There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. In a new series to coincide with the launch of BoF Careers, the global marketplace for fashion talent, we highlight some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — French born Francois Schweitzer is the general manager and head of business development in the retail division of the Chalhoub Group, a leading distributor and retailer of luxury brands in the Middle East. After graduating from the Ecole d’Art et de Communication de Paris with a masters in communication, Schweitzer began his career in luxury retail at lingerie brand Chantal Thomass, where he was retail manager. He joined the Chalhoub Group in 1998 as a commercial executive and worked his way up to senior division manager. In 2004, he integrated the fashion division and has led the way in bringing major luxury and contemporary brands to the group. Today, his role involves positioning, launching and developing brands and new store concepts across the region.
BoF: Please describe your current role
I am the business development manager for the retail arm of Chalhoub group. The scope of work is pretty vast and quite exciting in this extremely vibrant region, which is the middle-east. It goes from spotting new brands and developing franchises into the territories we cover (GCC, Lebanon & Egypt), to working on existing concepts, fine tuning the brand mix and the customer experience in line with the operation teams.
Along with the development on franchises and our own concepts, I work closely with mall developers in the region to define brand adjacencies and services in line with customer aspiration and brand visibility. This part is very interesting as we work hand in hand with the developers, brands and operators to create the best possible shopping experience within the malls.
Last but not least, the development of category killers, like the Level Shoe District [a huge retail space dedicated to shoes], where we define the concept and the brand mix and work closely with the architectural and marketing team in order to get the right customer experience.
BoF: What attracted you to the role?
I have always loved challenges and developing new competences and businesses, so it came very naturally to accept a position with a more strategic view on the retail. My work on the shop floor has helped my knowledge of the marketing and the commercial side – everything I have learned comes from listening to the clientele, whose needs you have always to anticipate, as well as surprising them. Learning about different international and regional markets and the way they are structured was a real draw too. All of this come nicely together to support what has always been my professional focus, the final customer.
BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?
Actually, the middle-east offered me the most exciting projects. The region and the entrepreneurs here have energy to build strong retail platforms and expertise in such a short periods of time. We have placed the group an industry in the middle-eas, by investing into franchise stores around the region both the luxury and the contemporary segment. The likes of Berluti, Celine, CH Carolina Herrera, Christian Louboutin, Lacoste, Marc Jacobs, Marc By Marc Jacobs, Michael Michael Kors, Paul Smith, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch and more recently Alice + Olivia, Karl Lagerfeld and Zadig&Voltaire among others have found a great base of development for their franchise operations. We are proud of having contributed to the success of these brands in the region.
The next challenges are the new concepts we are launching in Dubai and Abu Dhabi by the end of 2015, which we hope will be equally as successful as the level Shoe District, which is run by an extremely passionate team.
BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?
In such a developing and competitive market, the challenge is to cope with the speed of change on the retail scene with malls opening in various cities and reshaping consumer habits. As many seem to forget, the Dubai mall has only been operating at full speed since a little more than 5 years and we are already working on projects for 2017 and 2019. So knowledge of the brands and their evolution, consumers, infrastructures and city planning – all these have to be taken into consideration in order to make the right decision and striking at the right moment as the business develops.
In regards to the driving force, the values established by the founder of the Chalhoub Group are Respect, Excellence and Entrepreneurial Spirit, which pushes me to deliver an extremely well-prepared package for the teams that will deliver the brands and the concepts. From selecting the brands, to locations in the mall and delivering full concept package, you have to focus on sustainability and long term operation.
BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it
We are in such a dynamic market that building business is not easy every day and needs a lot of monitoring. In this regards, part of my responsibility is to work closely with the operations, getting their feedback and adapting the initial development plan according to current results, being lower or above than expectation.
Having been in the fashion business for a few decades, I am well used to the change of trends, bad and good seasons with eventually the aim of building a strong future. You have to learn how to manage the expectations of the customers, the brands, and the company you are working for. Key to success is on strengthening your relationships with all involved.
BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?
'Listen' and 'share' are the words you need to keep in mind. Listen to the market, the brands, the consumers and have a proactive and flexible approach to new retail format. Share ideas with vendors, colleagues and sometimes with competitors. Also, try to be as much as possible surrounded by the next generation — they have a new vision of retail, they shop differently.