Adel Sajan, Director, Danube Group, talks about the brand’s stratospheric growth and the changes the company had to make to stay on top of the long-term implications of the pandemic
How has Danube made a credible impact in each of its niche sectors?
At Danube we always strive to be among the top three in any sector we enter. This has only been possible as we have always targeted the masses and tried to fill a niche in the market. Convenience, value for money and affordable luxury to our customers are the core principles we follow across all businesses. We were the first building material company to provide a complete one-stop solution for all building material needs boasting over 25,000 products. This strategy did wonders as it solved the problem of contractors who were shaping Dubai, and very soon we mushroomed all over the GCC by opening 40+ stores and making it much easier for them, thus ranking us as the No. 1 building material company in the region.
We entered the property sector in Dubai with affordable housing at a time when everyone was focusing on the luxury segment. We were the pioneers for the award-winning payment plan scheme of ‘1 per cent per month’, which became the trendsetter in the industry and made it affordable for people to own a property and to stop paying rent. Again this out-of-the-box thinking made us the top five property developers in the region in just five years.
When we ventured into the retail segment, we saw a big vacuum in the home improvement segment. We are the only home improvement retailer providing a complete solution for living, bath, kitchen and outdoor furniture under one roof. We were also the only ones offering a free interior designing service. These services and range of products at affordable prices made us the fastest growing home improvement retailer in the region. We have been consistently growing by 40 per cent year-on-year for the last five years. Our secret sauce has always been to identify a vacuum, provide value and solve a problem.
What kind of decision-making style does your company follow?
We always believe in open work culture and a decentralised management approach. We empower our employees by giving them more autonomy to make their own decisions, so that they get a sense of importance and know that their input is valued in the organisation. It also allows them to make better use of the knowledge and experience they have gained and implement some of their ideas. I truly believe a good leader is the one who creates more leaders, who then create more leaders. So for me, the most important thing is to hire the right people, have trust in them and empower them to run the business, and make sure they get along.
At Danube the only thing constant is change, and we encourage all our Danubians to constantly think outside the box, so that our company evolves and stays relevant. We have a strong work culture and our mantra is “One team one goal” where everyone here works as one family, for one common goal, which is serving our customers better. Henry Ford said, “You can take my factories, burn up my buildings, but give me my people and I’ll build the business right back again.” I stand by this quote, it’s my people who are my strength and the reason for our success.
How has Covid transformed the retail landscape in the UAE? What changes did you have to make to stay on top of the long-term implications of the pandemic?
Covid-19 has definitely played a huge part in transforming the retail landscape, not just in the UAE but globally as well. A large part of this change revolved around digitalising operations while providing customers a great user experience. There is nothing new about an e-commerce website; it has been around for decades now. What’s new is the shift in customer mindsets about e-commerce websites in terms of buying habits and their expectations such as faster delivery, easier navigation, contactless payments and delivery options, and an all-round seamless shopping experience.
At Danube Home, in-store we had all the safety protocols in place as per government guidelines to make sure that customers are presented a safe and secure shopping experience. Since face-to-face sales was not an option during the lockdown, we started virtual selling where customers could book an appointment with our sales team on Zoom and check out the products they’re interested in real time. These initiatives helped us survive, sustain and grow during this time.
We also revamped our e-commerce website www.danubehome.com with features that customers are sure to love. We did this to make sure we retain our spot on the top during and long after the pandemic. The website now features the first ever virtual showroom in the UAE. It offers an interactive experience and introduces customers to a 100 per cent digital environment, allowing them to take tours of our store and select the product they like with just a click. This is integrated with our e-commerce site allowing customers to go ahead and add to cart and checkout the product that they like. Apart from that, we also offer 48-hour delivery, easy payment plans, web exclusive products and affordably priced product options too. With seamless retail operations happening offline and online, and the implementation of the right strategies at the right time, Danube Home is well on its way to bouncing back from the pandemic.
Are you focusing more on shopping local?
Well, I have always been in favour of initiatives urging people to buy products made locally, so that local economy is supported as much as possible. As a tribute to this nation that supported us as a brand every step of the way, we are working on a “From UAE for UAE” initiative which we hope to implement very soon on our e-commerce site to support local furniture manufacturers. We plan on tying up with local furniture, furnishings or home décor manufacturers and making their products available on our platform.
How are you improving in-store and online experience?
We have a resourceful and creative team of people, brainstorming round-the-clock to improve online and in-store experience. We are a very customer-centric brand and therefore customer feedback is what we consider when deciding what our next move should be. Careful analysis of past data, understanding customer needs and buying behaviour helps us create experiences that our customers will appreciate. Recently, as part of our Garden category launch, we had the amazing opportunity to interact with some of our customers while transforming their home outdoor space and the feedback we received was phenomenal. Our focus will always be on providing customers the best and most diverse range of products, to suit different design aesthetics and budgets, whether it is in-store or online. Free design consultation and free installation services by the expert team as well 48-hour delivery on our e-commerce site are features that help enhance customer experience.
Could you elaborate on some of the firm’s recent achievements?
The list of awards and accolades received by Danube Group keeps on getting longer. But, to mention the best of the lot, Danube group was appreciated by the Dubai Government for keeping their quality standards high with Dubai Quality Award given by Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. We have also been honoured with Happiness at Work and Great Place to Work award twice in a row, owing to our policies for employees. Apart from these, awards like MRM Excellence Award, Inside Out Award for Best Outdoor Furniture Brand, Most Admired Retailer Award are some others that do not go unnoticed in the long list of awards received by Danube Group. As Director of Danube Home, I was recognised as a Young Achiever by ITP and emerging leader by one of UAE’s leading organisations. I was also ranked in 30 under 30 Lists of Business Entrepreneurs by Forbes Middle East and top 40 under 40 list by Arabian Business.