The World of Luxury According to Patrick Chalhoub
Patrick Chalhoub is the joint CEO of Chalhoub Group— a luxury retail distribution company based in the Middle East. With an intricate understanding of the consumer and an intimate knowledge of the luxury market, Patrick is successfully operating a company of more than 12,000 employees in 14 countries who are committed to the common goal of providing quality products together with top-level service to their diverse clientele.
Patrick Chalhoub represents the fusion of many cultures. Born in Syria to French parents, he was just five years old when he moved with his family to Lebanon where he completed his elementary schooling, and then on to France for his higher education. Passionate about their culture, his parents were inspired to start a luxury goods business in 1955. Although Patrick’s ambition was to utilize his mathematic skills for understanding the brain, the Lebanese Civil War triggered him to reevaluate his plans, and in 1979 he joined the family business with just an undergrad degree. His parents eventually relocated to Kuwait for the business, but after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Patrick moved to Dubai.
Alongside his brother Anthony, Patrick is the joint CEO of Chalhoub Group, a luxury retail distribution company of beauty, fashion and gifts, for brands such as Louis Vuitton, Nina Ricci, Marc Jacobs among many others.
His experience in the industry has refined his perception of luxury, which extends far beyond the brand names he promotes. While luxury was once only for the lucky few, he says, today it has become more widely available due to an increase in personal wealth and because luxury itself is developing beyond what it once was. As Patrick explains it, luxury begins with inspiration which creates desire. It is the desirability that is a vital component of luxury, which sets it apart from any other ‘thing’. The desired item offers quality, an identity, and the answer to a dream that is somewhat out-of-reach.
Over the years, Patrick has learnt that consumers look for a brand, fantastic service, an experience, and the ability to connect emotionally with the brand, the product, or the salesperson— and Chalhoub Group is committed to enhancing all these elements. Because luxury is multi-dimensional, each component may need to marketed differently so as not to lose the inherent value of it- something which Patrick intricately understands. While the company does not create the products or brands, they are on a continuous mission to analyze and understand the customer, so that they can edit and refine the market to meet their needs. Chalhoub Group trains their teams- some who start out without any experience— to ensure that they have the ability and competence to welcome guests and customers, provide top-level service, and of course to understand the brand and product.
Virtual reality shopping has already made its way into some of their shops, says Chalhoub, but he isn’t convinced that it serves a significant purpose yet. A megabrand (he chooses not to name), is currently utilizing VR to enable the customer to see himself at a disco, at a restaurant with friends, or a glamorous evening, where he can select the color schemes for an exciting visual experience- yet one that doesn’t effectively connect the customer with the product, according to Patrick. The technology is developing and can be transformative— we need not be afraid of it, but also not to become overly dependent on it if it isn’t truly effective, he says.
Is there still a place for online shopping in the luxury market? While it does not and should not replace in-store shopping, Patrick is certain that it can be a terrific and necessary alternative in some instances. A customer may shop around, do his research and then find the exact product discounted on the internet, or he may simply not have time to do the research and can purchase several items and return those which he chooses not to keep. Ease and convenience are invaluable for today’s consumers.
His advice to anyone entering the fashion industry is to focus-focus-focus-focus. “Once you decide which country you want to penetrate and your target group, you must be full engaged in promoting the product, find a unique selling point, and make sure your target group is in the know”. Start small and if it works, scale fast, he says. If it doesn’t- requisition yourself and learn from it. Persistence, willingness to learn, patience, and flexibility are absolute necessities for a successful outcome. Finally, it’s important to have something that sets you apart from the others, he says, and to take advantage of digital e-commerce in order to penetrate the stores.
The Chalhoub Group is presently focused on just that- to accelerate their digital penetration in order to get traction, and to renew their retail footprint to offer the services, experience, and connection that shoppers want. They are also working to acquire and develop new brands and to be a platform for them to develop, with the awareness that some of the markets are perhaps over-penetrated (such as the UAE), whereas some are still under-penetrated and need to be developed (ie. Saudi Arabia). Concerning internal resources, Patrick is constantly working to stay relevant, and to ensure that the company is an attraction for talented individuals. As the younger crowd prefers to be self-employed and only want the experience for that end goal, it has proven to be a challenge to find team members who possess the combination of real talent and commitment.
As Expo 2020 is approaching in Dubai, the location will cater to visitors from the Middle East, the Gulf, Asian countries including India and Pakistan, as well as Africa (which has had very little access to the Expo). And yet, Patrick is less fazed by the number of people visiting, but rather that those who attend must have an incredible experience that brings them back again and again. As he sees it, the purpose of the Expo is to offer visitors an opportunity to discover a place and give them reason to return— if not to establish a business, then even as a tourist.
A self-proclaimed traditionalist who also loves modernity, Patrick admits that as luxury is transitioning to less formal than it once was, tailoring is becoming less appreciated. In a society where consumers are looking for immediate results, the time required for custom tailoring is certainly a deterrent (together with the cost). But still, Chalhoub sees that bespoke products are still desired and gaining traction. While he chose not to wait two years for a bespoke car (after considering that the industry would change over that time), shoppers still do appreciate the personal touch that these items offer, he says.
When we speak about the characteristics of a gentleman, Patrick reflects on his father who he says inspired him in his work and life. To Patrick, a gentleman is well mannered and well-groomed, acts with humility and generosity, and possesses the ability to listen to others while also communicating his point of view. Another person who inspires him? General Charles de Gaulle. “He was a man with strong ideas, strong opinions, but also a great gentleman.”