For hundreds of years, SMEs in the Middle East have been all about capturing a niche market and providing a specialist service better than anyone else. In the case of Momentum – a fabulous vintage watch boutique in the heart of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) – that role embraces not only supreme expertise but a good deal of glamour and cachet as well. SME Advisor spoke to co-founders Anas Halabi and Tariq Malik…
Globally, vintage watches are big business. Classic timepieces by the likes of Rolex and Patek Philippe regularly break the half-million dollar mark at auctions in Geneva, New York and Monte Carlo – and wearing the right classic timepiece is a key part of a gentleman’s presentation in London, Paris and Rome.
In the UAE, though, there simply haven’t been retailers specializing in offering quality vintage timepieces (second-hand watches, yes – but there’s a world of difference between a few ‘used’ pieces and a retail gallery dedicated to fully-restored collectable models). Until the arrival of Momentum, that is – a uniquely stylish, inviting store that’s nothing less than a treasure trove of classic models from a portfolio of the world’s most cherished and honoured brands. How did this Aladdin’s Cave of collectible pieces come about, and what was the inspiration and financial dynamics of what is, after all, an SME doing what it does best? We went straight to the owners – and their answers provide a storybook tale of motivation for entrepreneurs across the region.
Why watches? What was the inspiration behind being a foremost watch specialist?
“We wanted to do business together”, says Anas, “I had been living in Dubai since 2006 and in February 2011 I persuaded Tariq to move here – with a watch concept very much in mind. We took the view that ‘passion is transferable’ – that our passion and energy would be contagious, and that our customers would soon become a highly valued part of the enthusiasm we were creating. Besides, watches aren’t such an unusual choice as you may imagine: in fact, when a group of men are together, it’s natural they will share talk about watches. “What’s more, ever since he was teenager, Tariq was the ‘watch guy’: he had a real passion for watches and an encyclopedic knowledge about them – so it was sensible to build on that foundation.”
How did you obtain your first batch of funding – eg, did you rely on family and friends, an ‘angel’ investor, or other sources of finance?
“We started off”, comments Anas, “using our savings. Then when the business was a little more established, we went to close friends.” Tariq adds that: “Strangely enough, funding was never a problem – in fact, we had an excess of funding. A nice position to be in! Nonetheless, we weren’t flooded with cash, because we didn’t want to dilute our investment and our ownership base. Even at this level, though, we realised that it was important to show your success before approaching people for more money – and fortunately, we were able to do that.”
Did you basically see yourselves as retailers – for example, did you decide from Day One to have a retail presence as well as trade over the Web?
“We see a website as enriching the offer and building an integrated product base for our customers,” says Anas. “For example, we’re just about to launch a website for accessories, not watches, and this will be a one-stop shop for everyone looking for items such as fine leather straps, revolving watch boxes for watches with automatic movements, or richly-illustrated collectors’ monographs dedicated to the history of key brands. A terrific site for the true watch-lover.” Tariq adds that: “We also believe in building a very integrated relationship with other watch specialists for our customers. For example, many fine watch dealers will refer customers to us if they haven’t got the right style of strap in stock, or if the service will take an excessively long time through the normal official channels. Similarly, we will often make a reservation for our customers at a specialist dealer in The Dubai Mall, for example, if there is a waiting list for a sought-after model that’s about to be introduced. We’re also a valuation partner with Zurich Insurance, so again, we provide a service for every aspect of watch ownership.”
Tell us about the early days; how did you build your business?
“Quite literally by working 24/7”, says Anas. “We didn’t take holidays or weekends. Before we had the premises in DIFC, our early customers placed trust in us – they were prepared to do business with a company without an address. These were the origins we built the business from. We had in mind that it would take three years to build a business; but in reality, it all happened so fast.”
What do you see as the unique selling point (USP) about Momentum and why did you choose DIFC as your base?
Tariq answers that: “Our USP is service- and we were looking for locations where you could see the best professionals. Although there are many wonderful districts in Dubai, there’s no Burlington Arcade, no St. James’s – none of the places that a city like London, for example, has made famous for selling bespoke goods. Then we found DIFC. It’s very aligned with our brand and what it embodies.”
What are your most marketable brands?
“All the brands market themselves”, says Anas; “we get the best brands and they sell themselves. The only type of watches we stay away from are so-called ‘fashion’ brands. We stock the brands that generally are most respected by collectors – and I’m very proud to say that many of our customers are avid collectors, with as many as 700-800 watches. Some even have a room full of watches!”
What’s the highest-value piece you’ve ever sold?
Tariq answers without hesitation: “a Rolex worth AED175,000.”
What’s your vision for how the business will develop?
Anas remarks that: “The new accessories website will be online by December, but realistically, we don’t anticipate retail site growth until 2015. We’re working towards opening seven days a week, though; currently, we’re open six days. “Eventually, that further expansion might include sites in countries such as Kuwait or the Lebanon – and when we feel the time is right, we will expand our offer and build a footprint in these potentially important markets.”
Anas and Tariq, if you had to describe Momentum in one sentence, what would it be?
“We’re vintage watch specialists offering a very focused shop – one that’s totally dedicated to building a loyal clientèle and promoting a centre of expertise for the world of vintage watches, here in Dubai.”
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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.