Antonios Liontakis is passionate about the jewellery he sells — designed by some of Greece’s most avant-garde designers — mostly silver, sometimes with a touch of gold, studded with semi-precious stones such as crystals, dolomite, citrine or opal, all certified. A first-time participant at the Greece Pavilion at Global Village, along with partner Marina Sakka, he explains the fossilised or museum-inspired origins of his jewellery in painstaking detail. “We are hoping for four months of sales, since winter is not a tourist season in Athens,” says Liontakis, whose country is currently experiencing an economic crash.
One of the companies in the 37 pavilions with outlets from 65 countries, the Greek jewellery shop may well find a home in one of Dubai’s malls, as has been the case with many first-time Global Village exhibitors. Small and medium enterprises form the majority of tenants at Global Village. From young lads trying their luck outside their country for the first time to vendors working on commission and businessmen looking for distributors, business at the venue is multifaceted.
“Global Village attracts a variety of people with low, medium or high income,” Saeed Ali Bin Redha, CEO, Global Village, tells GN Focus. “So the products start from Dh2 for a glass of kadak chai (strong tea) to Dh200,000 for a carpet from Iran. They attract different patrons.”
Parvez Khan and Omar Badshah of Swat Craft Gallery in Pakistan tell us that they are from Malala Yousafzai’s village. The brave teen who has long been a champion for girls’ education was shot and wounded by the Taliban in October last year. Khan and Badshah, regulars at the Pakistan Pavilion, say that the dresses and patches hand embroidered by women at home find many takers among Arab and Pakistani women.
While consumers looking for souvenirs and specialities from around the world throng the destination, Global Village is a networking location for interested distributors in search of these handcrafted opportunities. This season Global Village has announced 200,000 square feet of retail space. Bin Redha says that not only do 99 per cent of participating retailers want to return, there are already enquiries from people who want to book for the next year’s edition.
“Last year, the overall transaction at Global Village reached Dh1.5 billion — this includes all expenses from participants and consumers and ATM withdrawals,” the CEO says.
A large chunk of this is business-to-business (B2B) — retailers from the UAE and GCC use the destination to source goods, Bin Redha says. “Almost up to Dh800 million of the total is B2B sales. They comprise about 70 per cent of total sales.”
The CEO can recount many examples of businesses that trace their origins to shops housed in country pavilions.
“Two outlets in the Turkey Pavilion, one selling mattresses with crystals and another home accessories with gold plating, saw much demand from Arab consumers,” Bin Redha says. “At the pavilion, they met a Dubai-based businessman, with whom they are opening showrooms at The Dubai Mall.”
Bin Redha says that pavilion organisers are asked to introduce new products and outlets, leading to much innovation. This season Assam Romed from Palestine offers the freshest olive oil possible, setting up an oil-pressing machine at his stall with a ton of olives in stock. Several people stop by for a taste, dipping a piece of Arabian bread from the counter into one of the bowls of oil. “At Dh100 a bottle we are doing okay,” says Romed. “We could not have brought more olives because they need to be stored in a cold place.”
Not all regulars stick to one product. Senal Kiran of Istanbul Art Home at the Turkey Pavilion has been a Global Village regular for many years. He says, “In the first Turkish pavilion I had a stall selling food. We made fresh baklava, which turned out to be so popular, it was sold out in a few days instead of lasting us until the end.” Kiran’s current stall is popular with Indians who take to his colourful objects made of recycled glass — unique candleholders, fridge magnets, lamps, coffee glasses and timepieces. “About 100 people go out and collect pieces of glass and bottles,” he says. “We heat, melt and reshape the glass.”
Networking comes naturally to regulars, who spend months together in the village. Kiran may find himself travelling to another country for a craft fair. He practises Spanish at the Spain Pavilion and has made friends with organisers of the Jordan, India, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine Pavilions as well. “I may go to India to sell my glassware since Indians seem to be my biggest buyers this year,” he says.
Bin Redha tells us that it is common for exhibition organisers from other countries to get in touch with outlets here to invite them. “Even after the end of the season we get enquiries for some outlets,” he says. “If we have the contacts we pass them on.”
Global Village is a great launch pad with its policy to encourage young entrepreneurs. Take Houssam Tartoussi who has ventured outside his country for the first time this year to participate in the Lebanon Pavilion. Trained in metal craft by his father since he was 12 and armed with his iPad, he takes orders and sends the photos to his workshop so the stock displayed continues to entice. “My father and grandfather have never travelled outside Lebanon but here I am,” he says.
Young people from the UAE have also taken advantage of this initiative. Bader Al Sulaiti, whom we found at the Kuwait Pavilion, is a UAE national with roots in Qatar. He has shops selling perfume in all the GCC pavilions. Allowing us a whiff of his fragrances, he says, “The bestseller is Al Hawamir, which sells for Dh150 for a 100ml bottle.”
Mohammad, a self-employed tamarhindi juice seller from Syria, barely has enough time to answer a couple of questions. Carting his ornate juice vessel on his back, he is his own advertisement. “I work for myself,” he says, before moving on to the next consumer.
Up in the air
Outside the pavilions, Habib-ur-Rehman from Kerala in India says he works only six months a year when he is at Global Village, which is open until March 30. Along with many others from his part of the world, the balloon seller works on commission for a balloons major, netting Dh10 for every Dh100 worth of balloons, which retail for Dh25 to Dh35. “The other six months we tend to find no work,” says the Global Village veteran of five years. “But this is enough.”
His compatriots, cycle rickshaw pullers from Delhi, are brought in by the organisers to ferry passengers from the parking lot to one of the gates. “We keep all the money we make — Dh10 per person. Some days we have no takers; on others we get up to about 15 passengers. Overall, the income is good,” says Ramesh Kumar, who is here for the first time.