Abdulla Ajmal, Deputy COO, Ajmal Perfumes, talks about how Covid-19 has created a shift in the fragrance market and how his company will try to stand up to it
What do you think of the idea behind gifting fragrances this Eid?
Whatever tough times we go through, we, as people need those bits and pieces of happiness. Our tagline is “crafting memories” and we encourage people to spread moments of happiness in these trying times. Fragrances are definitely a category that help spread that kind of joy. If you gift a fragrance, as long as that product is on the shelves the memory of the person who has given it is not only alive but also strong.
What is the ethos behind the Ajmal brand?
The ethos has always been trust and quality. We have conducted a research among customers and our internal stakeholders and found that Ajmal denotes trust. The one word that defines Ajmal as a brand and it has been there from the day we came into existence as a brand. In every aspect of what we do we always want to win trust. On the larger part, people have placed their trust with us and they accept our products and pricing to be fair and in line with quality being offered.
Tell us something about the unique journey of the brand?
The story of Ajmal Perfumes began in the early 1950s, in a village called Hojai in Assam. My grandfather Haji Ajmal Ali, the founder of this brand, was a modest farmer who took up Oudh Oil business purely for sustenance. Oudh oil derived from the essence of Agar wood (Aquilaria) trees. Ajmal Ali left his hometown for Mumbai and worked in the early 1950s blending perfumes and trying to find the right mixture that would impress the many Arab traders who visited India’s Western shores. In 1964, he gave his family name to his product range.
In 1976, Ajmal had entered the Middle East Market by establishing its first outlet in Dubai, and launched its first fragrance, Mukhallat. The popularity and success of the company’s fragrance business enlisted Ajmal among the top 40 Arabian brands by Forbes Arabia in 2011. Today, thanks to his vision and hard work, we are a global brand, with over 250 company-owned outlets in eight countries and a distribution network spread across 45 countries.
How have the distinctive notes of Ajmal’s perfumes evolved in keeping with the olfactory needs of today’s customers?
Perfumery is not new; it has been here for years. What has changed over the years is that with the evolution of technology more raw materials have evolved. Let us start from 100 years ago when it was only oils, then it moved to raw materials that are natural. Then in the early 20th century, the synthetic molecules came in, which in turn have grown. Then there was more advancement in technology and our exposure to all materials improved tremendously. The notes have evolved on two aspects — fashion and the regulatory.
The trends in the 50s, 60s and 70s were all about spicy notes, and edgy florals. Then came the period of clean fragrances — the aquatic or marine. In early 2000, the trend for fruit notes came and it is still evolving. In the last seven to eight years, we are seeing the emergence of the oriental notes such as oudh, amber, musk, etc.
How has Covid-19 changed the fragrance industry and how is Ajmal perfumes adapting to the current circumstances?
We fall in the lifestyle products sector and that gets affected the most during any crisis. Fortunately, here in the UAE, there is a huge demand for fragrances. We have been affected greatly, but if we look at other companies that have taken an 80-90 per cent hit, we consider ourselves a little better.
As a company, we have not taken drastic steps for retrenchment, but have tried to absorb as much pressure as possible so that our employees remain unaffected. In the perfume business, if you cannot smell it you cannot sell it. We have new references that you cannot sample because regulation does not allow us due to the Covid-19 crisis. We have to rely on the existing references, but we are lucky to have a strong and loyal customer base who have been supportive because they know our products very well. Once business opened, there was footfall but nowhere close to the level that we are used to.
We have beefed up our online business and it has grown 15x. We are now looking very carefully at our Omni channel strategy for marketing and distribution. Every crisis has given rise to a shift in the industry in a very big way. We had to relook our 70-year-old retail strategy extremely carefully and I’m sure that will have a positive effect.
What are the unique Ajmal brands that have been very popular?
We have some iconic and classic fragrances such as Dahn Al Oudh Moattaq and Dahn Oudh Al Shams. Then there are the conventional ones such as Blu, Aurum, Shine, Shadow, Aristocrat, Oath and Amber Wood. These ones have done extremely well for us.
Where do you see the brand in the next five years, are there expansion plans?
We will continue to grow our presence globally. With the Covid crisis we don’t know where we stand at the moment. The effects may last for a long time. Our effort will be to bring ourselves to normalcy and then see how we are going to grow in the export market. We are going to focus on markets that we do not have a strong presence in.