Local News


December 5 - 11, 2018

Gulf Weekly Stan Szecowka
By Stan Szecowka


City Centre Bahrain plans to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the way it does best … with a fun-filled packed schedule of family events and rewards for shoppers to mark the milestone.

The popular mall is part of the Majid Al Futtaim retail empire which has expanded across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Shoppers in Bahrain can join in on a whole host of celebratory activities throughout the months of December and January, kicking off with a chance to win a Lexus LX570s – Sports Line 2019.

Duaij Al Rumaihi, senior mall manager at City Centre Bahrain, said: “We’re delighted to celebrate City Centre Bahrain’s 10th anniversary with our customers and reward shoppers with incredible winning opportunities.

“Over the past decade we have hosted many great moments that have contributed towards the mall’s position as the leading shopping, entertainment and lifestyle destination in the kingdom.

“It’s an exciting time for City Centre Bahrain and we look forward to marking the milestone with unique experiences, world-class family events and compelling winning opportunities.”

It’s a formula that has worked extremely well for one of the kingdom’s major tourism draws, attracting locals and expat residents as well as the many families who flock to the mall to shop, catch a movie, enjoy the children’s amusement park arena, swim in the indoor waterpark or stay at its two five star hotels, The Westin City Centre Bahrain and Le Meridien City Centre Bahrain.

As part of the mall’s 10th anniversary celebrations, visitors are invited on a unique celebratory and festive winter journey as City Centre Bahrain’s Central Galleria is transformed into a stunning winter display and train station, taking customers on a journey filled with instant rewards and entertainment.

The attraction has been inspired by Polar Express, the iconic animated festive adventure movie based on the beloved children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. When a doubting young boy takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe. The Academy Awards-nominated film was directed by Robert Zemeckis.

Throughout the two-month long celebrations, which take in the National Day celebrations, Christmas and New Year festivities, City Centre Bahrain is offering shoppers the chance to win presents and prizes.

Shoppers who redeem receipts for BD30 have the chance to enter a draw and win the luxury car, whilst those redeeming receipts for BD50, will receive a Golden Ticket, which entitles them to an instant collectible gift and grants them access to the mall’s multiple train stations, where customers can view the latest in winter trends, be transported on a 4D Journey to the North Pole, collect instant prizes and more.

Visitors are also invited to tap along with the ‘Glitz & Glam’ dance troupe, performing for the first time in Bahrain from January 10-12, in classical top hat and tails.

Since opening its doors in September 2008, City Centre Bahrain has maintained its position as the largest shopping, leisure and entertainment destination in the kingdom and leading the charge for the past seven years with a softly-spoken elegance and a steely resolve has been Bahraini Duaij.

He’s now facing ever-increasing competition with rivals not only opening just up the highway but springing up, or planning to, from top to bottom in the kingdom … and let’s throw in the added challenge of online shopping to the mix.

Duaij, 46, arrived with an impressive pedigree having learned his trade at Seef Mall, working his way up from a position of assistant marketing manager in 1999 to the heady heights of GM of Seef Properties, before tackling the MODA Mall project at the World Trade Centre from construction, from what was ‘a big hole in the ground’, to promoting the entire project and overseeing the original shopping centre and its high-brow new edition.

“It has been a very fulfilling journey personally and it continues to excite and challenge me every single day,” he told GulfWeekly. “I had seen a lot, done a lot, but this was the largest retail shopping centre development in the kingdom, so naturally I aspired to be a part of it.”

He applied, jumped through ‘all the hoops’ and interviews to secure the position, and here he is seven years on, leading a ‘talented team’ for the decade of delight celebrations with a vision to ensure City Centre Bahrain remains well placed to tackle the challenges of the coming decade ahead.

Married to Heba Habib, they have two children, Khalifa, 17, and Rayana, 14. He proudly displays in his office an honorary membership certificate he received for many years of ‘outstanding membership’ with the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres.

The key appears to be his ability to listen carefully to customers and respond swiftly to feedback, throw in an uncanny ability to read and anticipate upcoming trends, surround yourself with a highly-motivated and talented team and maintain the support of a progressive parent company.

“There have been a lot of achievements to date because Majid Al Futtaim, as a company, has a philosophy of continuous improvement, so we always improve on the assets that we operate and manage. City Centre Bahrain is considered one of the Big Five in the portfolio so it’s always given the required attention.

“It’s the largest in the country and it has been the largest since it opened 10 years ago, so although the competition has grown and intensified, in terms of scale, we’re still the most favoured retail destination on the island with a footfall averaging 14 million a year now.”

