UAE retail franchise rises to challenge

The Aswaaq grocery store concept is already winning high praise after only five years in operation.

A member of staff at work at Aswaaq in Mizhar, which is ranked the 12th best company to work for in the UAE. Razan Alzayani / The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // Everyone knows the big retailing names in the UAE - the LuLus, Carrefours and Waitroses.

But a home-grown grocery shop franchise is making its own name, while giving Emiratis a unique chance to succeed in their own retail businesses.

So successful has Aswaaq been that it was named the best local company to work for in the UAE and the 12th best in the region by Aon Hewitt's Best Employers in the Middle East survey for this year.

"I joined because it was an Emirati company," said Essa Al Blooshi, 22, who started working at Aswaaq about three years ago.

"I started in the fruit and vegetable section and now I am a controller in the same department."

At least 20 per cent of the space in Aswaaq's seven centres is leased by Emirati entrepreneurs, thanks to its Dakakeen programme. Meaning "small shop" in Arabic, Dakakeen provides the support all small businesses need when starting out.

"The shops are already there for the entrepreneur who can come and just pay the rent only," said Alaa Mansoor, senior executive for marketing and communications at Aswaaq.

"We pay for electricity, water and the operations cost. They just get their trading licence, pay the rent and bring their products."

The company even reduces the rent if the business is making a loss.

"We are giving them the full confidence and guiding them," said Tariq Masood, senior manger of merchandise and buying at the shops.

Aswaaq also runs a summer internship programme so young people can get a taste for a career in retail.

"A lot of school kids come during the holidays for work experience," Mr Masood said.

For between two weeks and a month they are exposed to all facets of the shop, apart from anything dangerous or requiring training, such as driving a forklift.

"We will put them in the receiving area, administration and other parts of the store," Mr Mansoor said.

"They all learn from it and at the end of the programme they make a presentation to us and tell us what we have done, what was the cooperation of the managers, the staff, and where we could develop."

The Aswaaq concept was developed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for Young Business Leaders.

Sheikh Mohammed, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, ordered that the idea be put into operation in 2007.

The programme, which has been running since 2009, has attracted as many as 30 interns a year.

The shops are modern and have HACCP - the international food-safety benchmark - certification.

"There's a quality assurance when you go inside an Aswaaq store," said Mr Masood. You find the food fresh and you can be confident in what you're buying.

"It's not like a traditional supermarket. We have our auditing, quality control and safety department and they go to each store and audit the services, the delivery and supplies and the products coming in.

"We check the temperatures of the products, if they are fresh or if the chill is not under a certain temperature that isn't defined by international standards, we don't accept the delivery."

Five of the seven Aswaaq stores operate out of community centres built in remote areas to serve customers who used to travel long distances for fresh produce.

"Residents would like to be within walking distance of a bank, a laundry, a barbers or a service for car registration," said Bassam Dawood, operations manager at Aswaaq.

"We ensure we have service providers in these community centres."

Two centres will be finished next year. Aswaaq plans to open 15 more stores within five years.

@ For more on ENTREPRENEURS, visit