Less, says he treasures life’s blessings after growing up during the civil war in Lebanon

Toufic Kreidieh, the chief executive of BFL Group, which owns the Brands for Less retail chain. Courtesy of BFL Group
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Toufic Kreidieh is co-founding partner and chief executive of the Brands For Less (BFL) Group, which owns value retail chains including Toys For Less and Homes For Less.

He opened the first Brands For Less store with childhood friend and managing partner Yasser Beydoun in their native Lebanon in 1996. They established the group's headquarters in the UAE in 2000 and now have more than 70 outlets in the GCC, Spain and Malta.

Mr Kreidieh, a 50-year-old divorcee, lives with his four children in Dubai’s Meydan area.

How were you exposed to money growing up?

I was born in Beirut and lived with the civil war from the start. Childhood was extremely difficult. I come from a divorced family, but I managed to go to one of the best schools. My [business] partner is my best friend; we went to the same school and university. I got a scholarship and we made this company.

I started working part-time since I was 13 years old just to make pocket money and to help my mother, who was working to support the family, including my two sisters and my brother.

When you make it the difficult way, you really treasure and value what has been given to you. It’s not like money came easy.

Did you have many childhood jobs?

Everything, especially during the war. I sold petrol, insurance, building materials, all part-time as long as it didn’t affect my studies. My first job was in this small grocery store, helping the guy, and he paid me daily, maybe $5.

I first came to the UAE in 1993 doing security systems. Then I was behind the establishment of the free zone in Ajman.

How did Brands For Less begin?

Gulf Oil invited me to be general manager in Lebanon at the end of 1996. On the side, my partner and I started our first store. We used to do cashiering, cleaning, warehouse keeping and offload containers.

Off-price retail was very popular in the US, but there was nothing like this in our part of the world

In 2000, I decided to move with Gulf Oil to the UAE and start the first store here. By that time, we had three in Lebanon. I went to HSBC bank, asked for a personal loan, resigned, took the money and we opened in Deira.

What drove you to exchange a steady salary for retailing?

We didn’t like to be employees, we wanted to be our own boss. At the same time, we were dreamers, wanted to make it big, achieve something. The idea was something that has a niche. Off-price retail was very popular in the US, but there was nothing like this in our part of the world.

Now, talking about the whole group … in the UAE, we have 47 stores, in total 76 (worldwide).

Are bargains the key to BFL’s success?

There was a gap between brands and the mass of people who could really afford them. If you bridge that gap, this is where you create opportunity for you and the consumer, who will pay a fraction of the price for the branded item. Everyone loves a bargain and we, as human beings, are born as hunters; people love the treasure hunt, entering the store and coming out with a treasure.

Every time there is a downturn in the economy or a shift in the consumer’s income, it changes the whole demand curve; people start looking more for better deals.

Toufic Kreidieh, the chief executive of BFL Group, which owns the Brands for Less retail chain. Courtesy of BFL Group
Mr Kreidieh has invested in real estate in the UAE, Lebanon, UK, Greece, Spain and the US. Courtesy of BFL Group

Do you save and invest regularly?

Since I started in business, I always put into my mind that I have only 10 per cent of what I make for spending. I believe a lot in property. I buy property and spend from the income of the investment. I do the stock market, bonds, but my main interest is real estate, in the UAE, Lebanon, the UK, Greece, Spain and the US. You can live with the rent and there’s appreciation. You’re safeguarding yourself from inflation. Of course, you have to know what to buy.

What has been your best investment?

Brands For Less. The best investment is opening stores, always the next store. Soon we’ll be hitting 100 and we want to become 300, 400, 500.

What do you enjoy spending on?

The best pleasure is from giving, not buying. When you give to charity … especially if you started from down and made your way up. When you help someone in a hospital, save a life or give education, scholarships to universities, this gives the highest level of happiness.

You do charity as much as your income (allows). No matter the cake that you have, you might have a small cake, as long as you’re sharing a piece … it gives you a bigger cake. It’s karma.

I take 10 per cent of what I make and give to charity. This is part of the culture of BFL and my retirement plan, to dedicate time to charity.

What is your philosophy on money?

Money is important to facilitate your life, but it’s never happiness. Happiness is created when you are satisfied with a certain position; what you have rather than looking at what you don’t have.

Today, no matter how much I can afford things, if I see someone buying something that for me is stupid, I tell them, ‘You know how many poor people this money could help’? This doesn’t mean I don’t take care of myself, of course.

Are you wise with money?

Instead of filling my closet with super luxury brand names, I’m filling my portfolio with more assets in terms of property. This is how I feel I’m making the right choice.

I’m always cautious before I spend, if the amount is considerable. Does it make sense? I go ahead only after I study the benefit. I never had a regret for something that I bought.

Do you have one indulgence?

A Ferrari. Here in the office, they don’t know I have this car. It’s for my own pleasure. I have my big boy toy hidden in the house. This is the maximum I would go crazy with.

I am shy to drive it to work because it’s not nice for the people who cannot afford even a Toyota that I’m coming with a flashy car.

Has the pandemic impacted BFL’s trade?

In 2020, we opened 10 stores. We believe in the product, the niche of the business and the future. People were hiding their money and not spending. But we don’t go with the herd, we think, ‘Now everybody is afraid, find the right locations, negotiate the best terms, things will go back to normal, then I‘ll be making money’.

A lot of assets were in bad shape in terms of pricing. The pandemic fast-forwarded our online activities. We bought 27,000sq m of warehousing and a fulfilment centre for online for Dh12 million; before the pandemic, it was worth Dh27m. When you were at home watching empty Paris and London streets, we wrote this cheque.

Do you have a key financial milestone?

In 2008, the downturn took place worldwide. This was, however, our milestone year. We opened a few stores when people were shutting down businesses.

It’s a case of believing. My partner and I have this equilibrium; he calls me brave, I call him wise. We always take the right decision.