He appreciates much of the success is down to the constant influx of Saudi Arabian visitors. “They are most welcome. We cannot do this without them and we can’t thank them enough,” he said. “They are a very integral part. The whole idea of the development was to help serve tourists to Bahrain – by having two five star hotels with 460 rooms in total, having the only Middle East indoor water park – Wahoo! Waterpark – that launched with the mall and the largest 20-screen VOX | Cineco cinema, the largest hypermarket, Carrefour, in terms of floor space … the list goes on and on.

“This development was built with the intention of being here for a long time and to serve as many locals and tourists as possible.

“In my personal opinion, and speaking as a Bahraini, I think this has been one of the best and most successful examples of foreign investment in Bahrain. An Emarati company that has come in and invested millions of dinars here and it’s worked for them and it’s worked for the island, so it’s a win, win situation – you can’t get better than that.

“So it’s a great investment and I’m personally very proud to be managing such a large operation. In fact, it humbles me every day when I think about it and, at the same time, it challenges me.

“In total, if you take into consideration the number of retailers, we have in excess of 2,000 people working here and a good percentage are Bahraini as well.

“You cannot run an operation as big as this without a few challenges and the challenges come every day. One of the things I like about it is that you might think you’re coming in for a routine day, check your emails and attend a few meetings … instead all sorts of things happen, you can’t imagine.”

The mall is home to a mix of leisure and retail destinations with more than 340 outlets for fashion, dining, health and wellness and entertainment for the whole family to enjoy.

And you’d be surprised who might pop in.

Only last week American socialite and businesswomen Paris Hilton unveiled her latest perfume Platinum Rush, as highlighted in GulfWeekly, to hoards of admirers gathered around Al Hawaj’s store.

When Yemeni Balqees Fathi stepped out on stage to inaugurate a fashion weekend 10,000 devoted fans flocked to the mall to see her perform.

“We’ve had a lot of visits from heads of state, celebrities, and well known socialites,” said Duaij, coolly dropping in the conversation the name of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the billionaire Saudi businessman, investor, philanthropist and member of the Saudi royal family, as an example.

But Duaij admits to having occasional flustered moments too. One turned out to be amongst his ‘most memorable’ when HRH Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa arrived one February morning … unannounced.

“As I was saying, you come to the office, have a coffee, open your email and then you get a call: ‘The Prime Minister’s downstairs, you’d better come down NOW!” recalls Duaij.

“I thought, that’s not funny, I’ve just come in – it’s too early for jokes like this. But I was told: ‘I’m not kidding, come down, now!’

“Lo and behold, there’s the Prime Minister. He actually got out of the car before I could arrive at the gate. He had asked his driver to turn off on his way to the office.

“He asked to see a few stores and I took him around the mall. I saw a side of him I had never witnessed before. I do go to his court and occasionally we say ‘hello’ at the usual traditional Bahraini gatherings, but being here with him, one-on-one, was phenomenal, just listening to him speak and the way that he handled himself with the people he met.

“Although he is, who he is, he was very humble and down-to-earth and took time talking to the store staff, asking about various products; ‘Can I smell that perfume? Where’s that made?’ and things like that, and he said: ‘Let’s have a coffee’, picked one of the coffee shops and we sat down … and this was all unarranged.

“And, just listening to his wisdom whilst we walked around was something-else. We sat, had a coffee and talked about general stuff and then he said; ‘Thank you for the hospitality, I very much enjoyed being here’.

“When things like this happen, when you get heads of state and celebrities dropping by, you never really know what’s going to happen next!”

And he’s clear to ensure every visitor to City Centre Bahrain feels like royalty and the on-going challenge is to keep them coming back for more.

With that in mind, the mall is undergoing ‘remerchandising’.

“We are changing a considerable amount of stores for various reasons, some economical, some concepts are outdated and need to be replaced with new ones, but the most important thing is that we have realised that there is a consumer mind shift. Consumers have changed.”

It understandable when you do the straight maths and anyone with a young family, for example, will be well-aware what staggering changes in a child a decade can bring. Someone who was 20 when the mall opened is now 30, someone who was 10 is now 20 … and those millennials are expecting a whole new experience.

“We are here to serve the whole family but we cannot ignore what’s happening,” he said. “Just take food and beverage as an example, right now there is a total mind shift in consumers and what they are demanding. They want a more experiential F&B – the type of experience that you see people posting on Instagram and Facebook all the time now.

“They want healthier options too. Vegetarian fare is being requested more and more and although we do have it, many restaurants have it as an option on their menu, but people are demanding a fully-fledged main offering.

“They are also demanding places willing to experiment with cuisine – maybe fusion fare, or a place where your plate gets served with dry ice underneath it so they can share the experience on social media. This is where the millennials are starting to show their influence as consumers and their demands are being met.

