An entrepreneur in a country where it is hard enough to be in the private sector, never mind a successful business woman, Noor Faisal Al-Qatami has shown that with persistence, patience and an optimistic outlook, it’s possible to achieve your dreams. And perhaps even beyond because, in just three years, she has made Saveco – the business she co-owns and is CEO of – into a household name in one of the world’s richest Arab States.
Noor Faisal Al-Qatami is CEO of Saveco – a huge supermarket chain with a difference and which is expanding at a phenomenal rate in the Middle East. Her first store – Saveco Al Rai covering more than 13,000 square metres – was opened in 2014, serving a target market of 80 per cent Kuwaitis and 20 per cent mid to high earning ex-pats.
She has now opened a further two in her native Kuwait and has plans to expand to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and eventually Saudi Arabia. There is even a distribution company called Healthy Nation Foods, focused on delivering healthy foods – including gluten-free and lactose-free items – to supermarkets and gyms across the region. In total she employs more than 750 individuals.
Here at Business Worldwide Magazine we are delighted to announce Noor Faisal AlQatami as the winner of two awards in our Business Worldwide Global Corporate Excellence Awards 2017 – that of ‘Best CEO | Supermarket Industry MENA’ and ‘Most Innovative CEO of the Year – Kuwait’. Here is what she had to tell us on receipt of them:
Did you always plan on entering the supermarket sector?
Not at all. In fact I’ve had previous businesses. After graduating from Boston University in the United States, I co-founded a company in Boston, which we called Business Expansion International. The Company was co-founded with Mr George Naddaff, otherwise known as the franchise kin, and Mr Robert Grayson, The previous CEO of the Limited brand companies (Victoria’s Secret etc.) The purpose of the brand was to help family businesses in Kuwait and the Middle East to acquire the franchise rights for the well known US brands. It wasn’t particularly successful due to these brands not wanting to have a third party involved in the deal. We therefore altered the strategy of the company into acquiring small companies with potential and make them go US-wide. We acquired a company called Prep Cosmetics, and after opening our storefront in Newport, the main road in that tourist destination city was renovated, which caused all businesses on the street to go bankrupt, including ours.
My father then decided to bring me back to Kuwait and start work in my his steel company. He had hoped I would become his successor on his retirement but I didn’t find being a director there challenging enough. The company was the top company in the business and he has fine tuned the structure of the business to run itself impeccably. My job was to simply sign papers after my father had already signed them, which renders my job redundant.
What I did notice though was how dull grocery shopping was in Kuwait compared with the United States and Europe where I’d lived for a number of years. The stores were poorly organized, there wasn’t a great variety of products, cleanliness was poor and they just lacked plain and simple merchandising. I used to complain to my father about this and he told me to stop complaining and do something about it, which was the moment of epiphany.
Why have your stores been such a success?
At Saveco I made it my mission to make shopping in Kuwait not just bearable but enjoyable. And that’s why we do everything possible to turn shopping from a sysiphean task to an absolute pleasure through shopping therapy. We have cafes where fathers can sit and enjoy a coffee, eat a meal, and read the paper while their wives can take their time strolling around the store. The kids on the other hand can play in the designated play areas. There are also cooking classes in the food academy where people can learn more about ingredients and cooking.
The interior design, with palm trees, wide aisles, and wood has been carefully put together in order to relax the customer as the colors are linked to nature. The logo also follows the same reasoning and is made up of two main colors; blue and green, which are the colors of the earth. I think we are doing something right if a typical customers spends on average 2 hours in Saveco versus 40 minutes in a regular supermarket/hypermarket concept. Our stores are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing them to shop at a time that’s most convenient for them.
You’ve talked about the ambience, what else makes Saveco special?
We have signed to a deal with Tesco to sell more than 4,500 of their private label products exclusively in our stores in Kuwait. Our prices are very competitive and the quality of the products are more superior. We also take customer service to the next level.
Our stores also contain a restaurant called Hala Café, Juice Bar, bakery called La Patisserie, toy store, a children’s play area, and many other shop in shops. We also stock the biggest range of free-from food in Kuwait for those with allergies and, at the same time, try to educate them on how nutrition can help. We also run a Saveco Food Academy where we teach customers different culinary techniques.
We also would like to stress to the fact that Saveco has higher hygiene standards than hospitals here in Kuwait thanks to strict regulations we apply to both monitor and maintain conditions. We are the only retail company in Kuwait who have been awarded both ISO Certifications – ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 22000:2005.
What part do you yourself play in the business?
I’m very hands-on in the sense that I’ll stay in direct contact with customers via our social media channels – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. I’m always keen to hear their opinions and often act on them. We now sell online, whatsapp, by phone, which makes it even easier for customers to shop. They can pay by cash or card at point of delivery (incidentally delivery is free to everyone in Kuwait).
What are your own particular entrepreneurial principles?
I always try to be ethical and want to make a difference to the community in which my business operates. It’s why we run the Saveco Cares programme where we have a food and clothing banks which distributes weekly and monthly groceries for those in need; at the moment that equates to 400 families in Kuwait.
I value all Saveco Family members. In any corporate setting, the employees are really are your best asset and should be respected as such. They are the face of your company and they will be the ones your customers are going to interact with directly. To this end I encourage staff to develop their potential by providing them structured learning programmes, mentoring at every level of the business.
I honestly embrace failure because the lessons learned from it often prove to be invaluable at a later stage.
And tips for other entrepreneurs reading this?
Be creative when it comes to your work life balance. I am a workaholic and when I first started up my business here in Kuwait, I barely saw my family or friends. I would come back home at 3 am sometimes. Now I get them all involved with the business. For instance, I get my children to come in and help with promotional work – not only is it fun for them, me and our customers, but they get to understand about business and the value of money first-hand.