Often touted as the region’s leading online fashion destination, Namshi has established itself as a major player in the e-commerce landscape. Facing a growing army of online retailing competitors, Namshi gives its customers what they really want: fashion at their fingertips. It is this very USP that has helped the brand secure loyal customers across key markets in the Middle East including Kuwait, KSA and Bahrain.
Given the brand’s skyrocketing growth, it is hard to believe that not so long ago it was a small start-up with a humble beginning. Hosam Arab remembers the phone call. He (and his partners) had just been approached by Rocket Internet – a company that looks to build start-ups and online companies. “This was around the time when I had finished my MBA. I had tried my hands at several things including engineering, private equity and finance. I was at a point where I wanted to venture out on my own and create something from scratch.” It was a classic case of being at the right place at the right time. “It was around the same time that Rocket Internet was looking to launch a fashion e-commerce portal in the region and they reached out to us. I was really intrigued by the digital sphere – there was obviously a lot of potential in the space because not many companies were around at that time. So, I took the leap and the rest is history.”
Since its launch in 2012, Namshi has come a long way. The online fashion retailer now features a portfolio of 500 international and local brands – some of which are exclusive to the portal. It also offers free and fast deliveries in the GCC, 24-hour delivery in the UAE as well as the option of cash on delivery. That’s not all. Customers also enjoy a 14-day exchange policy. “We’ve had an incredible journey – with a lot of ups and downs. Yes, we are new, but that hasn’t stopped us from enjoying tremendous growth over the last three to four years. Today, we are the largest fashion pure play in the Middle East and we sell a range of popular brands.”
With several accolades and accomplishments under his belt, there is still one thing in specific that Hosam is particularly proud about: “When we first entered the market, there was a lack of awareness about online retail; people were hesitant to make purchases on a website. Namshi has succeeded in overcoming that and has built an element of trust with its loyal customer base. In fact, I think we’ve pioneered a community of like-minded individuals, who are interested in fashion that inspires, and this is such a huge achievement,” he remarks.
Under the leadership of Hosam and his partners, Namshi also recently hit another important milestone. The brand announced the opening of a new and expanded warehouse facility that will help accommodate its ever-increasing growth in orders. Eight times larger and with the capability to house 1.7 million additional stock items, the new warehouse ensures Namshi.com offers its customers the brand’s trademark next day delivery service throughout the UAE, while allowing it to process 30,000 products every day.
“Following robust growth across both our e-commerce and m-commerce platforms, it was essential that Namshi’s inventory and overall product offering increased in line with demand for our services. As such, we have invested in a significantly larger space, allowing us to feature more great fashion brands on the site. This in turn ensures that we always provide our customers with the best possible online shopping experience, and we will continue to invest in infrastructure and logistics support to maximise our capability to perform as a leading online retailer,” explains Hosam.
E-commerce companies in the region are often under pressure to globalise, while still staying true to their core values; achieving that balance is especially critical. Namshi offers a good example of how companies can grow without being overwhelmed by complexity.
Over the years, Namshi has divided itself across three areas of operations. But one goal remains: to provide affordable fashion through a seamless shopping experience. “My partners and I have strategically divided our roles across the company. I am responsible for the overall brand, buying and merchandising. While my partners have the technology, marketing and operations departments divided amongst themselves. Of course, we all keep each other in the loop, but it is important to have a strong management structure at the top, which ensures smooth operations throughout the company.” Hosam believes that this mantra of ‘divide and conquer’ has played a significant role in driving their fast-paced growth.
Looking past challenges
Even as Hosam and his partners scale Namshi up, the emphasis has always been on integrating core values within the corporate culture and building the company’s ethos. That culture is all about creative freedom, ensuring that every individual is passionate about what they do and is contributing to the company’s overall mission. But, this certainly hasn’t been easy to achieve.
“Talent development has been one of our biggest challenges. At the start-up stage, it was very difficult to hire people that were going to stick around and give their 100 per cent to the business.” Hosam tackled this challenge with a simple solution: giving his team complete creative freedom. “The reality is that you get the most out of your team when you give them the freedom and autonomy to do things their way,” Hosam remarks. “Of course, we do expect them to share their ideas with us at the end of the day, but we let them do things their way, as much as possible.”
Now that Namshi is at the growth-stage, Hosam is faced with a slightly different challenge. “We realised that hiring the right people is such a difficult task. How do you find someone that is as passionate as us about the brand? Very often, we have to go through a series of interviews and meetings, before we hire the right person.”
Hosam doesn’t mind that he had to endure a few bad experiences along the way before he was confident that he finally knew how to build a good team. In fact, he believes that the long learning curve has played a significant role in Namshi’s success. “Let me tell you this: we’ve made serious mistakes when it comes to hiring. Very recently, we hired a Senior Director and it turned out that his style of working didn’t bode well with the department he was overlooking. As a result, many employees within that department started losing interest and there was a drop in productivity. When this caught our attention, we immediately let go of this employee.”
While it may seem like an obvious course of action, Hosam believes that companies often dwell too much on their mistakes and tend to make compromises or adjustments to hide them. “It’s not just important to rectify your mistakes, it is important to rectify them NOW! The sooner you identify that there is a problem, the faster you can find a solution and get on with the business,” he explains of his pragmatic approach.
Finally, Hosam recommends that companies wary of employee poaching should develop a positive mind-set. He offers this rule of thumb: “If a larger counterpart or a competitive entity steals one of your key staff members, remember that running a successful company isn’t just about hiring talented people, it’s requires creating a healthy ecosystem around those people as well. It’s been proven time and again that money is no longer a sole motivator; people need to feel good about where they work and want to contribute to making a difference.”
Teaming up with the best
Even though Hosam and his partners have now developed a core team that is at the forefront of their brand’s success, talent continues to be a critical priority. “It doesn’t end at hiring. Talent development is an ongoing process. Almost every day, we brainstorm exciting ideas that will motivate the team,” Hosam smiles. “And, it isn’t always something grand. For instance, we’ve hired a barista who makes coffee for the team. A steaming hot cup of coffee can make a huge difference in productivity! We also have a ‘half-day’ Thursday policy, which means you can leave a few hours early and get a head start to your weekend. It is simple things like these that spike creativity and productivity.”
Hosam’s own leadership mantra has been instrumental in defining Namshi’s corporate culture; he firmly believes in ‘people first, profit follows’. Employee happiness is another area that is on the top of his agenda. “We look out for employee unhappiness and encourage team members to voice any concerns they have; our doors are always open to anyone that wants to share their opinion. We organise a company-wide meeting once every month, where we share macro-level updates with the entire team. If they don’t know what the overall vision for the brand is, how can we expect the right contribution from them?”
Hosam’s straightforward enthusiasm brings back to memory Stephen R. Covey’s famous leadership mantra, “Always treat your employees exactly how you want them to treat your customers.”
He quickly adds: “We always talk about new developments for our customers, but I want to share that we have so many exciting things in the pipeline for our employees. We’ve recently hired a yoga expert who comes in once every week for a session with the team, we also have an ice cream van that is here every Thursday. In addition, we’re currently working on a system that will allow every team member to get additional paid leave which can be used to work at a non-profit organisation of their liking.” He wraps the conversation with a laugh as he jokingly says: “Don’t you wish you worked here now?”
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Rushika Bhatia Editor
Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.