“We need to adapt and change and that’s continuous … and that never stops with us anyway.

“In Bahrain in the 1990s people were hungry for fast food outlets, then in the 2000s, at the beginning of the century, they started demanding a place where they could have a meal and embarrass somewhere on a special occasion with waiters and waitresses clapping and singing at the table with a birthday cake and candle on hand. Now there is demand for home-grown and regional outlets, not just in F&B but in retail too.

“The younger ladies are not just wearing black abayas, they are wearing them in all different shapes and patterns, so now they are looking for vendors who will sell them and keep innovating with style.

“Some people don’t realise just how much influence consumers have. The brands that manage to change and adapt are continuing to prosper, some, however, have just sort of either given up or could not keep up with the times.

“By remerchandising the mall we will remain fresh for our consumers and will not lose them to competitors – we need to move on. We do not want the mall to look aged in their minds or in their perceptions.

“The retail landscape is changing, it’s not just happening here, it’s happening around the world and that’s why we’re looking for more retailers that offer an omni-channel approach.”

At its core, omni-channel is defined as a multi-channel sales approach that provides the customer with an integrated customer experience. The customer can be shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, or by telephone, or in a bricks and mortar store and the experience would be seamless.

“It’s a combination of physical and online retailing,” said Duaij. “We already have a few examples here, a furniture store that has downsized in terms of space. They’ve put their fast moving items on the floor but if you’re looking for something different then the sales person will take you to a PC in the middle of the store, offer you a seat, and they will take you through their website and show you the item and the price and arrange for it to be delivered or collected.

“We are competing fully with online now. To our advantage more and more consumers want experiential offerings. You can’t enjoy the feel of the fabric online or the smell of that new perfume, can you?

“I honestly believe retail will always be around in one form or another, but definitely the landscape is changing. What is happening around the world catches us up and unique things happening here that are not available in other places, will spread across the globe.”

The now and present is important too. Duaij inherited the dreaded mall ‘parking’ issue and has made massive strides to address the issue. “We faced the challenges and we accepted the comments that were coming from customers. We listened,” he said.

“We are refurbishing the car parks and giving parallel parking to SUV vehicles. We have a considerable number arriving and they just couldn’t fit into the gaps provided, hard as they tried, as courteous as they could be to other customers. Parallel parking is the solution but for every such space, you take away three for the angle.

“We made a compromise, we are providing one line for parallel parking for SUVs as well as normal parking spaces for smaller cars.

“We have also provided for families, a little bit wider so they can take out buggies and get kids in and out with ease. We also provide electric vehicle parking, that’s the future, we’re spending the money refurbishing so we may as well put it in now.

“Working on the project while the mall was fully operational was extremely challenging. But the Basement and Level One have been completed. In the New Year we start on Level Two, and so on, and we keep going until we reach the top.

“I think that has been one of our major achievements of the past year. When we reopened Level One we went to see that everyone was OK as the cars were coming in, to ensure there were no hiccups. As soon as people parked their cars they came straight over and said: ‘Thank you very much, we love this, thank you’. Just getting that kind of feedback is so satisfying.”

Mind you, it’s not the only accomplishments made as more than 60 initiatives have been introduced over the past 12 months, spurred on by customer feedback, including adding an overflow prayer area for Friday prayers to prevent worshippers from spilling out on to the walkways.

And, the baby changing rooms have been refurbished, upgraded, repainted and wallpaper added to add a welcoming warmth. The furniture will also be replaced shortly with sofas for parents who want to feed their babies in more comfort.

The mall’s WiFi has been improved to ‘double the speed’ so Duaij and his team are hopeful the good news messages will quickly spread across social media.

“We do listen to our customers because it’s the little things that can make all the difference,” he said. “No one is perfect, and we don’t pretend to be, but all we can say is that we promise to improve wherever we can and with the resources we have available.

“There’s more to come and we’re always looking to improve the customer experience. The competition, in all aspects, is out there but we always look at it from a positive perspective, we will try to retain our customers and attract new ones and, with due respect to them, we welcome competition, it’s healthy. But having said all of that, touch wood, we are still the Number One retail destination in Bahrain – 10 years on – and that makes us very proud and happy.

“In 10 years nothing has been built that is bigger or better. We are still there and we are going to put up a fight. We are carrying the World Title Championship Belt and we’re not going to let it go and, if anyone challenges us, we’ll go in the ring with them.

“We will continue to do our best to serve our customers and everyone who walks in through the doors. Our message to our visitors is clear, please keep coming. My closing comment, we promise great moments for everyone, every day.”

For more information visit www.facebook.com/citycentrebahrain or www.citycentrebahrain.com

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