Shaikh Shahid Ahmed, Founder, Lattafa Perfumes Image Credit: Stegan Lindeque/ Gulf News

Please share a brief history of the brand, when was Lattafa Perfumes founded and why?

I arrived in Dubai about four decades back from Pakistan and started working with my uncle at his perfume store, and where I continued working for 13 years. During this time I realized the scope that the perfume industry of the UAE had to offer, especially in the field of Arabic fragrances. Back in the day, everyone was attracted to French fragrances, and wished to emulate Western culture as well as products. Seeing the scope for Arabic fragrances, I decided to introduce a new line of Arabic fragrances into the market.

Where do your loyalties lie?

It’s a mixture of both, we have a total of seven brands, with a mixture of both French and Oriental fragrances. Since Lattafa enjoys a presence in over 60 countries, we need to cater to a variety of tastes. We don’t cater to just Middle Eastern or African culture, we also need to approach the European and American markets. Besides, it has also been observed that Western nations are quite fascinated by Arabic fragrances. For instance, attar was synonymous with Arab families and customers from the subcontinent. However, in the past few years attar is also being looked at as a commodity that commands a certain sense of prestige among clients, and people enjoy using it. It’s seen as a conversation starter. Attar has an aura and also lends a sense of mystery to its user, which in turn lends confidence as well. At Lattafa Perfumes there are three main value systems that the brand believes in – integrity, honesty and dedication. These are the values that helped ingrain the ethos of the brand.

Lattafa Directors (from right to left)- Shoaib Iqbal Ahmed, Shaikh Mohammed Faisal, Shaikh Shahid Ahmed, Tahir Iqbal Ahmed Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ Gulf News

Perfumes mean big business in the UAE and the Middle East, and is a competitive space to be in. What is unique about Lattafa’s product portfolio that allows it to stand out?

Lattafa has managed to strike a fine balance between Oriental fragrances and Western perfumes and presented its valued customers something unique through its signature lines. Our commitment to popularise Oud perfumes has also found traction among our customers in the region and around the world. These qualities help Lattafa Perfumes stand out when compared to our competitors.

Lattafa has been in the business for more than three decades. How easy or difficult is it to reinvent or discover a new line of perfumes in this regard? How important is R&D to Lattafa’s scale of operations?

That’s an important question, as this industry is extremely competitive, it’s not an easy industry to survive in. One needs to have that innovative streak, every other day you need to go ahead and create something different. And trends change so quickly. Like in clothing retail, where trends change every two weeks, we see a similar trend in the perfumes industry. It’s true that many users may wish to stick to a certain line of perfumes, but the trends for the industry itself reflects constant change. Because of this, the R&D department at Lattafa Perfumes, which is handled by Shoaib Iqbal, is heavily invested in seeking out trends. This obviously involves a lot of travel to places such as China, Europe, the US and Morocco, places that will help them discover something new.

The Lattafa Perfumes HQ in Sharjah Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ Gulf News

What are the trends you see in the market right now?

We have more than 2,000 traders helping us both in the country and internationally, and who help us tap trends. If a prospective customer were to look at something very specific, for instance, the request is immediately shared with our R&D teams, who first look at the source of the supplier, look at a curated technique and see if this can be used to blend the perfumes. It then boils down to the size, shape and quality of the packaging that will hold the perfume, specifically the bottling. Will the bottle be able to hold the pressure of the perfume and retain its essence over a sustained period of time, in fact forms a very important part of the perfume production process.

At the end of the day,to cater to everybody’s needs is what we specialise in. Somebody, for instance might wish to go in a completely different direction. This is something that the R&D department has achieved a certain degree of mastery in, the ability to look at and then cater to individual tastes. There is a lot of trial and error involved in the art of perfume making, in terms of testing and smelling. During the formulation stage, individual scents are looked into every five or ten hours, to check how the scent is maturing, considering every perfume has a top, middle and base note. So the scent evolves over time. How a bottle weighs in your hand lends it an air of sophistication that run-of-the-mill packaging does not lend. What the packaging also reflects is regional culture and sensibilities. Lattafa’s Maahir line of perfumes, for instance comes in a unique form of packaging with the cap in the form of the head of a horse. Now, we are aware of the value that the Arab holds for horses, the perfume therefore is reflective of the honour the steed enjoys within Arab culture. It’s a special bottle and unique.

What is your most expensive perfume?

As of now prices go all the way up to around Dh180 However, Lattafa Perfumes also has long-term plans to launch a premium line of perfumes that will cost around Dh300 a bottle. This will help the brand tap some niche markets, where a select line of consumers look at brilliantly crafted bottles & exquisite packaging.

As a heritage brand, how does Lattafa inspire loyalty among its customers?

While quality is paramount, the price points are equally critical. Once there is a core price point created for a brand of perfume we try and stick to that price point and do not allow drastic changes in these price points. We try to remain transparent when it comes to our pricing strategies. It’s also one of the key reasons for the longevity of the brand.

From the viewpoint of our traders, if there is something wrong with the packaging or any other factor for that matter and they receive a customer complaint, we immediately request them to replace the purchase with a new product. It’s this showcase of goodwill that always counts in the long run. In short we take care of customer requirements at all times.

We also use technology to inspire loyalty. Lattafa is one of the very brands in the region to use 3D hologram stickers on all its products. This offers a certificate of authenticity to our brand. With the industry being so competitive, there is always chance for duplicity and competitors can try and copy our products. The 3D sticker proves that our products are genuine.

How mature is the UAE perfumes market and how supportive is the country to the interests of Made in UAE heritage boutique brands such as Lattafa?

Government incentives to promote local enterprise and Made in UAE brands is fantastic. Initiatives such as Dubai Store, an online e-commerce portal allows Made in UAE brands such as Lattafa Perfumes to get a niche platform and enjoy greater outreach to a global customer base. The opportunities for new export markets is also flourishing thanks to Dubai and the UAE’s prominence as a regional and global trade and commerce hub. This helped set in motion a chain of events that has had positive impact for local businesses in the UAE such as Lattafa perfumes and provided scope for us to reach out to new and expansive markets such as the US and Russia for business and trade opportunities.