Azhar Sajan

Please expand on Casa Milano’s product portfolio.

Occupying an area of 30,000 square-feet on Shaikh Zayed Road, Casa Milano is the UAE’s premier luxury sanitary ware retailer. It offers exclusive products manufactured by over 40 of the world’s top-notch brands including Tonino Lamborghini, Maison Valentina, and Roberto Cavalli.

Some of the products include uniquely designed water closets, washbasins, stylish shower sets, and fashionable mixers. The showroom boasts a touch-and-feel concept, where each product is given exquisite attention in terms of finishing.

The brand entered the home improvement space in 2019 with a product line offering tiles and sanitary ware, and within two years, the brand diversified into kitchens, parquet, marble, Corian and landscaping, as we saw a demand for high-end products in the home improvement industry. The key idea is to make Casa Milano a one-stop shop for home improvement.

Specialisation is the key in any business and my focus is to make sure to be a 360-degree solution provider through the product lines we offer.

As the Director of Casa Milano, what were the main challenges you faced while setting up the branded high-end store here in the UAE?

As a new brand, optimising on all fronts was extremely difficult. The pandemic, the biggest challenge of them all, knocked us down really hard even as we rolled out the red carpet at Casa Milano-Dubai in the month of October 2019. Six months later, the pandemic blew the socks off every business globally.

However, as a business we quickly regrouped to take measure to mitigate the aftershocks. One of these included adopting technology to ensure the team stayed in touch with their clients through remote access, using platforms such as Zoom. As a business we are a traditional brick and mortar store and thrive on the client walking through our doors to touch and feel our products, but this reassessment and reworking of our strategy helped us increase the revenue for the business considering most clients were staying within their homes. Using an extensive social media campaign, we also educated clients about redecorating their homes, which worked in our favour.

The pandemic was not just a major challenge overall, it was also the biggest life lesson we as a brand learnt from.

Challenges do not define us, but the way we turn around and create opportunities in every adverse situation defines our company.

What has been your belief system all along, when you first entered the family business before later deciding to expand operations?

As a person who comes from a family business that has achieved great success, a belief system is a way of life, similar to being on auto pilot. The platform I was given had to be optimised. However, the standards society sets for you are quite strict, and failure in plain sight is devalued. I’ve always had faith in the ability of my team since they’ve helped me navigate even the most challenging situations. I am supportive of giving people more control since it makes them feel more accountable. On the other hand, I think that perseverance and passion will pay off in the long run.

How do you forecast your sector growing here in the UAE over the next five years, and your brand with it?

We see a large potential in the UAE home improvement market, which is growing at a rate of 300 per cent, post-Expo 2020. Construction and real estate has seen a huge growth, all of which has been made possible due to the great leadership we have in our country and which is in line with the UAE government’s 50-year vision and policies.

The UAE has now introduced around 10 types of new entry visas and residence permits, as well as expanded the Golden Visa categories, which will go into effect in September 2022. All of this will simply be a catalyst in bringing more skilled workers into the economy with a higher per capita ratio.

As a brand, we have also noticed the influx of a lot of new clients who are choosing the UAE to live, work, and do business in. They have relocated this quarter to be able to make it in time for back to school season. All these expats are primarily from Russia, the UK and Africa, have a taste for luxury and are willing to spend their money and create that aesthetically appealing home. We’ve also piqued the interest of many architects and interior design firms who trust us because we strive to ensure our quality is world-class, offering products that their clients have seen in Milan or Paris.

As a new-generation CEO, what 3 tips would you offer entrepreneurs raring to make it big in Dubai and the UAE’s lucrative but competitive markets?

To start with, no one is a born entrepreneur. We all learn from our mistakes, and the ability to accept constructive criticism and feedback is the key to advancing your business. As a result, I would advise being competitive and not giving up because no firm succeeds financially in the first year.

My second piece of advice is to ignore the noise around you and follow your instincts. Your biggest supporter and rival is you.

Finding a niche or gap in the market is the last and most important thing I can advise. Your product mix needs to be compatible with and sustainable for your target market, and a business plan will help you identify your current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.