Inspired by his father, who opened the first Hugo Boss store in Dubai in 1998, Izzat Traboulsi managed to get the brand across 100 points of sale in the region. In his Startup Scene debut, the entrepreneur tells the story behind the mammoth franchise, in his own words.
To cut to the chase, bringing Hugo Boss into the Middle East happened through a strong passion and belief in the brand. But you can say that it was a family affair. The story actually starts with my father, the son of the Syrian Central Bank governor, and a private banker himself who used to work in the GCC region before finally settling in Lebanon.
Having decided to get into retail, he started focusing on some of the most prestigious Italian brands, like Zegna. On one of my father’s trips to attend La Seine’s menswear exhibition in Paris, he discovered this new brand that was represented by young and fashionable men. Taken by the dynamic flair of it, my father was immediately drawn to this brand and saw a great potential, so he started stocking it in the late 1970s. Soon enough he saw the result; the brand sold great. He decided to negotiate to take charge of it in the region and soon enough he was introducing Hugo Boss to the Middle East.
At that point, the region around the GCC was established, but the Gulf itself was still virgin. My father started his distribution journey in 1979, where he started to introduce the brand through multi-brand channels and created a showroom to sell it to other retailers. He opened the first Hugo Boss store in 1998 in Dubai and then quickly opened in Lebanon and Riyadh in 2000.
Growing up, I had been helping my father as much as I could, working with him during the summer and even travelling to Germany, before joining the company in 2003 as a salesman. On our visits to Germany, I remember being amazed by the level of luxury represented through the stores there, and felt kind of intimidated. It was those trips that really helped me set my mind to pursue utmost excellence. I didn’t just want to represent Hugo Boss in Middle East, I wanted to be Hugo Boss here.
I didn’t just want to represent Hugo Boss in Middle East, I wanted to be Hugo Boss here.
So I worked as if I was a direct arm and a subsidiary of that company, so that when I went back to Germany as an official showroom salesman, they would take me into consideration. My approach was to have our showroom emulate the international ones and present collections the way they did. I wanted our clients to have the same experience they would have if they were in Paris, Milan, London or New York. At the age of 24, I was leading the entire sales campaign of all clients, which earned me the respect and trust of all our clients, as well as Germany’s.
By 2005, I was promoted to Business and Development, and we decided to take the company to another level. I made sure to attend all the trainings and seminars at Hugo Boss to solidify our presence as an official subsidiary of the brand in the Middle East. We have offered all our clients Training and Development services, as well as Visual Merchandising and some Retail Marketing services. By that time there wasn't any difference between us and the international showrooms that represent the brand globally. We expanded the brand by opening mono-brand stores in all the luxury malls and areas. We were keen on protecting Hugo Boss’s image by making sure it was positioned with luxury brands. Suddenly, the image of Hugo Boss in the Middle East was more appealing than the global one at that time. What also helped us that the GCC was quickly developing and business was increasing tremendously from year to the next.
Suddenly, the image of Hugo Boss in the Middle East was more appealing than the global one at that time.
By 2006, I was appointed as General Manager of Hugo Boss Middle East. I was the youngest GM and that made me push my limits even further. This step emboldened me to start doing everything in-house since I was comfortable with the vision of the board members. Instead of sending our clients to be trained by Hugo Boss in Germany during the international training events, we organised our own Middle Eastern training events in Dubai. We organised regional trainings, as well as smaller trainings by country. We had our own visual merchandiser who made sure that all our clients’ stores were on point. We did that to control the brand as much as we could, in order to have a good distribution with a proper image.
By 2008, we had positioned the brand to be the best menswear brand in the high premium to luxury sectors. We had the highest turnover due to our presence in more than 100 points of sale - 32 Hugo Boss stores, in addition to corners and presence in multi-brand stores. We were a pure business-to-business company. We would distribute to multi-brand stores as well as grant a franchise contract for year years for each Hugo Boss store. We have signed more than 70 franchise agreements, since we were renovating some every 5 years. The agreements were signed between our clients and Hugo Boss directly.
I started a new chapter in my Hugo Boss journey when I wanted to have more control over the brand by being in charge of store operations. Hugo Boss did that move in 2007 and it started to shift from a wholesale company to retail. They were taking over the franchised stores, in addition to opening new ones.
In order to follow in these footsteps, we decided to establish a new company, and sign a franchise agreement with Hugo Boss, hence becoming a client of my father’s own company.
In order to follow in these footsteps, we decided to establish a new company, T2 Trading, and sign a franchise agreement with Hugo Boss, hence becoming a client of my father’s company. Within two years, I became the biggest client in the Middle East. I opened one store in Dubai and was in charge of the stores in Lebanon and Egypt. Since we took control, we doubled the turnover in Lebanon within three years and had a growth of 20 percent year by year in Egypt and Dubai. We are still the number one clients of Hugo Boss in the Middle East today and we were named the best retailers in the region for Hugo Boss.
All in all, I worked my retail operation with the same mindset as I had for the agency: I wanted to have world-class stores bringing the Hugo Boss vision into the Middle East and offering the same products and services. And that’s what we managed to do with passion and determination.
Photos courtesy of Maison Pyramide.
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