Al Adil: Spice, and all that nice

Al Adil: Spice, and all that nice
THE WOW FACTOR: Female actors have always been a crucial part of Al Adil's branding strategy.

Today, with 43 stores in the UAE (and looking at expanding to three more by 2019-end) and over 9,000 products in its kitty, Al Adil is the preferred food destination of Indians in the GCC. Chairman and managing director Dr Dhananjay (Jay) Datar, aka Masala King, speaks about Al Adil's success story and its brand perception today.

Published: Tue 24 Sep 2019, 10:42 AM

Last updated: Tue 24 Sep 2019, 12:49 PM

Dr Datar is today one of the most popular businessmen in the UAE who single-handedly raised the profile of Al Adil Trading Co to its current status. Down-to-earth and with no frills attached, he has had his fair share of struggles while bringing up the company - in health and in business - until 10 years ago.The Masala King shares his 'rags to riches' story overcome by sheer dedication and determination.

Humble beginnings
Coming from a humble background in Maharashtra, I started working at an early age as a salesman selling instant food like ice cream, falooda and gulab jamun mix door to door. It was a challenging task but I pursued to learn the tricks of the trade. When my father moved to Dubai, I followed him here in 1984. We opened our first grocery shop in Bur Dubai mostly selling food items from east, west and central India because we understood these food items were not sufficiently available in the emirates and with a huge Indian population, we could tap that supply and demand gap. Over a period of time, the popularity of our shop grew by the word of mouth and soon there were queues in front of our store daily. This encouraged us to expand in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in 1996 and 1997 respectively.

Salesman to entrepreneur
India is a seller's market whereas the UAE is a buyer's. When we started our business in Dubai, it was difficult to get payments on time from businesses such as hotels. We sold goods worth Dh10,000 but got paid in 10s or 100s by the buyers and beyond schedule. We were bleeding money and this is why in the 80s we lost everything. It was a difficult period for us, and my mother sold her ornaments to provide for us. That was the tipping point. I then learnt that it's a 'do or die' situation in this market. I became tougher on payments and eventually got the dues paid on time. My mantra: Successful people don't do different things; they do things differently.

Brand affair
The digital era was unheard of in the 80s. Al Adil's brand recall was only by word of mouth and sponsorships in tournaments like Indian cricket. We would invest in radio, television and print, which made a lot of impact those days. We have still not ruled out those methods of communication until now. Celebrity endorsement is the other route we follow to rope in customers. In a foreign land, people look forward to seeing their favourite stars because it connects them to their homeland. Also, we are an Indian brand in the region. Every Al Adil showroom opened in the last 10 years has been inaugurated by a well-established Bollywood actress, the latest being Karisma Kapoor for the 43rd store in the UAE. Our launches are mostly by female actors because of the stature women have as homemakers. They know what is best for their family. This is where the actresses come into the picture. This is also a major marketing strategy because our customers, mostly South Asians, want to witness glamour and be close to their favourite artistes. We have always had brimming crowd in all our showroom openings. Not just this! We also offer special promotions on foodstuff, which is a great pull factor. These marketing strategies have helped us to create awareness about our products that can be consumed and bought right from an office boy to a business owner. We do not differentiate in our customer service. Apart from on-the-ground activities, Al Adil has its own corporate website as well as its own Facebook, Instagram and YouTube handles. We also believe digital is important. I also my own webpage that I trust inspires others to believe in themselves and achieve their dreams. My auto-biography is now out in my mother tongue Marathi and will be out in English soon. With right pricing and heavy branding, it's hard to miss Al Adil.

Multiple stores concept
As a small businessman, I was charged higher by suppliers in my initial days of business because of the limited quantity of foodstuff I bought in from India for the consumers in the market. I was told, "Bigger the order, cheaper the costs". This prompted me to open more branches in the region. Now with more stores and visibility, the suppliers themselves want to be promoted via our stores. So we ask them for visibility and promotion charges. My logic being: why should my customers pay the cost of foodstuff?I believe ecommerce is a good platform and in five years that's where all our consumers will be. But there is also a price to pay as they are slightly pricier than stores. Also the options are limited. Plus, the shopping experience in-store still cannot be beaten.The strategy: When everyone else is shutting shops in this downturn, we are taking advantage of the cheaper rents. This is proportional to selling food at the affordable prices. We want people to be able to afford quality product near their houses. I take my cue from the McDonald's Ray Kroc - Don't invest in burgers; invest in real estate.

Catering like no other
Al Adil sells Indian foodstuff - from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. If the item is not available, you can immediately Whatsapp me (yes, you read it right!) your wish list. My personal phone number is listed in all stores. This is our emotional and personal bonding with the customers, some of whom have been with us since the beginning. This is what we have always strived to create. Today, we sell more than 9,000 different products in stores across the GCC and my sons and I take care of every minute detail of purchasing. We 200,000sqft packaging factory in Dubai Investment Parks where we bring in all the items and package it to suit the local regulations.The company operates in two models - one as a retailer where we sell in all our 43 showrooms. The second is the wholesale business - this caters to hotels and restaurants across the UAE. Al Adil is also the preferred supplier to Emirates airline's catering arm for the last 33 years.

Brand Peacock
Besides dealing in multiple India like MDH, MTR, Baadshah, Everest, Tata, Al Adil also sells an entire range of groceries and household items under its in-house brand Peacock. Named after India's national bird, the range includes Indian spices, pulses, rice and flour, oils and ghee, pickles and chutneys, tea and coffee, canned and instant foods, ayurvedic medicines and herbs, cosmetics, dry fruits, mouth fresheners and savouries, confectionery items and sweetmeats and more, all sourced from India. We have our own export division in India - Masala King Exports whereby we procure the goods from all over in India and then bring it into Dubai. We are also the only brand in the UAE that provide freshly ground atta to your doorstep.

The 3Hs
I have always maintained that 3Hs are important for any business success. These are hard work, humility and health. I would like to emphasise on the third because of my own personal experience. In my initial days of taking care of the business, I was working 16-17 hours a day and skipping meals. This created acidity problems leading to me suffering for five years. The medications and remedies I underwent were expensive and exhausting. Finally acupuncture cured me but I had already lost a lot of years. The realisation of eating right and on time struck me hard. Today this realisation is reflected on the health products Al Adil provides in store, right from health supplements to organic food to fibre-rich alternatives to wheat and rice. This was the whole idea that shaped Brand Peacock. The entire range is for healthy people - multi-grain, cholesterol management, zero fat, and gluten-free. We also cater to those suffering from diabetes and heart ailments.

Perfect partnership
My wife Vandana Datar is the backbone of this organisation, and my life. As I move to create more ventures and launching more showrooms, she looks after the finances. She has played a major role in increasing the profitability of Al Adil with her business acumen and cost-effective strategies. Both my sons are also now part of my business.

Expanding India's popularity
The UAE is a good market now and by December 2019, we are looking to open three more stores in the UAE. Apart from the emirates, we have strongholds in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman as well.

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