Founded by late Haji Ajmal Ali in 1951, Ajmal Perfumes, today is the only organisation in the GCC that is totally vertically integrated – as a grower, manufacturer and retailer – encompassing the full end-to-end journey of being a perfume brand. Abdulla Ajmal, CEO, Ajmal Perfumes talks about the trajectory of the brand starting from its humble roots to where it stands today.
Excerpts from the interview.
The UAE perfume market reached a value of $579.2 million USD in 2021. While this is a booming market, it is saturated too. Can you highlight what sets Ajmal Perfumes apart?
The UAE, being a travel hub and being home to almost 200 nationalities, has a great deal of market saturation within the perfume industry. While there is no proper documentation, I believe that the actual figures are much bigger than this. Just to give you an idea of the level of saturation in the market, between all categories of perfumes, from mass to prestige to luxury, about 20 years ago, there would be between 1,000 to 1,400 brands being launched every year. Now that number has mushroomed ten times and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 15,000 SKU’s and individual brands being launched every year. Having said that, the growth and popularity of Ajmal Perfumes has not diminished. Barring the pandemic, we have experienced growth every year and a lot of that has to do with the trust and loyalty of our customers who are our brand ambassadors and have stuck with us and supported brand Ajmal. We have now been 71 years in the business, which was started by my grandfather and has reached the stature it enjoys today through the hard work of my uncle and my father who have been carrying forward the legacy. Saturation is not unique to this region, it is everywhere. But brands that focus on quality and value and stay relevant to the consumer, will be able to maintain a place in the hearts of the people. In a nut shell, you have to hold onto your ethos and for us that has been our commitment to quality. Our customers know that whenever they buy from us, they are assured of top quality.
Please talk about Ajmal Perfumes’ journey since inception. What has been your brand’s success criteria?
We come from a very modest background. My grandfather, came from a village called Hojai in Assam, India. Even though he was a farmer, he ventured into business because he realised very early on that farming was precarious as a vocation, because it relied on too many external factors, one of which was the weather. The Assam as you know is famous for its tea and rice crops, but we belonged to a flatter region of Assam which was not that conducive to either of those crops. My grandfather, having that entrepreneur’s sixth sense, knew that something was missing. After trying a few things, someone introduced him to a commodity called oudh, which only grows in Assam. So you take it to Mumbai and there you sell it to Arabs. So, my grandfather began his journey and slowly, as is the case with entrepreneurs, he wanted to be closer to the consumer, or rather, his customer. Along the way, his first trip to the GCC was in the late 1960’s. His customers at the time were the likes of the Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and he spent quite a bit of time with them. But my grandfather was particularly impressed with the vision of Sheikh Rashid. He would hold these majlis and the traders would come and sit with him to talk about the future. In time, my grandfather’s family grew. My father is the eldest, he was always in charge of purchasing of oudh and supply. My uncle, the second eldest son, was given the task of opening the first store outside India, in Dubai because my grandfather had a lot of trust in the vision of Sheikh Rashid and that is what convinced him to open a store in Dubai in 1976 in Souk Al Kabeer and that was the start. We now have close to 300 stores and we export to about 45 countries. Our vision is to be a globally-recognised brand and I’m very honoured that I have been recently made the CEO of the brand.
Ajmal Perfumes has been on a journey of expansion as well with the latest one at Al Safa. Are you looking to invent more scents in the future apart from the existing one?
We are always looking to innovate and meet the needs of our customers. We launch around four to six references a year on average. That is because trends are changing and with so much saturation, customers need novelty all the time. Gone are the days when people would wear just one fragrance for a long time. Nowadays, people want five, six even ten references on their table, depending on their mood. There used to be a concept called ‘Signature scent’. Now the concept has been modified to ‘Scent wardrobe’, meaning that like clothes, now you change fragrances according to times of the day, your mood etc. Just to give you an example, people now wear fragrance when they go to the gym. So, trends and needs have changed and if you want to stay relevant, you need to evolve along with them, which is what we have done. And we are constantly expanding as well, with the most recent one in Al Safa. We have very ambitious plans for the region, particularly for Saudi Arabia.
Talk to us about the luxury segment from Ajmal Perfumes? What are some of the most-sought after categories?
My youngest uncle, who was also my mentor, passed away recently. He taught me all about perfumery. He created some classics that are still selling even after twenty years. We have a cult following and ofcourse we will always be known for our Oudh fragrances, its in our DNA. Almost fifty per cent of the turnover comes from western fragrances, the rest comes from oriental fragrances, including Oudh. Our signature series are amber wood, amber musk. ‘Aristocrat’ is another perfume that has been very popular in many countries. Other names include ‘Blue’ for men, ‘Aristocrat women’ etc. These are just some of the many successful fragrances that have come to be beloved by our clients.
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